Tuesday, 14 April 2009

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

The sinking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex by an enraged spermwhale far out in the Pacific in November 1820 set in train one of the most dramatic sea stories of all time. Accounts of the unprecedented whale attack inspired Herman Melville's mighty novel Moby Dick, but In the Heart of the Sea goes beyond these events to describe what happened when the twenty mixed-race crewmen took to three small boats and what, three months later, the whaleship Dauphin, cruising off the coast of South America, discovered when it spotted a tiny boat sailing erratically across the open ocean.

To be honest I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I first started reading this book. I've read a fair bit of non-fiction over the years on a wide variety of subjects, some of which turn out to be those dry, fact and date ridden books that eventually overwhelms your brain so you can't remember what happened when or to whom. In the Heart of the Sea wasn't in that category - though there were still plenty of dates and facts in there, the whole is presented in such an easily readable style it was more like dipping into a good, well written novel.

It isn't always an overly comfortable read though: it deals with the hard facts and realism of the whaling industry in the 1800's and what happens when the crew find themselves stuck in three small boats in the open ocean with limited supplies. Though it shows what depths human beings can plumb when forced into extreme conditions what mostly shines through is how strong the will to survive can be and how resilient, and courageous, some people can be when faced with such extremes and the hard decisions that have to be made. What I liked was that the book didn't end at the point of rescue but went on to recount what subsequently happened to the few survivors.

All told, I feel the author skillfully manages to tell a factual story in an intelligent and readable way, without glorifying the crew members or being overly sensationalistic with the awful events that unfolded. I would definitely like to read more by this author.

This is a Book Crossing book sent to me by a fellow Book Crosser - I would like to pass it on for someone else to read and journal on and who will then pass it on to someone else who will be willing to do the same, to keep this book travelling. Shout if you would like it. :0)