In the Heart of the Sea cover

Review: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea coverAuthor: Nathaniel Philbrick
Genre: Non-fiction
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Scott Brick
Publisher: Penguin Audio

I’ve long been a fan of the explorer genre, books like “1491,” “The Lost City of Z,” and “The River of Doubt,” etc. This book did include exploration, but was mostly about the whaling industry in Nantucket, Massachusetts and the dangers it entailed. Much background is given on the work of whaling, the mindset of the island residents and sailors, and the viciousness of the sea in the early 19th century.

The characters—real people, of course—are so well described that I felt like I knew them by the end. The fates of the survivors were especially interesting, if bittersweet. It’s obvious the author did incredible research.

I enjoyed the background information on whaling ships and the hardships and victories of their crews. “Wooden ships and iron men.”

The narrator is fabulous; Scott Brick is definitely going on my list of favorites to look for.

Be aware that only the first 17 of 35 chapters of this audiobook are the actual story. The rest of the ‘chapters’ (three hour’s worth) are the notes that apply to those chapters. This is where a written version of the book has the advantage; reading the notes of a good non-fiction book can sometimes be very enjoyable and lead you to more reading. However, listening to the narrator read these notes is not much fun.

The story gets quite gruesome at times, as can be predicted. Starvation and cannibalism are described in heartbreaking detail, let alone the job of butchering whales. This book is not for the squeamish.

Highly recommended for all fans of Early American history and especially whaling.

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