In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea

The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Book - 2000
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Penguin Putnam
From the New York Times bestselling author of Valiant Ambition and In the Hurricane's Eye, the riveting and critically acclaimed bestseller and a major motion picture starring Chris Hemsworth, directed by Ron Howard

"With its huge, scarred head halfway out of the water and its tail beating the ocean into a white-water wake more than forty feet across, the whale approached the ship at twice its original speed--at least six knots. With a tremendous cracking and splintering of oak, it struck the ship just beneath the anchor secured at the cat-head on the port bow. . ."

In the Heart of the Sea brings to new life the incredible story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex--an event as mythic in its own century as the Titanic disaster in ours, and the inspiration for the climax of Moby-Dick. In a harrowing page-turner, Nathaniel Philbrick restores this epic story to its rightful place in American history.

In 1820, the 240-ton Essex set sail from Nantucket on a routine voyage for whales. Fifteen months later, in the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, it was repeatedly rammed and sunk by an eighty-ton bull sperm whale. Its twenty-man crew, fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, made for the 3,000-mile-distant coast of South America in three tiny boats. During ninety days at sea under horrendous conditions, the survivors clung to life as one by one, they succumbed to hunger, thirst, disease, and fear.

In the Heart of the Sea tells perhaps the greatest sea story ever. Philbrick interweaves his account of this extraordinary ordeal of ordinary men with a wealth of whale lore and with a brilliantly detailed portrait of the lost, unique community of Nantucket whalers. Impeccably researched and beautifully told, the book delivers the ultimate portrait of man against nature, drawing on a remarkable range of archival and modern sources, including a long-lost account by the ship's cabin boy. At once a literary companion and a page-turner that speaks to the same issues of class, race, and man's relationship to nature that permeate the works of Melville, In the Heart of the Sea will endure as a vital work of American history.

Baker & Taylor
Recounts the story of the 1820 wreck of the whaleship Essex, which in its time was as mythic as the sinking of the Titanic and which inspired Melville's classic Moby Dick, and recounts its doomed crew's ninety-day attempt to survive whale attacks and the elements on three tiny lifeboats. 125,000 first printing. First serial, Vanity Fair.

& Taylor

Recounts the story of the 1820 wreck of the whaleship Essex, which inspired Melville's classic "Moby-Dick," and describes its doomed crew's ninety-day attempt to survive whale attacks and the elements on three tiny lifeboats

Publisher: New York : Viking, 2000
ISBN: 9780670891573
Branch Call Number: 910.452 P534i
Characteristics: xvi, 302 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

SPPL_János Mar 22, 2018

Famous in its day, the Essex was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. Philbrick gives an immersive account of the ship's journey, the Nantucket whaling industry, and the open-boat ordeal in the Pacific which only 8 of the 20 crewmen survived.

Aug 28, 2017

I never thought that I would ever get into a nonfiction book as much as I got into this one. It was an absolutely fascinating read! The story behind the Moby-Dick has so much more detail than you could ever get out of the novel, and it is well worth the read. Ten stars if I could!

Mar 04, 2017

This book was so well-researched and written in an approachable style. The author purposely squirrel some of the more scholarly research details in notes in the back of the book to make them optional.

As it was, there was much information on Nantucket and whaling. It was a messy, dangerous business and those who pursued it are to be admired for their fortitude -- as are their families who were left without a husband/father for 2-3 years at a time.

If you enjoy true stories about survival, this book is for you. I recommend reading the book before seeing the movie. When we were discussing it at our book group today and one of the participants was giving us movie updates it was clear that some of the plot points were enhanced and/or cherrypicked for the movie.

Feb 17, 2017

Was intrigued from the first chapter...who knew sperm whaling and the culture of it could be so fascinating. I actually found myself youtubing the sounds of sperm whales.

I was let down a little on how much interaction there actually was with the whale that sunk the Essex ship.

Nov 10, 2016

The Heart of the Sea. By. Nathaniel Philbrick.
In mid August 1819, a whaling ship, Essex, set sail for the whaling grounds on the other side of the planet in the vast Pacific Ocean.
Inauspiciously enough, she is severely pummeled before she can even reach the west African coast to revictualize.
After extensive repairs she resumes her voyage around Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean.
Having successfully harpooned, killed and flensed a number of prey the strangest of things happens: their ship the Essex is attacked and rammed by a huge bull whale.
Within moments the Essex begins to sink. The crew rush salvage what they can. Hardtack, casks of water, six Galapagos tortoises taken along as provender, a hand full of tools and some guns and powder.
What follows is the horrendous story of a small party of men in three small boats adrift in the vastness of the ocean. Only seven of these men were to survive the predations of over three months on the open ocean with insufficient food, water, shelter, and, perhaps, in the end.
This tale undoubtedly served as the basis for Nathaniel Hawrhorn's "Moby Dick".
The story Philbrick tells is one of deprivation and suffering. He is graphic when describing the various manifestations of starvation, of dehydration, and of a slow death from salt poisoning.
The tension is palpable; the disappointments are real. "Heart" is spellbinding. And then the guess: who will die first? Who will die next? Will anyone survive? And who will have to eat their shipmates to live?
Just in passing, ironically perhaps, in 1945 another Essex, a US naval vessel was torpedoed and sunk in very little time near the Island of Tinian. Here many sailors lost their lives to the sea. Those that survived, however, suffered many privations as those suffered by those from the whaler.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 05, 2016

Nathaniel Philbrick's story of the whaleship Essex is competent and intriguing. It tells the whole story in a manner that is logical and seemingly complete. Philbrick, a maritime scholar with a particular affinity for Moby-Dick, has scoured many texts to give his readers a portrait of what likely happened aboard the ship and in the years following. Some of it may be invention or speculation, but overall In the Heart of the Sea is a very solidly researched story.

Mar 22, 2016

I liked this ... not everyone would ... pretty graphic and gory in places but I like "man against nature" dramas. A true story with lots of detail that did not bore me. Spell-binding non-fiction teaches the real history of Nantucket and the essential whaling industry in the 19th century. As weak and horrible as many humans are... we are an amazing species when it comes to survival.

BookMatchLibrarian Jan 26, 2016

"Recounts the story of the 1820 wreck of the whaleship Essex, which inspired Melville's classic "Moby-Dick," and describes its doomed crew's ninety-day attempt to survive whale attacks and the elements on three tiny lifeboats." - Baker and Taylor

Jan 18, 2016

This story demonstrates that history can be just as compelling and exciting as anything dreamed up in fiction. The incredible toil and suffering that accompanied whaling, for man and whale alike, is recounted in this fast moving tale that inspired Moby Dick, that of a whale that turned on the hunters and destroyed their ship amid the vast expanse of the Pacific ocean. Without benefit of modern technology or good information, the crew was forced to set off for land over a course of thousands of miles in 3 open faced whaleboats. That any survived is amazing, but how they did so is what makes this such a compelling story. Fast paced and well-written, this is a book well worth reading.

Nov 30, 2015

This not an adventure story but a survival story and it has it all...history (Nantucket and the resident Quakers, whaling industry), whale biology, navigation, ships and whale boats, action and adventure and not the least, survival. It is complete and a page-turner. This is the true story upon which Herman Melville based his classic story of Moby-Dick. Very highly recommended.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SJCPL

To Top