sábado, 4 de diciembre de 2010

In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Penguin, 2007)
by Nathaniel Philbrick
USA, 2000

According to my receipt, I bought this book on May 19th, 2010, right about the time I was polishing off Moby-Dick, so keen on reading about the real-life incident that had inspired Melville's novel that I'd forgotten that I'd already read Philbrick's National Book Award winner years before.  Talk about a creaky memory!  In any event, revisiting In the Heart of the Sea this past week was a great pleasure.  Philbrick's a natural as a storyteller, and this nonfiction story of his--what happened to the crew of the Nantucket whaleship Essex in 1820 after it was deliberately rammed and sunk by an 85-foot bull sperm whale "with the vindictiveness and guile of a man" (xiii)--has no shortage of built-in drama with its tale of three months adrift at sea, survival cannibalism, and the like.  While Philbrick's reconstruction, largely based on an examination of the first-hand accounts of Essex survivors Owen Chase and Thomas Nickerson, rightly stresses that the work's a tale of survival rather than a tale of adventure, it's more a riveting than a sobering affair as a reading experience.  If part of what makes it so compelling has to do with the nature of the story itself, another part of it has to do with the nature of the questions Philbrick asks of his sources: in specific, why were the African-American seamen the first to be eaten by their white shipmates and why did the Nantucket natives survive in greater numbers than the non-islanders?  While I have no explanation for how I could forget that I'd read such an, um, memorable piece of popular history writing before, at least I can now assure those of you who have yet to read this book that it holds up to multiple readings just fine.  (http://www.penguin.com/)

Nathaniel Philbrick

*Note: Nicole at bibliographing has a way interesting page on the theme of Maritime Literature here.  Recommended.*

7 comentarios:

  1. Glad to hear this holds up to a second read. I loved it. I have Philbrick's new one on hold at my local library.

    If you not read his book Mayflower, I can recommend it as well.

  2. I loved this may I suggest Philip hoares leviathon A non fiction book on whaling and new england connections to it a real page turner one my all time favourite non fiction books ,all the best stu

  3. Would you be surprised to hear that Philbrick's Sea of Glory, about the 1838-42 US Exploring Expedition, is also superb?

    I was frankly disappointed when I saw that Philbrick's latest book is about Custer and Little Big Horn. There are ten thousand books about that - seems like a waste of his time.

    That one bit of Chase's little book, just those two pages or so where the whale sinks the ship, are among my all-time favorite pieces of adventure or travel writing.

  4. *C.B. James: In the Heart of the Sea's the only Philbrick work I've read to date, perhaps because I read it twice instead of trying something new! In any event, glad to hear Mayflower's also worth its salt--thanks for the recommendation.

    *Stu: Thanks, I'd never heard of that one! At first I thought you were recommending a different history called Leviathan (also highly touted), but the one you mention sounds amazing. And Sebald-endorsed, too, I see. Very interesting. Cheers!

    *Amateur Reader: I agree with you and your reason for thinking the Custer theme is an odd choice for Philbrick--and this coming from a guy who was once into the topic as a lad--but I'm delighted to have another Philbrick pick from you all the same. Have yet to read Chase's original account on its own, but I hope to get my mitts on that Penguin edition with Chase and Nickerson before too long. Your final sentence is more than sufficient motivation!

  5. This definitely sounds interesting, and with the added recommendations of your commenters I think I'll be keeping an eye out for books by Philbrick.

  6. "survival cannibalism" - What more does a person need to know?

    Seriously, this sounds like a fascinating read, and the issues of race and status that you mention are particularly intriguing.

  7. *Sarah: I'll prob. be on the lookout for some new Philbrick, too, before long. Cheers!

    *Emily: Re: race and status, Philbrick doesn't shy away from asking the uncomfortable questions, that's for sure. But I got a huge laugh out your survival cannibalism quip, in part because I was barely able to restrain myself from including something like that in the post. You're too funny!