Susanita (bardhlul) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Book 36 - In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

In 1820, the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale, leaving the desperate crew to drift for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents and vivid details about the Nantucket whaling tradition to reveal the chilling facts of this infamous maritime disaster.

This story formed the basis of Melville's Moby Dick. Philbrick thoroughly describes the "company town" nature of Nantucket in the first part of the 19th Century, from the Quaker underpinnings to the typical family structure to the proscribed career path for a member of a whaling crew. This particular vessel and voyage had "issues" nearly from the start, especially the relative inexperience of the captain and also a mostly novice crew. There were problems even during the Atlantic portion of the trip, but the real trouble started of course once the ship was destroyed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They are marooned literally in the middle of nowhere. It's not a spoiler to say that some of the crew survived, but the crux of the story is how they survived and what they endured along the way. Some of it is pretty hair-raising stuff! I can't imagine that they could possibly convey it all in the upcoming movie, but I'm looking forward to seeing it nonetheless.

There's an interesting epilogue about the Whaling Museum and its efforts to study a whale that beached itself on the island in contemporary times, and how this find contributed to a more complete understanding of the subject for the staff and visitors. Philbrick also muses that the Quakers of yore would probably be appalled by the t-shirt shops and bars that now constitute the primary commerce of the island. This was a book club selection, and though the meeting was sparsely attended we had a good discussion both about the events and issues of the book and tangential connections as well. The meeting took place at the home of one of our members who hails from Massachusetts (and still has the accent to prove it), and she added several noteworthy points about Nantucket and the Whaling Museum in particular.
Tags: history, nature, non-fiction

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