Friday, March 11, 2011

Nathaniel Philbrick's "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" (Cadillac)

It's been a pretty good week for books here in sunny, warm Fort Myers, Florida.

Philbrick's "In the Heart of the Sea" has been a great capper to this (though I'll have time to start another tomorrow).

That I finished this in a day speaks to how engrossing it was.  This is the true story of the Essex, sunk after being rammed twice by a seemingly enraged Sperm Whale, providing the 19th C. with it's own Titanic scale maritime tale, and Herman Melville with the basis of a classic fiction.

The premise itself makes this worth the read, but the whale attack occurs about a third of the way through.  The ordeal of the crew following the sinking is what makes the legend, so to speak.  Of course, much of the crew were out on smaller whaleboats hunting when the ramming took place.  With scarce time to scavenge the wreck for provisions, they set off on a multi-thousand mile voyage with scarce hope of rescue (and a good grasp of their narrow odds).  It's an interesting account of the decisions and psychology around those decisions, based on first hand accounts of two survivors.  That they may have saved more of the crew is easy to say in hindsight, but the author makes a compelling case for why far closer, seemingly easier destinations were forsaken for the coast of South America.

I've been reading much in the way of adventure era and survival literature/history, as this blog will show.  Philbrick's "In The Heart of the Sea" grabbed both threads by the balls.  It's just an amazing account of a 'too-amazing to be fiction' account of human endurance and tragedy, with a solid foundation of context and history to ground the narrative.

[Time to acquire a copy of Moby Dick, I think...  It's also pointed me to texts on the experience of the wreck of the Medusa, for the psychology of survival at sea and a particularly excessive case of 'feral humanity'.  In the interim, my stack has grown significantly with Borders going out of business and being in FLA, with the Looney above parity.  Next on the docket is likely a history of the great general Scipio Africanus...]

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