You should read In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick
If you have ever read or even heard of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville; if you have ever had an inkling of interest in New England history; or if you have ever wondered about life at sea and what would happen if you were actually ship-wrecked, then you should read In the Heart of the Sea.
But why read an historical account of the 1820 whale attack on the whaleship Essex and everything that came afterwards when Melville’s Moby Dick is already a classic? Because, in the words of our very own Mark Twain “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” In the Heart of the Sea tells a story so fantastic, so sensational, that it can only be a work of non-fiction.
But that is not what will keep you turning the pages. What will keep you reading into the wee hours of the night is the way Philbrick describes the harrowing events of what followed for four more months after the Essex crew was shipwrecked. Philbrick provides not only a description of the events, but an account of how the sailors – most of whom eventually perished – physically and psychologically responded to their desperate circumstances, from the extreme thirst and hunger brought on by severe dehydration and starvation, to the crippling fear of knowing that the likelihood any of them being rescued was extremely remote.
Why read In the Heart of the Sea? Because, quite simply, as a work of non-fiction, it can fill in the details that the classic novel never could.