The great American classic Moby Dick is one that I missed in my required reading in school. It wasn’t until I picked-up Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, which is the basis for Melville’s opus, that I discovered how awesome this story truly is.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexIn the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before global reliance on oil, fat harvested from whales, notably the sperm whale, was a huge commodity and one of America’s first prosperous industries. The area around Nantucket Island, so commonly associated with the old whaling days, centered their lifestyles around the industry, and by the early 19th century, thinned out the once densely populated waters of the surrounding Atlantic.

The Pacific Ocean had opened up as a fresh, new hunting domain featuring endless pods of whales, naive and unfamiliar with the human predators. But apparently, some of these whales had emotions and intelligence far beyond the average specimen and displayed blatant aggression towards their foes.

The case of the Essex simply boggles the mind, as one particular male whale made physical contact with the ship twice within minutes, the second being a head-on collision. The mammal obviously had the cognitive ability to identify a specific vessel out of the fleet and to make decisions regarding how to attack it. It is also noted that other whales were sometimes encountered during this period that displayed multiple ramming scars and broken, rusty harpoons shafts bristling from them.

Herman Melville was alive during this amazing story and actually lived in the Nantucket area for some time. There is no question that the events surrounding the Essex served as inspiration for Moby Dick. When you read In the Heart of the Sea with this point in mind, you will begin to notice the similarity of several of the characters. That is, of course, if you’ve read Moby Dick in the past.

While reading this, I couldn’t help but think that it would be a great movie. Lo and behold, I’ve found out that the movie was released in 2015 by producer Ron Howard to rave reviews. Can’t wait to see it!

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Steve D.

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