In the Heart of the Sea:
The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
By Nathaniel Philbrick
Just when you think life couldn’t be a bigger shit parade, something comes along and gives you a drop-kick reminder that things could be much, much worse. Nathaniel Philbrick’s account of the ill-fated whalship Essex is just such a reminder. In 1819, after months of sailing from Nantucket, the 238-ton Essex was far off the western coast of South America when it was attacked and rammed by a sperm whale. The unprecedented whale attack left twenty sailors stunned—and without a ship. With only three rowboats and limited rations, the ungodly tale of how the remaining eight survived a three-thousand-mile journey is a lurid description of cannibalism and depravity. After a few weeks, there was no food and little water. Hunger and thirst became all-consuming. Some eventually lost their sanity and resorted to cannibalism. When discovered in his lifeboat, the Essex’s captain was obliviously sucking the bone marrow out of a crew member’s limb.
Needless to say, this book is a nice wake-up call for those of us lucky enough to just be depressed or lonely or whatever. At least we’re not munching on our co-workers, facing the limits of human survival. It just makes the glass seems half full, ya know?