Author: Nathaniel Philbrick
Type: Non-fiction, single subject
Full title: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
I read it: August 2012
This is an absolutely perfect account of the historical events which influenced a young Melville and inspired the tale of Moby-Dick. Philbrick vividly brings to life the community of Nantucket in the early to mid-1800s, and the pinnacle of that community’s whaling years. As noted in the title of the book, the Essex story is not so much an adventure as a strict tragedy, but the events captivate the curious mind and the pages turn as swiftly as any novel’s. From a justifiably angry whale to months adrift at sea to the realities of survival cannibalism, the book shows how a real-life drama impacted a nation’s psyche (and later sent a direct shockwave through American literature). Anyone with the sea in mind should read this book, for the history, excitement, sadness, and horror of it all.