I'm a sci-fi writer and reader, although, let's be honest - I'll read just about anything that moves me, regardless of the genre.
Warning: This book is about killing whales. Turtles and birds die too. Still worth the read, just go in knowing animals die.
Okay, now that that's done.
I've been on a kick for non-fiction sea faring disaster stories. Having read The Hungry Ocean (not technically a disaster story, just more like a sea based adventure story), The Perfect Storm, Skeletons on the Zahara, In the Wake of Madness, and now In the Heart of the Sea, all within the last 20 months or so, I've really learned a lot for a landlocked kid who has never set foot on a sailboat.
In the Heart of the Sea revolves around the whaling culture of the 1800's, particularly the whaling culture of Nantucket. Philbrick does a great job at explaining the basics of whaling for his 21st century readers. He gives us the history of whaling, and then the history of Nantucket, complete with a crash course on Quakerism and how that all factored into the disaster aboard the Essex. I love learning about bygone economies, and the whaling economy of Nantucket most certainly falls into that category.
I think Philbrick's look into the complete picture of Nantucket whaling at this time is what I am most impressed about this book. I also was interested (more like disgusted) to learn how terrible whalers were on the delicate ecosystems of the islands they frequented, including those of the Galapagos. It was really hard to read about the crew of the Essex and their 'experiences' on the Galapagos. It's good to remember that whales weren't the only species nearly and totally driven into extinction because of the whalers.
Philbrick does some asides in the book where he talks about what the crew of the Essex is really experiencing. One thing he talks about the known effects of starvation on human. While Philbrick gives his readers a quick and well rounded view of just what it means to starve, I recommend, if you are interested in learning more about the human body and starvation, as well as just how cannibalism really affects a person, reading Alive! by Piers Paul Read. A moving and incredibly in depth read, Alive! really made my understanding of what the crew of the Essex was experiencing much more complete.
A quick and gripping read, I recommend this book.