Book group – In the Heart of the Sea

This book was recommended by a friend with excellent taste in books so I knew it would be good. Several of Nathaniel Philbrick’s books are about the sea and he persuades us to jump aboard the whaleship Essex with authority and charm. I loved the historical accuracy of the true story that inspired Moby Dick and the ‘Ideas, interviews & features’ at the back of the book provides even more learning resources.

  1. What did you learn about Nantucket and New England that you didn’t know before?
  2. How does Philbrick explain the characters’ backgrounds and motivations in a way that’s relevant to us today?
  3. Did you feel any sympathy for the whalers even though they were engaged in a grisly industry? Is it possible to respect them for their knowledge and skill despite how they used their talents?
  4. As tensions rise on the Essex, much drama unfolds among the crew. Is there an equivalent to this type of group dynamic on shore? Do people still display the fear, greed, panic and heroism shown by some of the crew?
  5. What type of person would have been drawn to the whaling trade? Do other hunters need that level of bravery in the face of such ferocious and gigantic prey?
  6. What do you think led to the sperm whale attack of 1820 described in the book? Do you think Philbrick asserts a particular reasoning? What are the other potential outcomes?
  7. What lessons did whalers learn from the string of disasters that happened on Essex?
  8. How would modern explorers respond in a similar situation?
  9. Which scenes were the most difficult to read? Did you finish the book feeling grateful for the solid ground under your feet?
  10. Why are we compelled to read about disasters such as this dramatic sea story? What do we learn about human behaviour from the crew of the Essex?

In the Heart of the Sea