Picks and Pans Review: In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

updated 07/17/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/17/2000 01:00AM

by Nathaniel Philbrick

Just in time for vacation reading comes this true tale of the sea that might keep you on dry sand all summer. The year is 1820, and the captain of the Nantucket whaleship Essex is cruising a lonely corner of the Pacific when a seemingly crazed sperm whale rises from the deep and rams the ship's wooden hull, sending the Essex to the bottom. If this sounds familiar, it is because Melville based Moby Dick on this very incident. Whittled away by thirst, hunger and cannibalism-and you thought CBS's Survivor was rough—the ship's crew of 20 fight for life aboard three leaky boats, each not much bigger than a covered wagon. Philbrick's telling of who survives (and who doesn't) across nearly 3,000 miles of hostile ocean is informative and gripping. (Viking, $24.95)

Bottom Line: One whale of a yarn

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