Some stories are just so incredible; it seems hard to believe they could be true. Such is the case with the book, Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. What first caught my attention with this book was the idea of a whale attacking a whaling ship, a ship that was sent out to kill as many whales as it could, before heading back into port. The ship, Essex, set out from Nantucket, MA with twenty-one crewmembers. They would stay out at sea, cruising the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans looking for whales, in particular Sperm whales to kill and bring back their valuable oil sometimes for years before returning to port.
However, on November 20, 1820 one large male whale attacks the ship, while smaller chase boats are in the water, just having harpooned and killed a female whale. The men on board the Essex had never seen a whale behave in such a way. The whale hits the ship twice, and the Essex sinks after the second attack. The men are in luck, though, being able to grab some supplies and having 3 smaller harpooning boats to stay afloat in. The bad news is they are miles from any land, and in the Pacific Ocean. And thus begins a very long, long ordeal which most do not survive, and the ones who do are left to contemplate the horrible fates of many of their crewmembers. After all, what happens when all the food and water run out? If someone dies, why let that go to waste, right? But what if people aren’t dying…fast enough?
This book does such a wonderful job of putting you in the boats with the survivors and getting the reader to understand how desperate they became and in turn makes you wonder just what lengths you might go to just to survive. This book is not for the faint of heart, either for animal lovers or for readers who might not like the stark reality of cannibalism. Yet, it has the ability to pull you to the end as you are driven to know how any of the crew could have lived.
Recommended for mature readers – 7th grade and up.