What’s That Movie? In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

I recently watched In the Heart of the Sea, the 2015 film by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth. It’s based on the excellent book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick. Philbrick’s account is the true story of the Essex, a whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts, which sank in the Pacific Ocean when it was attacked by a sperm whale. Survivors jumped in three whaling boats and drifted aimlessly for months, with little food or water. Of the twenty-one men on the ship, only eight survived. This is the story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.

I liked the book very much and was looking forward to watching the movie but I was disappointed in the movie version of this story for a couple reasons. The Essex was indeed attacked by a whale which caused it to sink, but in the movie, the whale chases and attacks the smaller whaling boats (think row boats) with a vengeance, all around the Pacific. And with the way Chris Hemsworth becomes obsessed with this whale, I kind of felt like I was watching Moby Dick. In addition, while I have no knowledge of how to harpoon a whale, it seemed unrealistic to me that Hemsworth could throw one harpoon, let out the line and that would be enough to wear it down and bring it in, something that happened earlier in the movie,

Otherwise the movie was enjoyable to watch and what comes out clearly is the power of nature and how vulnerable these men were thousands of miles away from land. There was nothing glamorous about life at sea in the 1800s and the movie does a good job showing how difficult it was.

So all-in-all an okay Hollywood movie with the typical clichés. With a $100 million budget, the movie was a bit of a flop and has a 43% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can read more about the movie here.

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What did you read in 2014?


What is it about end-of-year lists? I love making them and I love reading all the power rankings for movies, TV shows and, of course books! When the end of December rolls around, I think we have a built-in need to list, categorize, and choose our favorites before we move on to the next year.

So I made my list, sorted it and picked out the books I enjoyed the most. Here are my faves for each category.

2014 FAVES:

Best Classic: Youngblood Hawke – Herman Wouk
Best Contemporary Fiction: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells – Andrew Sean Greer
Best Young Adult: The Caged Graves – Dianne K. Salerni
Best Suspense: The Silent Wife – A. S. A. Harrison
Best Romance: Premiere – Tracy Ewens
Best Short Story: “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber” – Ernest Hemingway
Best Children’s Book: Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish – Nancy Dingman Watson
Best Nonfiction: In the Heart of the Sea – Nathaniel Philbrick

And here’s what I read in 2014:


The Classics

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontё
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
– Truman Capote
The Great Gatsby
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Lord of the Flies
– William Golding
Youngblood Hawke
– Herman Wouk

Contemporary Fiction

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
Sea Creatures – Susanna Daniel
Stiltsville – Susanna Daniel
Billy Bathgate – E.L. Doctorow
The Round House – Louise Erdrich
The American Heiress – Daisy Goodwin
Death in a Red Canvas Chair – N. A. Granger
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells – Andrew Sean Greer
Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey
We Are Water – Wally Lamb
The Pieces We Keep – Kristina McMorris
What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty
Me Before You – JoJo Moyes
Mary Coin – Marissa Silver
All Fall Down– Jennifer Weiner
The Interestings – Meg Wolitzer
The Book Thief
– Markus Zusak

Young Adult

The Spirit in the Stick – Neil Duffy
If I Stay
– Gayle Forman
The Eighth Day
– Dianne K. Salerni
The Caged Graves – Dianne K. Salerni


Coma – Robin Cook
The Silent Wife – A. S. A. Harrison
Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
Before I Go to Sleep – S. J. Watson


The Amish Midwife – Mindy Starns Clark & Leslie Gould
– Tracy Ewens
Catalina Kiss
– Tracy Ewens


“This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” – Sherman Alexie
Wilderness Tips
– Margaret Atwood
“Death by Landscape” – Margaret Atwood
“Gryphon” – Charles Baxter
Dear Life
– Alice Munro
“House of Flowers” – Truman Capote
“The Most Dangerous Game” – Richard Connell
“In the Gloaming” – Alice Elliott Dark
“Saint Marie” – Louise Erdrich
“The Fastest Runner on Sixty-first Street” – James T. Farrell
“A Rose for Emily” – William Faulkner
“Babylon Revisited” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Mail Lady” – David Gates
“The Girl on the Plane” – Mary Gaitskill
“Nicodemus Bluff” – Barry Hannah
“The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber” – Ernest Hemingway
“Cold Snap” – Thom Jones
“Landscape and Dream” – Nancy Krusoe
“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” – D. H. Lawrence
“The Necklace” – Guy de Maupassant
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” – Joyce Carole Oats
“What the Thunder Said” – Janet Peery
“Red Moccasins” – Susan Power
“The Chrysanthemums” – John Steinbeck
“Two Kinds” – Amy Tan
“First, Body” – Melanie Rae Thon
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – James Thurber
“An Angel on the Porch” – Thomas Wolfe


A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You – Joan Walsh Anglund
Home for a Bunny – Margaret Wise Brown
Calendar Bears – Kathleen and Michael Hague
Robert the Rose Horse – Joan Heilbroner
The Lion and the Little Red Bird – Elisa Kleven
Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey
The Horse Who Lived Upstairs – Phyllis McGinley
One Hundred Hungry Ants – Elinor J. Pinczes
Pete’s a Pizza
– William Steig
Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish – Nancy Dingman Watson


Empty Mansions – Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace – Jeff Hobbs
In the Heart of the Sea
– Nathaniel Philbrick

What’s on your list?

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Book Review: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea
Nathaniel Philbrick

I had a general idea about what life as a whaleman was like in the 1800s. Things were a lot harder for everyone back then, so in my mind, I added the risk of being on a ship in the high seas and trying to harpoon a huge whale while standing in an open row boat.

That sounds hard enough, but after reading In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, I came to understand that while whaling was a lucrative enterprise for the ship owners, captains and officers, it was also a seriously dangerous business for everyone on the ship. Nantucket whalers were out at sea for long periods of time, and once the whaling business had exhausted the local supply of sperm whales, ships had to sail all the way around South America and into the open Pacific to catch their whales.

In the Heart of the Sea is the true story of the whaleship Essex, a ship with a crew of twenty-one men. Its captain, George Pollard, was twenty-eight years old and this was his first time commanding a ship. His first and second mates were experienced sailors, but many of his crew were young and inexperienced, including Pollard’s young cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson, Pollard’s cousin, who was only fourteen when the ship set sail in 1819.

The ship was already battered by the time it made it around Cape Horn. But then it was attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale, whose nose is built like a battering ram. With only three remaining whaleboats and a limited supply of hardtack and fresh water, Captain Pollard and his crew salvaged what they could, rigged up some makeshift masts and sails, and did the best they could to aim towards land. But they were smack in the middle of the Pacific, in boats that were mostly meant for rowing.

What impressed me most about their situation was just how huge the Pacific Ocean really is. These men were thousands of miles away from South America and had limited knowledge of the few Pacific islands that dotted to the west. They had to sail wherever the prevailing wind took them or they drifted aimlessly when there was no wind, or they were blown wherever the storms sent them.

Only eight men survived and the shocking story of what these men suffered and did to survive is nearly beyond comprehension. They resisted traveling to islands to the west because they were afraid of natives and cannibalism. But in the end, Pollard and his surviving crew had to resort to the very same, at one point drawing lots to see who would become the next crewman to die and be eaten.

This is a story of extreme hardship and human challenge and it is both fascinating and appalling. Herman Melville was so taken by the whale in the story of the Essex, he was inspired to write Moby-Dick.

Philbrick conducted a tremendous amount of research for this book. He’s a terrific story-teller and you hardly notice that you’re actually reading a history book. There are lots of details about life on the predominantly Quaker island of Nantucket and about the valuable whale oil.

The most shocking part of the story is the account of cannibalism, and the fact that the men who died first were the black crewmen. They were already weaker because on the ship, they had more meager provisions than the rest of the crew. And although men were paid by rank, not color, the blacks were not treated well by ship captains and were quartered in the worst part of the ship. The reaction to all this back home was mixed. There was a degree of acceptance due to how severe the conditions were, and although Captain Pollard went on to command another ship, he spent most of his later years as the town watchman and was troubled by his experience.

It’s no surprise that In the Heart of the Sea was made into a movie by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy. You can read my review of the movie here.

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If you liked In the Heart of the Sea, you may also enjoy Philbrick’s Mayflower. Click here to read my review.

What’s up next? In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea

I am excited to begin reading In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick. In 1820, the Essex, an American whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts, was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean. After spending months at sea, only eight crew members were rescued. Philbrick’s account includes the crew’s moral decisions and extreme methods to survive the ordeal, including cannibalism. A young Herman Melville became fascinated by this story, particularly of the whale’s immense power and potential for violence. He later met Captain George Pollard, Jr. and was inspired to write Moby-Dick. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I very much enjoyed reading another of Philbrick’s books, Mayflower and I also love reading stories and accounts of boats and ships and the way people survived the seas.

Essex whaling ship

In the Heart of the Sea was published in 2000. It is a New York Times Bestseller and won the 2000 National Book Award for nonfiction. It has been made into a movie and will be released in March 2015. Based on Philbrick’s book, it’s directed by Ron Howard and stars Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, and Charlotte Riley. The screenplay was written by Charles Leavitt.

Thanks to www. Movielovers.in for providing this great picture of the whale. Be sure to check out these other websites:




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Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Mayflower picMayflower
Nathaniel Philbrick


Do you think you know all about the Mayflower? Check out Nathaniel Philbrick’s comprehensive and scholarly account that begins with Mayflower’s voyage in 1620 and ends with the conclusion of King Philip’s War in 1676. These 102 Separatists and Non-Separatists struggled to survive when they arrived in Plymouth and did anything they could to keep from starving or freezing to death. Made up of printers and weavers and other tradesmen, women and children, they were woefully unprepared for the desperate conditions that killed nearly half of them in the first year.

I think Philbrick’s goal in this book is to dispel the comfortable myth of the harmonious relationship between settlers and native Americans, happily sitting at a Thanksgiving table. He tells a much more complicated story of the knotty relationships between the original settlers and their neighboring Indian tribes, who had their own dynamics and conflicts between tribal leaders to manage.

The obvious question is just how did it happen that all the Indians’ land was transferred over to the settlers? An ultimately colossal problem and tragedy, it started with a small act, a trade that seemed fair at the time and was agreeable to both sides. Subsequent trading of land for guns and other English goods also seemed fair to the Indians and the English and Philbrick works to explain how that trading system went terribly bad.

There are many players in this time period, most notably William Bradford, William Brewster, Captain Miles Standish, the Winslows, Massasoit and his sons Alexander and Philip, later known as King Philip. I liked reading about the early political and strategic maneuvering between the English settlers and with the native American tribes. The period of relative peace during these early times was the most interesting to me because it showed the progress and development of communities. Being an Easterner, I also liked thinking about what the land and shorelines were like in New England so many years ago.

Philbrick explains in great detail the events leading up to King Philip’s War and the horribly violent acts committed by both armies. It was also interesting reading about the battles during this war, whose English leaders included Benjamin Church, Major William Bradford and James Cudworth.  There were many confusing alliances between the English and some “friendly” Indian tribes and there were also forced alliances between some Indian leaders, some of whom were women. Philbrick explains the many superior fighting strategies used by the Indians in the forests and swamps.  An ingenious Indian fort built in a Rhode Island swamp shows what shrewd fighters and defenders the Native Americans were during this time.

An excellent and informative read. I started out knowing the basic facts of how America began, and how native Americans taught the settlers how to grown corn and how to use fish as a fertilizer.  Now I know more and the story is a lot more complicated!

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Check out another interesting book by Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea.  Click here to read my review.
In the Heart of the Sea

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick – preview

Mayflower pic

It’s my month to host Book Club, and I’ve selected Mayflower- A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick. Published in 2006, Philbrick writes about the Mayflower’s voyage to America and the settlement of Plymouth Colony. In 2006, The New York Times Book Review selected Mayflower as One of the 10 Best Books of the Year. I am looking forward to reading a story that all Americans know, but seldom to the degree of detail and imagination presented here.