Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex - Illustrated (Owen Chase, Thomas Nickerson, Ken Rossignol, authors; Huggins Point editors, editors)

Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex - Illustrated - NARRATIVE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY AND DISTRESSING SHIPWRECK OF THE WHALE-SHIP ESSEX: Original News Stories of Whale Attacks and Cannibals
Owen Chase, Thomas Nickerson, Ken Rossignol (authors); Huggins Point editors (editors)
Huggins Point Publishing Co.
Nonfiction, History
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Moby Dick, Herman Melville's classic novel of obsession and the American whaling industry, was inspired by actual events, chiefly the wreck of the Nantucket whaler Essex. On a voyage to the Pacific in search of prey, the vessel encountered a singularly aggressive sperm whale, leaving the survivors adrift in three lightweight, leaky boats hundreds of miles from land. First mate Owen Chase and crewman Thomas Nickerson relate their tales of hardship, despair, and even cannibalism as they struggle to endure the merciless seas. Also included in this volume are period news stories about the whaling industry, other attacks, notorious "named" whales, and even the much-maligned cannibal tribes of the Pacific.

REVIEW: I'm gearing up to attempt Herman Melville's work as part of a 2016 reading challenge, so this title seemed like a good primer on 19th-century whaling. (The Kindle edition was also offered at a discount, always a plus.) The story of the attack and aftermath itself is reasonably intense; that whale knew exactly what it was doing, and why, and little other than outright blinding rage can explain its deliberate actions in striking not once, but three times - all the while avoiding the smaller, harpoon-bearing boats in favor of the main ship. (Other stories included here also show that many, if not all, whales knew what whalers were and how they operated, and were not dumb beasts waiting to be taken.) In addition to the raw grit of the survival story, it offers a window into another world and a mindset that still unfortunately persists in much of the world. No concept of sustainability or humane hunting even enters their minds; knowing that there's only fifty years worth of profit to be made off a resource is enough to justify exploiting it to the brink of total destruction. It reminded me of Kennedy Warne's Let Them Eat Shrimp, where immediate profit potential and interests half a world away create irreparable damage to an ecosystem that could, properly managed, give so much more value than a quick buck. But one cannot judge the past by modern standards. Beyond that, one sees a hardy, determined, occasionally desperate breed of man pitting himself against Nature's most hostile environment for Homo sapiens, the uncharted oceans and their mysterious denizens. For this, it might have earned three and a half stars in the ratings, even if some of the news articles felt pointless. Unfortunately, the formatting, particularly of the latter section, is atrocious, with misused homophones and punctuation errors and misplaced paragraph breaks and indents, to the point where the news articles were often almost unreadable. A lack of chapter breaks in the Kindle file made for difficult navigation when looking for specific articles again. The illustrations were small and looked poor on my Kindle screen. Overall, while it makes a decent primer on the world of whaling, it was just too much of a chore to read.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Stowaway (Karen Hesse) - My Review
Captains Courageous (Rudyard Kipling) - My Review
Let Them Eat Shrimp (Kennedy Warne) - My Review

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