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In this wonderfully readable book, Nathaniel Philbrick seeks to restore the memory, if not quite the reputation, of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes and the United States Exploring Expedition he lead from 1838-42. Among other things, Wilkes and the six ship squadron under his command produced much needed and high-quality charts of the coast of South America, many islands of the Pacific and America's own Pacific Northwest, collected literally tons of specimens that became the backbone of the earliest Smithsonian collection, and discovered and named the Antarctic. Wilkes and his men braved deadly weather, fought with natives, climbed to the top of and then into Mauna Loa, and survived myriad other incredible adventures. The story has all the makings of national myth, and once fired the imaginations of folk like Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, but have you ever heard of it? I know I hadn't. And that's because there was a dark side to Wilkes and so to the story, one that makes the trip and its aftermath even more remarkable reading, but also explains in large measure why it's been banished from our collective memory. As it turns out, Wilkes, without whom the Ex. Ex. might never have occurred and almost certainly would not have been so successful, was plaqued by insecurities and so jealous of the prerogatives he thought should attend his leadership that he made the voyage hellish for many of his subordinates and alienated nearly all his peers. He seems almost a character out of American fiction--an Ahab or a Queeg--which helps Mr. Philbrick's keep things interesting but has had obvious effects on his place in history. And when, upon the return home, the story devolves into a series of courts martial, we're hard pressed to decide whether it is all ending in tragedy or farce. It's not everyday you find a book that combines the qualities of an epic novel with those of vital narrative history. This one's a winner.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Sea Stories
Nathaniel Philbrick Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Nathaniel Philbrick (Penguin Putnam)
    -Barnes & - Meet the Writers
    -EXCERPT: CHAPTER ONE: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex By NATHANIEL PHILBRICK
    -AWARD: National Boon Award 2000: In the Heart of the Sea
    -INTERVIEW: Q & A: Nathaniel Philbrick ’78 (Deborah Toth, Jan/feb 2001, Brown Alumni Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Audio Interview: Nathaniel Philbrick (Bill Goldstein, books editor of The New York Times on the Web, June 1, 2000, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Nathaniel Philbrick (Smithsonian Institution Libraries)
    -INTERVIEW: Ray Suarez talks to Nathaniel Philbrick about his book, In the Heart of the Sea. (OnLine Newshour, September 5 , 2000)
    -INTERVIEW: with Nathaniel Philbrick (BBC, 21 March 2004, Radio 4 Open Book)
    -WEBCAST: Nathaniel Philbrick (Library of Congress, 10/09/2004, Book Fest '04)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE: In the Heart of the Sea
    -ARCHIVES: "nathaniel philbrick (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick (W. JEFFREY BOLSTER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory (Janet Maslin (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory (Robert Harris, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory (Timothy Brown, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory (Gregory Lamb, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory (James Neal Wenn, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Sea of Glory (Eric Sorensen, The Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea: The tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea (W. JEFFREY BOLSTER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea (Mark Schone, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea (Porter Anderson, CNN)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea (D. Brian Burghart, SNR News Review)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea (Andrew Rissik, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea (Carl Zimmer, NY Newsday)
    -REVIEW: of In the Heart of the Sea (Dan Oko, Austin Chronicle)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Charles Wilkes (Wikipedia)
    -EXHIBIT: The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (Smithsonian)
    -ESSAY: United States Exploring Expedition: (The Living Age, March 8, 1845)
    -REVIEW: A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States' Exploring Expedition B. L. Hamlen (Edgar Allan Poe, Graham's Magazine)
    -LECTURE: Charles Wilkes and the US Exploring Expedition (Peter Macinnis, ABC Radio National in Australia)
    -ESSAY: WHITE WHALES AND BUGIS BOOKS (Library of Congress)
    -ESSAY: Charles Wilkes and American Science in the Age of Sail (David S. Brose, Director, The Cranbrook Institute of Science)