Revenge of the Whale Overview

It’s official!  Our first Book Club selection is “Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex.”  Please check out the professional reviews below.

Tentative Schedule:

  • Friday, 10/16 Book Club Meeting: Discovery Channel’s documentary.
  • Monday, 10/12 @ 2pm (Columbus Day… School is closed!):  I’m heading over to the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum with my family at 2pm and it would be terrific if you could meet us there!  Please remember that this is not a school-sponsored event.  Parents are responsible for all transportation, supervision, and ticket purchase.  It is completely optional and voluntary.
  • October/November Book Club Meetings:  Our hands-on project will be to create size-models of whale bones. Dress for art!
  • December:  The movie will be released in theaters.  Look for more information about this optional gathering closer to the release date.
Full-Text Reviews
Horn Book Guide starred (Spring, 2003)
Adapting his National Book Award-winner for a younger audience, Philbrick brings readers onboard for the tragic voyage of theEssex from Nantucket. In 1820, a sixty-ton sperm whale rammed and sank the ship, leaving the twenty-man crew stranded in the Pacific Ocean. After three months, eight men remained alive–barely. Maps and black-and-white photos and reproductions illustrate the gripping narrative. This is a real-life survival story of epic proportions.
Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2002)
Philbrick cuts down his National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea (2000) for a younger audience, but leaves in plenty of gruesome detail. In a notorious incident that later inspired the climactic scene in Moby-Dick, the Nantucket whaler Essex was attacked and sunk by a huge sperm whale, leaving 20 crew members in three small boats, “just about as far from land as it was possible to be anywhere on Earth.” After three months of terrible privation, eight survivors were rescued; two of whom went on to write about the experience. Philbrick draws expertly from these sometimes contradictory narratives, as well as other documents and modern research, all to create a stomach-churningly precise account that includes just how whales were hunted and cut up, the effects of prolonged thirst (“The tongue swells to such proportions that it squeezes past the jaw. The eyelids crack and the eyeballs begin to weep tears of blood . . . “), and the fact that most of the survivors lived by eating their shipmates-African-Americans and non-Nantucketers first. The author tucks in plenty of maps, diagrams, and contemporary prints, and rounds off this horrifyingly engrossing entry in the annals of anthropophagy with a look at the survivors’ later lives. Fans of Marian Calabro’s Perilous Journey of the Donner Party (1999) and the like will lick their chops. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12+)
Publishers Weekly (September 16, 2002)
For older readers, Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick describes a tale worthy of Ahab: on November 20, 1820, an angry sperm whale took vengeance on the men who would slay it for oil. Adapted from Philbrick’s bestselling title for adults, In the Heart of the Sea, the narrative draws from primary sources, including the account of cabin boy Thomas Nickerson, who joined the crew at age 14.
Publishers Weekly (April 5, 2004)
In what PW called “a tale worthy of Ahab,” this book describes the events of November 20, 1820, when a sperm whale took vengeance on the men who would slay it for oil. Adapted from the bestselling title for adults, In the Heart of the Sea. Ages 10-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal (September 1, 2002)
Gr 6-10-Philbrick has carefully adapted and abridged his adult title, In the Heart of the Sea (Viking, 2000). He tells the story of the Nantucket whaleship Essex, which sank in the Pacific in November 1820, after being deliberately rammed twice by an apparently enraged sperm whale. Three months later, five emaciated men were rescued from two small boats filled with the bones of their unlucky companions. The whale’s attack on the Essex gave Herman Melville the idea for the climactic scene in Moby-Dick. The abridging is primarily accomplished by limiting descriptive passages and focusing more tightly on the narrative elements. However, sufficient description is retained to give readers an understanding of both whaling and life in Nantucket in the early 19th century. Other than these elisions, the text is largely unchanged from the original, although in a few places a simpler synonym replaces a more evocative word; likewise, in passages where he had assumed background knowledge, Philbrick skillfully supplies context and explanation. The lengthy section of notes following the text has been omitted, and the extensive bibliography has been replaced by a short, briefly annotated list of related reading. Useful maps, diagrams, and other illustrations have been retained. The story of the Essex crew is a compelling saga of desperation and survival that will appeal to young people. The grisly details of cannibalism necessary to the telling of the story may provoke shivers but should not give anyone nightmares. Walter Brown’s Sea Disasters (HarperCollins, 1981) includes a brief chapter on the Essex, but there is nothing else for young readers on the subject. With this masterful adaptation, Philbrick’s work fills a void.-Elaine Fort Weischedel, Franklin Public Library, MA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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