In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick tells the incredible story of the whaleship Essex. In 1820 the 240 ton Essex set out of Nantucket on a 2-3 year voyage to fill her hull with sperm whale oil. In the 18th and 19th century, sperm whale oil was coveted for its use in oil lamps as it burned bright and odorless. No one in the world was better at hunting and gathering this precious oil than the citizens of the small island of Nantucket 30 miles off the coastline of Massachusetts. 15 months into the Essex voyage, in some of the most uncharted waters of the Pacific Ocean, the hunter became the hunted. A male sperm whale of mystic proportions turned its aggression toward the ship and its crew. In mere moments the ship was lost and the crew of 20 men were left clinging to each other in 3 small boats bobbing in the endless sea. Fearing unknown near by islands possibly inhabited by "savages", the crew sets out for the South American coast line 3,000 miles away. With an extremely small ration of food and fresh water, the men of the essex spend the next 90 days at sea battling some of the most brutal physical, mental, and environmental conditions one could experience. This extraordinary story of seamanship and the will to live would be the real life basis for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
This is the type of story that I absolutely love. It's a non-fiction book that reads like fiction. A non-fictional page turner. It reminded me of another favorite of mine The Great Bridge by David McCullough. Philbrick gives us just the right amount of history on Nantucket, the whale industry, and seamen ship without loosing your interest. On top of that, the central story is fascinating and thrilling. Written in a manner that educates you while maintaining your interest, Philbrick guides us perfectly on the leeward side of this adventure.
Usually when I read a book or watch a movie that depicts a survival senerio I can't help but wonder how I would fair in such a situation. Would I be the first to crack? Could I hold it together? Curious on how I would do, I took a survival at sea test on http://www.pressanykey.com/Survival.php. I am happy to report that due to my survival skills I was rescued on day 4! Luckily I did not have to resort to eating my ship mates. My overall assessment was 60%, not bad, but not great. I think that means I maybe one of the first people to wear my pants on my head, or see hallucinations of Fight Club scenes, but I would probably survive so I am happy with that.
inescapably, reading a book about whales inevitably brought my mind to Seinfeld. One of the shows greatest scenes has George Costanza describing how he saves a whale that is beached as he pretends to be a marine biologist for his girlfriend. As I was writing this review I had to stop and watch the marine biologist clip. 30 min later I am searching for all my favorite clips that have to do with boats, whales, or the sea. I compiled them below for your convenience. Enjoy!
"The sea was angry that day my friends!"
"You have to respect the sea!"
"Need a little wind here!"
One of the biggest problems of our current culture is our complete inability to look outside ourselves. The old adage of putting yourself in some else's shoes has no applicable meaning to us. Instead we take the path of least resistance. Stubbornly, we charge down this path until it dead ends into the wall of dismissal. It's easy for us to dismiss each other. We hear and do it all the time: "that politician is and idiot, he does not know what he is doing". "Stop following the masses sheep!". "You only believe that because you watch (enter whatever new station you want)! Can you believe so-in-so said that"? "They are all the same". Frankly it's ease. It's ease to affirm our own assumption and flipitantly dismiss another point of vIew. The hard path, the road less traveled, is to listen and try to understand where a person is coming from. Now, I not about to sing the praises of post modernism and tell you truth is relative and listening allows you to find one of the many possible paths that lead you to relative truth. But I do think we have mistakenly linked listening with agreeing or condoning an entire philosophy. So we are left to our flawed reasoning. We can not view outside our assumptions, which leads to poor listening/understanding, and consequently dismissal. This is tragic considering we miss the "process". This process is the simple act of trying to understand what and why people think, view, and respond the way they do to a situation or idea. More often than not this process creates empathy. Notice it creates empathy not necessarily agreement. One of our current cultural topics that has suffered the most from this lack of the "process" is race divide. Recently there has been no shortage of incidences to highlight this. Just look at the comments section on any racial topic on social media. We are all only concerned with winning the argument and consequently we have all lost the goal. The goal of peace and harmony.
I have not read, in recent memory, a better book on the race divide than Benjamin Watsons Under Our Skin. Mr. Watson's gracious, passionate, articulate, honest, and humbly written book tries to take us through the "process". Simply, and yet not simple at all, Mr. Watson tries to bridge the race gap by helping the reader understand another perspective and look outside our assumptions. Under Our Skin is not written to win you over to his side of the argument, but to merely shed some light onto another point of view.
What I loved so much about the book was Mr. Watson's correct diagnoses of the race problem. Yes, there are facts and statistics that support both sides of the race divide, but ultimately the solution is not found in the external. Watson says "The real problem with rasiscm is not in "that guy over there". It's right here. I confess to you that the problem of racism is inside me." Mr. Watson discribs how the root problem of the race divide is the heart inside us, or in other words SIN. And while Watson frequently draws inspiration from his faith he hold back no punches "The church can be one of the most segregate places in America".
After reading Under Our Skin I felt challenged, disappointed, reflective, convicted, excited, encouraged and ultimately hopeful. Hopeful because I believe the Gospel can help us not only understand each other but bridge the things that divides us. That's what the Gospel has set out to do from the start. In Pauls letter to the Ephesians he says "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace" Ephesians 2:14-15. Now more than ever we could use something set up to break down the dividing wall of hostility creating peace!
I love everything about books. The feel of the page between your fingers, the sound of a book spine cracking, even the smell of an old dust jacket. Looking to share that passion with others.