The sinking of the Essex, a whaleship that set out from Nantucket for the far Pacific in the fall of 1819, was one of the best-known marine disasters of the 19th century, the real-life model for the climactic scene of Moby-Dick, and a whaleman's worst nightmare. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick is the scrupulously researched account of that disastrous wreck and of survival, against all odds. Twelve of the 20 warm hearts aboard died; all suffered the unspeakable torments of thirst, hunger, exposure and, finally, the dreaded custom of the sea, because of their officers' fatally flawed decisions. Though it may boggle our 21st-century minds, this true tale remains an utterly fascinating portrayal of human endurance and human error. It's brilliantly retold here and performed with seasoned excellence by Edward Hermann.

Sukey Howard reports on spoken word audio each month.

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