Philbrick, Nathaniel 1956-
Philbrick, Nathaniel 1956-
Born 1956, in Boston, MA; married Melissa Douthart (an attorney); children: Jennie, Ethan. Education: Brown University, B.A.; Duke University, M.A. Hobbies and other interests: Sailing.
Home—Nantucket, MA. Office—Egan Institute of Maritime Studies, 4 Silver St., Nantucket, MA 02554.
Sailing World, writer, 1980s; Egan Institute of Maritime Studies, Nantucket, MA, cofounder with Bud Egan and director, 1995—.
Nantucket Historical Association.
National Book Award for Nonfiction, 2000, for In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship "Essex;" Nathan Bowditch Maritime Scholar of the Year, American Merchant Marine Museum, 2002; Best Book for Young Adults designation, American Library Association, 2003, and Globe-Horn Book Award, both for Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship "Essex"; Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and Albion-Monroe Award, National Maritime Historical Society, both for Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842; Byrne Waterman Award, Kendall Whaling Museum; Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service, U.S.S. Constitution Museum; William Bradford Award, Pilgrim Society; Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War was named one of the "10 Best Books of 2006" by the New York Times.
The Passionate Sailor, illustrated by Gary Patterson, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1987.
Abram's Eyes: The Native American Legacy of Nantucket Island, Mill Hill Press (Nantucket, MA), 1992.
Away off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890, illustrated by Diane Swartz, Mill Hill Press (Nantucket, MA), 1994.
Second Wind: A Nantucket Sailor's Odyssey, Hyannis Imprints (Hyannis, MA), 1998.
(Editor and author of notes) Thomas Nickerson and others, The Loss of the Ship "Essex," Sunk By a Whale, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2000.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship "Essex," Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship "Essex" (for children), Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor, with Thomas Philbrick) The Private Journey of William Reynolds: United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 Penguin Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
Also editor-in-chief of Yaahting: A Parody, 1984.
Contributor to books, including Miriam Coffin; or, The Whale-Fishermen, by Joseph C. Hart, Mill Hill Press (Nantucket, MA), 1995; contributor to periodicals, including Vanity Fair, New York Times Book Review, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times.
Books adapted for audio include In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship "Essex," read by Edward Herrmann, Penguin Audio, 2000, and Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (unabridged; eleven CDs), Penguin Audio, 2006.
Inspired by his love of the sea, his knowledge of sailing, and his familiarity with life in coastal New England, Nathaniel Philbrick is a maritime historian known for publishing such critically praised works as Abram's Eyes: The Native American Legacy of Nantucket Island. Framing his work within the life story of Abram Quary, the island's last surviving Wampanoag native, Philbrick "affirms and enriches the depth of the maritime and American historical narrative," according to Sea History contributor Steven W. Jones, while in a New England Quarterly review Briton C. Busch maintained that Philbrick's "detailed knowl- edge of the island" makes Abram's Eyes an "important contribution" to the growing body of revisionist Native American history. Philbrick made the transition from being an admired regional writer to a nationally recognized author with his National Book Award-winning nonfiction title In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship "Essex."
Based on an 1820 incident that also inspired American novelist Herman Melville to pen his classic novel Moby Dick, In the Heart of the Sea follows the final trip of the whaleship Essex as it makes what started out as a routine ocean crossing. Near the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean the Essex was sunk after being rammed by an eighty-five-foot-long sperm whale. For the next month, three life boats carrying the ship's twenty-man crew sailed toward Henderson Island, the only island they knew to be safe from cannibals. Leaving three men there, the remaining seventeen crewmen set out on a three thousand-mile voyage to South America. Only a few survived the trip, as hunger, thirst, and despair thinned their tattered ranks. Those who lived to tell the tale suffered under the suspicion that they had engaged in cannibalism.
Using as his primary source an 1821 account of the voyage written by Essex first mate Owen Chase, Philbrick then "draws on modern research to explain the physiology of starvation, the pathology of cannibalism and the psychology of survival," explained Allen Mawer in his review of In the Heart of the Sea for the Times Literary Supplement, "in the process unraveling threads that are obscure or unintelligible in the original narrative." Praising the book as "by turns a compelling history, rip-roaring adventure and horror story," Geographical reviewer Chris Martin described In the Heart of the Sea as "a magnifying glass put to man's very nature," while Time contributor Frederic Golden found Philbrick's book to be "a spellbinding yarn … awash with human frailty."
Philbrick rewrote In the Heart of the Sea as a book for young readers titled Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship "Essex," as told by narrator Thomas Nickerson, the fifteen-year-old cabin boy. The abridging is accomplished by limiting description and in some cases substituting a more simple word for one from the original text. A suitable list of readings replaces the bibliography and notes. "With this masterful adaptation, Philbrick's work fills a void," wrote Elaine Fort Weischedel in School Library Journal.
Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 is a history of a four-year voyage by six vessels carrying 346 men that rivals the Lewis and Clark expedition but which is merely a footnote in history. This is due in part because there is no hero in this story. Charles Wilkes, who commanded the voyage, was an inexperienced leader who yearned for glory. He was despised by his men, who suffered floggings under his command and received no recognition for their contributions. Wilkes was chosen because no one else wanted the job, but major discoveries were made, including the land mass that Wilkes named Antarctica. Sections of the Pacific Northwest were charted, U.S. claims to the Columbia River and Puget Sound established, and hundreds of animal and plant species documented. The men experienced the best and the worst the world had to offer, and some were lost to cannibals. The expedition ended with five courts-martial, including that of Wilkes himself. Newsweek reviewer Malcolm Jones wrote: "Sea of Glory is a grand saga of scientific and nautical accomplishment. More than that, it is a fascinating exploration of human frailty. In Charles Wilkes, Philbrick reveals that strangest of characters—a magnificent loser." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Philbrick's account: "A rare blend of history, heroics, and gut-gripping emotion."
In Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Philbrick covers the period from when the Mayflower landed at what was to become Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, through the deadly King Philip's War, named for Metacom, called King Philip by the English, the son of Wampanoag chief Massasoit, and ending with the death of first governor William Bradford, who served from 1621 to 1656. Philbrick draws on Bradford's own history of the colony, a manuscript that was unfinished when he died in 1657 and later edited and published by Samuel Eliot Morison. Massasoit was largely responsible for aiding the settlers of Plymouth Colony and its leaders, including Bradford, Benjamin Church, and Miles Standish. But in the next half century, the newcomers became settled and confident and further colonization by Puritans, whose beliefs were very similar to those of the Pilgrims, imposed even further crowding. The settlers convinced the natives to sell large pieces of land for cloth, tools, and other common goods. Tensions increased, and the result was inevitable.
Metacom launched King Philip's War against Plymouth in 1675, and then carried it to Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Church was a militia captain who led many of the bloodiest confrontations, including the "Great Swamp Fight," in which thousands of Narragansett children, women, and elderly men were slaughtered by the colonists. Philbrick reveals little-known facts, including that Standish, who was called "Captain Shrimp" because of his short stature, was dangerous in a knife fight, and that Squanto really did teach the settlers how to fertilize corn with fish. While Bradford relied on him, Massasoit distrusted him, and justifiably so, as Squanto was looking to further his own interests as a leader. New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin noted that Philbrick remarks on the parallels between the past and present and said the book "explains that the Pilgrims disagreed about how much of their society's resources should be used for security; that natives were forced to mortgage (and subsequently lose) their land to pay off debts, that the deforestation rate to sustain a wood-burning Pilgrim village was astronomical; and that the firstborn son of William Bradford, another governor of Plymouth, wound up moving as far away from his famous father as he could get." Library Journal contributor Michael Rogers concluded: "Philbrick delivers a masterly told story that will appeal to lay readers and history buffs alike."
Philbrick, who has made his home on Nantucket Island since the mid-1980s, is director of the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies, which protects and preserves Nantucket's historic legacy through educational programs, a museum, a sailing school, and the operation of Mill Hill Press.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship "Essex," p. 1146; September 15, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition, p. 179; February 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, p. 4.
Boys' Life, May, 2003, Rich Haddaway, review of Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship "Essex," p. 11.
Economist, May 13, 2000, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 3; May 6, 2006, review of Mayflower, p. 83.
Entertainment Weekly, July 21, 2000, Troy Patterson, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 74; November 14, 2003, Bob Cannon, review of Sea of Glory, p. 131; May 12, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of Mayflower, p. 85.
Geographical, June, 2000, Chris Martin, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 95; April, 2004, Mick Herron, review of Sea of Glory, p. 84.
Hartford Courant, May 14, 2006, Jesse Leavenworth, review of Mayflower.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Revenge of the Whale, p. 1040; September 1, 2003, review of Sea of Glory, p. 1115.
Library Journal, November 15, 2003, Daniel Liestman, review of Sea of Glory, p. 81; April 1, 2006, Michael Rogers, review of Mayflower, p. 108.
New England Quarterly, March, 1999, Briton C. Busch, review of Abram's Eyes: The Native American Legacy of Nantucket Island, pp. 144-146.
New Statesman, June 26, 2006, James Wilson, review of Mayflower, p. 67.
Newsweek, December 1, 2004, Malcolm Jones, review of Sea of Glory, p. 64; May 1, 2006, David Gates, review of Mayflower, p. 63.
New Yorker, April 24, 2006, Jill Lepore, review of Mayflower, p. 164.
New York Times, May 4, 2006, Janet Maslin, review of Mayflower, p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, November 30, 2003, Robert R. Harris, review of Sea of Glory, p. 11; June 4, 2006, Russell Shorto, review of Mayflower, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 2000, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 88; September 8, 2003, review of Sea of Glory, 1838-1842, p. 64; February 6, 2006, review of Mayflower, p. 54; April 24, 2006, Andrew Richards, "Rediscovering America: In Mayflower, National Book Award Winner Nathaniel Philbrick Sheds Light on a Dark Chapter in American History," p. 20.
School Library Journal, November, 2000, Judy McAloon, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 185; September, 2002, Elaine Fort Weischedel, review of Revenge of the Whale, p. 250.
Sea History, summer, 1998, Steven W. Jones, review of Abram's Eyes, p. 58; autumn, 1998, Peter Stanford, review of Away off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, p. 42; May, 2004, Robert Saunderson, review of Sea of Glory, p. 178.
Time, May 1, 2000, Frederic Golden, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 76.
Times Literary Supplement, July 21, 2000, Allen Mawer, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 8.
U.S. News & World Report, November 27, 2000, Marc Silver, review of In the Heart of the Sea, p. 20.
BookReporter,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 25, 2007), Ann L. Bruns, review of In the Heart of the Sea.
Nathaniel Philbrick Home Page,http://www.nathanielphilbrick.com (February 25, 2007).