• The cover of the book In the Heart of the Sea

    In the Heart of the Sea

    Although it’s a deeply stylized work of fiction, Moby-Dick does have some historical precedents—among them the case of the Essex, a whaling vessel that was attacked by its quarry in the waters off the South American coast, leading to a terrible fate for most of its crew. Nathaniel Philbrick’s book on the Essex gives plenty of detail about the realities of life on a whaling ship and provides an insightful look into what society was like on Nantucket in the early part of the 19th century. Philbrick has tackled related topics in two other books that may also be of interest: Away Off Shore and Why Read Moby-Dick?.

     
  • The cover of the book Railsea

    Railsea

    As with many a book by the visionary British author China Miéville, Railsea has a decidedly high concept: it’s set on a vessel traveling over a vast series of intricately connected railways, with strange creatures lurking below the surface. The novel’s protagonist is a crewman traveling on a train that traverses the railsea, hunting giant mole rats as it goes. The ship’s captain has a fixation on hunting one particular creature, a mania that may sound familiar. But this novel isn’t exactly a retelling of Melville’s novel; instead, Miéville knowingly riffs on it, while also commenting on how aspects of its plot have become codified over time.