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Notable New Books

Jan 1, 2003

In the Heart of the Seaby Nathaniel PhilbrickNo one who reads Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea will never again gnaw on a turkey drumstick without conjuring up horrifying images of starving seamen clinging to life by chewing on the bones of a human corpse.It is a carefully researched and written tale of survival at sea, constructed on a solid historical base, and framed with insights from a previously unpublished manuscript of 14-year-old cabin boy Thomas Nickerson of the Nantucket whaleship Essex. It is the story of a few men who survived the ramming and sinking of their ship by a rogue whale, and their subsequent ordeal sailing three leaky whaleboats to the coast of South America. Philbrick stokes the fires of our imagination, and renders his forceful, convincing, and timeless story of men struggling for survival on an unforgiving sea.

Viking Penguin, New York, N.Y.; 212-366-2000; 289 pages; $24.95.J. Gregory DillThe Water in Betweenby Kevin PattersonAn inexperienced sailor sets to sea from Victoria, British Columbia, to Tahiti and reflects on life ashore from the safety of his sailing vessel. Despite being young, healthy, and a doctor, Kevin Patterson's life is in shambles: he needs the perspective (the water in between) to figure out where heand humanity as a wholewent wrong.

He succeeds, with lots of help, in getting to Tahiti and back. But his voyage is full of torment, both real and imaginary, and he fails to feel the shot-in-the-arm effect so many voyagers and travelers brag about in their books. Rather than rising above frailty and cowardice, he accepts these traits as his own and ultimately comes back to shore more aware of inalienable dependencies than ever. His voyage should be required reading for those considering escape on a sailboat. The Water in Between is one of the most lucid, comic, and engaging works of travel literature to rise from the ocean in recent memory.

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, New York; 212-354-6500; 300 pages; $23.95.