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When Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea, visited campus as part of the One Book One Community project, it must have felt somewhat familiar to him.
He began by announcing that his in-laws are alumni of Bridgewater. He then joked about once living in Bridgewater, Conn.
“I’d much rather live in Bridgewater, Massachusetts,” he said. “This is a great town.”
In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the ship Essex, which left Nantucket for the South Pacific in 1819, and was rammed by a whale in the middle of the ocean. It came out in 2000, and earned the National Book Award for nonfiction.
In the fall of 1999, Mr. Philbrick recounted, he was contacted by a local woman who had a letter from someone connected to the disaster. She asked if he wanted to see it.
“I don’t know how fast I got off Nantucket got in a car and drove to Bridgewater,” he said.
The letter drove home for him once again a key point.
“It showed you the influence of this disaster and the tragedy for those involved,” he said.
His talk continued with a discussion of his process in researching and writing In the Heart of the Sea.
“For a historian it’s all about the evidence,” he said. “You try to tell a story as fully as you can but if the evidence isn’t there you’re in trouble. And one of the difficult things in telling narrative history is that inevitably there are events where you don’t have the documentation you’d like.”
The talk was followed by a book signing.
More information about the One Book One Community program can be found here.
(Photo by Shawn Finn, ’13, story by John Winters, G ’11, University Advancement)