In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (Penguin Books, 2000)
I read Moby-Dick my freshman year in college. It was a long slog, even for an avid reader like me. But back then my tastes did not run to "literature," much less literature required by English teachers; perhaps I would appreciate it more now. In fact, I'm tempted to give it another go, now that I've read In the Heart of the Sea. The tale of the Essex was Herman Melville's inspiration.
I'd encountered Philbrick once before: His Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, which greatly impressed me back in 2010. In the Heart of the Sea gets the same good rating, but with a warning: As much as I found it fascinating, I found it depressing. Possibly this is merely a reflection of my own darker mood, induced by events associated with going on two years of pandemic. I find the sinful nature of humanity revealed a little to graphically here; ditto the grisly business of butchering a whale.
But there's no doubt it's a fascinating story, impeccably researched and dramatically told. Maybe it's time to dig up Moby-Dick and see if it's as painful as I remember.