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Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America Hardcover – July 2, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this engrossing account, Dolin (Political Waters) chronicles the epic history of the American whaling industry, which peaked in the mid-18th century as "American whale oil lit the world." Temporarily dealt a blow by the Revolutionary War, whaling grew tremendously in the first half of the 19th century, and then diminished after the 1870s, in part because of the rise of petroleum. Many of America's pivotal moments were bound up with whaling: the ships raided during the Boston Tea Party, for example, carried whale oil from Nantucket to London before loading up with tea. Dolin also shows the ways whaling intersected with colonial conquest of Native Americans—had Indians not sold white settlers crucial coastal land, for example, Nantucket's whaling industry wouldn't have gotten off the ground. He sketches the complex relationship between whaling and slavery: service on a whaler served as a means of escape for some slaves, and whalers were occasionally converted into slave ships. This account is at once grand and quirky, entertaining and informative. 32 pages of illus. (July)
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From Booklist

Many people regard the hunting of whales as an archaic and even barbaric practice that threatens a magnificent, highly intelligent animal with extinction. The Japanese have been particularly scorched recently for their refusal to abide by various conventions to limit whaling. So it is useful, as well as very interesting, to be reminded of how integral a role whaling has played in our own national development. Dolin, who has written extensively on the marine world, has crafted a survey of the whaling industry over the past four centuries. It began in North America early in the seventeenth century and reached its peak in the mid–nineteenth century. Whaling was critical in the economic growth of New England, and whale products flooded international markets. Dolin provides wonderful, exhilarating accounts of whaling expeditions and illustrates just how dangerous the profession could be. He also describes (in sometimes gruesome detail) the industrialized processing of the fruits of the hunts. Even those adamantly opposed to the industry will find this to be a finely written account of a once-burgeoning industry. Freeman, Jay

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (July 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393060578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060577
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce Trinque on July 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Growing up as I did in southeastern New England - a childhood that included well-remembered trips to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts - whaling has long been part of my personal fabric of the historical past. Eric Jay Dolin's "Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America" meticulously details that part of the past. In his preface to the book, Dolin (trained in environmental studies) sets out his purpose as being to "re-create what whaling was, not to address what it should be now." And similarly he warns that "this book does not pass judgment on American whalemen by applying the moral, ethical, and cultural sensitivities of modern times to the actions of those who existed in a bygone era."

Dolin succeeds admirably in re-creating historical whaling, going back to early English and Dutch whaling efforts and discussing whether coastal American Indians actually engaged in anything beyond "drift whaling" (i.e., opportunistically making use of the carcasses of whales washed ashore). Allthough Basques had crossed the Atlantic as early as the mid-Sixteenth century to pursue "shore whaling" (rowing out from shore installations to hunt and kill whales), it was in particular the English colonists of northeastern American in the Eighteenth century who particularly made an art of deep-sea whaling, sailing out into the Atlantic on long voyages to pursue their prey. Whaling became a major source of economic tension in the decades leading to the American Revolution.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading Leviathan by Eric Jay Dolin was indeed a treat. This book tells the tale of the History of Whaling in America with precise details and in such a narrative form that one is intrigued by reading the volume. I truly did not want the chapters to end-as the writing was so well done.

The comprehensive foot notes for each chapter, were in themselves a treat to read and the knowledge that they contained was indeed valuable and enhanced the reading of the book.

I grew up in New Bedford, MA, once the whaling capital of the world, and took a course in the History of Whaling many years ago--and much of what Dolin tells I had never heard. Kudos to Mr. Dolin. I cannot wait for his next book to appear
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Format: Hardcover
If you have read Herman Melville's _Moby Dick_, you have an accurate idea of what American whaling was in the middle of the nineteenth century. Melville did not just tell the story of mad, doomed Captain Ahab, but included one chapter after another about whales, the history of whaling, the process of capturing and processing whales, and much more. It is a wild book for a wild enterprise, and for all its magnificent pessimism, it was published in 1851 when American whaling was booming. Melville must have thought that whaling would go on forever, but technology and economics changed vastly only a few decades after his masterpiece came out. His book was badly received and forgotten until the 1920's and will never be forgotten again, but American whaling, upon which much of our economy and even our democracy was based, will never come back. The great industry has a big and entertaining profile in _Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America_ (Norton) by Eric Jay Dolin. Dolin is an environmentalist who has written books on wildlife refuges, but this is certainly not a "Save the Whales" treatise. Whether whaling ought to continue (by other nations, of course) is not covered here, nor whether Americans should have been involved in so gross a slaughter for so long. Whalers could not have had our ecological credentials; they were merely taking part in an industry of fishing in an extreme form. They also could not have expected that their particular enterprise would be so influential to American history, one of Dolin's themes here.

The passengers of the _Mayflower_ itself saw whales playing off the beach of their new land, and learned from the Indians that the shoreline could be combed for cast-up whale carcasses.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm giving the book five stars for content: many other reviewers have covered the book's qualities more than adequately. My review is strictly about the Kindle edition. There are two serious problems with the Kindle edition:

1. There are no links to access the end notes. Given that it is very cumbersome to access end notes in Kindle without links, and given that this book makes extensive use of end notes, I consider the lack of links to be inexcusable.

2. There are no images. The printed editions have numerous high-quality black and white illustrations, which would be a natural to include in the Kindle book. However, there is not a single illustration in this Kindle edition.

Based on these two problems, I'd say the publisher tried to cut corners in creating a Kindle version of this book. I will be requesting a refund, and I recommend that people hold off on ordering this book for Kindle until the publisher releases a version that is functional and complete.
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