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War of the Whales: A True Story Hardcover – July 1, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2014: Reported and written with great passion and precision, this is a gripping and wholly original tale of the ecological side effects of national security. When whales begin beaching themselves in the Bahamas, a marine researcher suspects a clandestine military sonar program. The fight to protect the gentle giants of the sea from the U.S. Navy reads like an eco-thriller crossed with the best of investigative journalism. The action veers from Caribbean beaches to the Pentagon, from the San Juan Islands of Washington State to the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court. At the center of the action is marine biologist and ex-Navy man, Ken Balcomb, a relentless defender of the whales he’s come to love. Take your fictional pick: Balcomb is either Quixote, Ishmael, or David to the Navy’s Goliath. He’s also got a backstory worthy of its own book--an absent-father childhood, a lengthy (and secret) Navy career, three failed marriages, and finally a passion for marine mammals. When Balcomb teams up with activist environmental lawyer Joel Reynolds, the story’s twists and turns expose us to the hidden histories of underwater submarine surveillance and its impact on deep-sea dwellers. Joshua Horwitz is an exuberant storyteller, and this is a rare trifecta of a book: important, highly readable, and stunningly true. --Neal Thompson
As War of the Whales…makes convincingly clear, the connection between naval sonar and deadly mass strandings of whales is scientifically undeniable…a strong and valuable narrative. Source: Washington Post, 50 Notable Books 2014
Intimate and urgent storytelling....Horwitz's years of research and observation lend genuine drama to this save-the-whales tale. The author paints rich portraits of his subjects, much fuller than the rote physical descriptions and caricatures that might pass for characterization in a breezier work of nonfiction. Source: Chicago Tribune
A fascinating read and incredibly informative. This is a powerful book and will be of great interest to anyone concerned with marine mammal protection, the uneasy balance between the competing desires for national security and environmental protection, or the messy politics of scientific inquiry. Author: HOWARD ERNST, Professor of Political Science at the United States Naval Academy Source: Navy Proceedings Magazine
Horwitz delivers a powerful, engrossing narrative that raises serious questions about the unchecked use of secrecy by the military to advance its institutional power. Author: Kirkus starred review Source: Best Nonfiction Books of 2014
In this gripping detective tale, science writer Horwitz recreates a day-by-day account of the quest to find the reasons for the mass strandings; the Navy’s resistance and cover-up of their use of sonar in the area; and the drawn out struggles between Balcomb, Joel Reynolds, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Navy. . . . Riveting. Author: Publishers Weekly
In a riveting and groundbreaking new book, War of the Whales, Joshua Horwitz, chronicles the true story of the 20-year battle led by scientists and environmental activists against military sonar. It reads like the best investigative journalism, with cinematic scenes of strandings and dramatic David-and-Goliath courtroom dramas as activists diligently hold the Navy accountable. A page-turning detective story, War of the Whales... chillingly tracks the US Navy’s culture of secrecy as it collides with environmental groups and grassroots’ demand for transparency. Author: Brenda Peterson Source: Huffington Post
For those looking for the perfect non-fiction beach read, you couldn’t do better than War of the Whales: A True Story, Joshua Horwitz’s recounting of an attorney and marine biologist who take on the Navy and the fatal harm they are causing the ocean’s mammals. Source: CBS Watch! Magazine
Engaging… War of the Whales reads like a novel, but the story it tells is true…a fascinating personal tale. Source: Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly
From severed whale heads to top-secret Naval warfare ops, from the blue waters of the Bahamas to the inner corridors of the Pentagon, War of the Whales is a true-life detective story, military drama and legal procedural of the first order. Joshua Horwitz channels John Grisham and Jacques Cousteau in a way that will leave the reader inspired, outraged and deeply satisfied. Author: David Helvarg, Founding Director of Blue Frontier Campaign
Highly detailed…Suits, appeals and maneuvering all the way to the Supreme Court expose a fascinating but sometimes demoralizing conflict, since the book depicts yet another example of the executive branch of government operating as though it were above the law. That Horwitz persevered and made this important battle public is admirable. Source: Seattle Times
Intriguing…offers excellent capsule descriptions of various scientific specialties, and scientists. Source: San Francisco Chronicle
Horwitz skillfully builds the narrative around the lives of Balcomb and Joel Reynolds…wisely relat[ing] the messiness of their lives as well as their professional accomplishments. Just as wisely, Horwitz does not reduce the Navy characters to villainy….War of the Whales offers a vivid portrait of unexpected intersections between humans and marine mammals. I, for one, will never again think about whales and marine mammal researchers and Navy maneuvers in the ways I did before reading Horwitz’s book. Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"As riveting and as involved as a good novel with a lengthy cast of characters.” Source: The Journal of Supreme Court History
[A] compelling account of what happens when animal and human interests collide—and a sobering look at the suffering caused by increasingly noisy oceans. Source: All Animals (Humane Society Magazine)
War of the Whales takes us deep inside the soundscape of our acoustically complex seas, where whales have evolved to communicate, navigate and hunt with sound. It's the true story of the underwater collision between life in the ocean and an acoustic storm of military sonar -- and of citizen activists holding accountable the world's most powerful Navy. For anyone who wants to save marine life from drowning in man-made noise, this is a must-read book. Author: Jean-Michel Cousteau, Ocean Futures Society
Seneca said it best: 'He who is brave is free.' War of the Whales tells the astounding true story of how brave men and women, free from fear, spoke truth to the most powerful military on earth to save the most majestic creatures in the oceans. Author: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Founder and President of the Waterkeeper Alliance
War of the Whales is the surprising and untold story of how two individuals united in a desperate fight to protect dolphins and whales from the deadly acoustic assault of navy sonar. Deeply researched, and brimming with colorful and interesting detail, Joshua Horwitz's gripping book reads like a thriller but, in the tradition of the best non-fiction writing, brings to light the secret history of military sonar and its devastating connection to traumatized whales and dolphins stranding and dying on beaches around the world. Author: Tim Zimmerman, Co-Writer of "Blackfish", author of "The Killer In The Pool"
A gripping, true-life tale… War of the Whales blends together the spirit of both a suspense thriller of a Grisham novel (except that it's not fiction) and the political intrigue of an All The President's Men. Source: Journal of the San Juan Islands
The story is so artfully constructed that you are drawn in and forget that you are not reading a novel…. [A] story that is fascinating even if you have no interest in whales or navy sonar…. [H]is masterfully crafted book is guaranteed to bring the issues to a larger audience. Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Author Joshua Horwitz structures this account like an eco-legal thriller, layering his research so that film of a Navy ship seen in the water near the site of the beachings hangs there like damning evidence…. As humans encroach ever further into wild spaces, the impact on the creatures living there must be minimized or mitigated. War of the Whales tells one story among many of its type, but it speaks to the need for improved stewardship with urgency. Source: Bookpage
Suspenseful and moving and fascinating in equal measure…Stranding investigations are about cause and effect. But in showing us, based on the best available evidence, what the Navy’s sonar transit might have been like for the whales that suffered through it, the book reminds us of the dignity of the individual animal. Author: Michael Jasney Source: Switchboard (Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog)
A true story brilliantly told…The book is compelling, it’s comprehensive, it’s ground-breaking – and it’s infuriating. Author: Joel Reynolds Source: Switchboard (Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog)
Amazing…Forget toting the latest spy novel or horror story to the beach this summer; take War of the Whales instead. You don't need to be an eco-warrior to learn from this real-life thriller. Source: The Washingtonian
A page-turning ride…Horwitz tells a taut, energetic story that feels immediate, even though the events are nearly a decade old. War of the Whales is a reminder — and a warning — that our technological, industrial, and military prowess produces unintended consequences for other species with which we share this fragile planet. Source: Santa Barbara Independent
The gripping tale of two men’s crusade to protect the earth’s oceans and the majestic creatures that call it home will appeal to the activist hidden within every reader…The story is as intriguing as it is informative as Horowitz weaves together legal drama, natural history and military intrigue. Source: PruTexas.com
A game changing book that unveils, layer by layer, the blood-stained legacy of Navy sonar on whales and dolphins. Source: The Dodo.com
War of the Whales has all the elements of a good beach-read thriller: compelling characters, a tight mystery, even a cute animal: in this case, beaked whales. However, Horwitz is talking real life…If you are looking for [an] edutaining beach reading this summer, War of the Whales would be a good choice. Source: Fiction Reboot
The opening scenario of this fascinating story is shocking and heartbreaking…well-researched and passionate. Source: Lansing City Pulse
Immersive reading. Source: LibraryJournal.com, Wyatt’s World
It’s that time of year when bookstores everywhere showcase “summer reading” options. But take a pass on the books touted as easy reading and pick up War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz instead. Source: OceanWildThings.com
Joshua Horwitz's strongly-written book about a secret Navy program that targeted whales will pull at your heartstrings harder than anything you've experienced since Free Willy 3. Source: Outblush.com
Brilliant…[Horwitz] astonishes us with the breadth and depth of his coverage of why whales are dying as a result of sonar systems in the oceans, the legal battle between environmental groups and the U.S. Navy, and the pain and suffering resulting from the "unintended consequences ‘of keeping the United States safe. Source: SpiritualityandPractice.com
Fans of the Blackfish documentary will enjoy Joshua Horwitz's incredible new book…the effort to reveal the truth sets up an epic battle that spills over the pages of War of the Whales, combining legal drama, natural history, and military intrigue into an surprising tale of the battle for the ocean's future. Source: CultofMac.com
An astounding and brave expose of how it has penetrated our oceans and how destructive that involvement is to cetaceans…Horwitz moves us profoundly…This is an essential read for those interested in the ocean environment and in how the world really works. Source: Barnstable Patriot
Pitch-perfect prose and compelling detail…Horwitz’s fine text is filled with multi-dimensional characters and frenetic action. It has deservedly been designated one of the best books of the year so far. Source: Daily Herald
Fascinating… Horwitz does a superb job… This is narrative journalism at its finest and one of the best nonfiction books of the year. Source: Queen Anne & Magnolia News
War of the Whales is well researched and provides deep insight into the little known consequences of our government’s use of sonar technology — two reasons it’d make great fodder for conversation at a summer cocktail party. Just don’t be surprised if you take up the mantle of environmental activist after plowing through it. Source: TheEffortlessChic.com
A must read! Source: OceanWildThings.com
"WAR OF THE WHALES is riveting, wide-ranging, and a masterly account of this landmark showdown in courtrooms and the court of public opinion." Source: A Green Beauty
“War of the Whales is as gripping as any spy novel, but from the perspective of having reported at the time about the central events and conflicts that Horwitz covers, being acquainted with most of Horwitz’s cast of characters, and even having been on the original cc. list for some of the e-mails he quotes, I can attest first hand to the accuracy and insightfulness of his writing.” Source: Animals24-7.org
What really gained my admiration for Horwitz was how he was able to weave scientific and historical aspects of the story into a gripping tale that reads like a detective thriller. Source: Puget Sound Blog
“Confirms the consensus of so many readers and critics that War of the Whales is an exceptional achievement in non-fiction story-telling.” Source: Huffington Post, feature on PEN Award win
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; First Edition (July 1, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 448 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1451645015
- ISBN-13 : 978-1451645019
- Item Weight : 1.68 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.4 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #891,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The author's well of primary research material is enormous, and I'm in awe of his ability to process what appear to be thousands upon thousands of pages of academic research and Office of Naval Research records. Assembling a timeline alone must have taken at least a year. Certainly, some of the detail strays deep into weeds territory and may be a turn-off to casual readers. I encourage them to stick with it, if only for a glimpse into how the naval office operates.
As for the story, it's heartbreaking and haunting. I had no idea that whales' anatomy is so very complex, and draws so much university-level interest. I also got a lesson on sound, how it travels and why. I have no doubt that these animals suffered immensely, and with them the humans that advocated for them. It's been several months since I finished "Whales," and just about every day since I've been struck by some aspect of it. "War of the Whales" is not an easy read, or a light or entertaining one. But it's a tale that needed to be told, and demands to be read.
This book had its share of villains and heroes. Probably a highlight of the book was reading about the incredibly dedicated people, like Ken Balcomb and Joel Reynolds and others, who have literally devoted their lives and careers to defending whales, dolphins and marine species of all kinds. Without their commitment and perseverance, there likely wouldn't be a whale left that hadn't died by stranding due to military sonar bombardment and bomb detonation. Other organizations discussed in the book also wreaked havoc for marine life blasting away during oil exploration.
As Jane Goodall so aptly stated, "Each and every animal on earth has as much right to be here as you and me." To totally disregard the safety of an entire species, like whales, is abhorrent. And that's the one problem with this book - it leaves one with very little respect for the U.S. Navy and their utter disregard for the oceans and the creatures they should be stewards of - not destroyers of. It's my understanding that things have changed, but it will remain to be seen if they actually walk their talk.
Yes, having grown up and lived most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, I am particularly fond of whales and water. I am appalled by the tons of toxic debris the Navy has dumped into the ocean and the fact that they used to use orcas for target practice. It's almost unbelievable, quite frankly, that any civilized person with a brain and a heart would do such things. But apparently they had neither. Do they now? I understand that the Navy has an extremely difficult mission, but when marine animals and oceans are destroyed in the name of "protecting" us, there's something wrong.
Ken Balcomb was/and is a very dedicated, unswerving individual. I did feel, however, that the author revealed more about Ken's personal life than was necessary.
My quibbles with the book are minor (but enough to bring it down from its 5 star trajectory). There is a lot of personal stuff about a some folks that is just misplaced. To say that their work took a major toll on their personal lives would have been enough. No need to go into their multiple failed marriages and childhoods. That may have been a clumsy attempt to lure readers. Not necessary, it's a fascinating story in it's own right. Secondly, the ending was anticlimactic. Three hundred pages of great build up, heroic efforts, honorable people, hardworking knowledgeable experts on both sides of the argument and the ending is down right depressing. So frustrating.
Overall this was fascinating and it never dragged. This is the best kind of book. I came away from it much smarter and more informed than when I started and I never noticed I was learning. Highly recommended.