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War of the Whales: A True Story Hardcover – July 1, 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 292 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

Review

A gripping, brilliantly told tale of the secret and deadly struggle between American national security and the kings of the oceans. At once thrilling and heartbreaking, this is a landmark book of deep, original reporting which could alter forever how we view our role as stewards of the seas. Author: Bob Woodward, author of The Price of Politics

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

Product details

  • 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
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 292 ratings

Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
292 global ratings
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Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on October 10, 2018
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Reviewed in the United States on May 14, 2019
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Reviewed in the United States on August 31, 2015
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Top reviews from other countries

Maya J
5.0 out of 5 stars Would thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in conservation and ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 29, 2014
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Latcho Vladov
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 21, 2014
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Gary Kett
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 8, 2017
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shell
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book to read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 28, 2016
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Neil Tufano
4.0 out of 5 stars Persistance and grit win a reprieve for Whales vs US Navy
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 24, 2015
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