- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (February 8, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061976202
- ISBN-13: 978-0061976209
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 48 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #660,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea Paperback – February 8, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: After reading Moby Dick, author Philip Hoare was so captivated by the subject that he spent years trying to fathom the planet’s most enormous and enigmatic of creatures. Hoare's admitted mania for whales led him to write Leviathan, or the Whale—which was awarded the 2009 Samuel Johnson Prize, Britain’s most prestigious award for nonfiction. The book has finally migrated to this side of the Atlantic under a new title, The Whale. Hoare is not a scientist, but rather a biographer whose subjects have tended toward highbrow figures like Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde. In approaching cetaceans, the author’s non-scientific background works to great advantage. Similar to Melville, Hoare has captured a wide range of historical and scientific facts about whales, but has chosen to present them through an extremely powerful instrument--the literary imagination. The result is a deeply moving and thought-provoking biography of the planet’s toughest, yet most vulnerable of prehistoric survivors. The Whale takes us well beyond the limits of what we can see, hear or otherwise objectively "know" about whales, and offers a much more vivid sense of their true magnitude. --Lauren Nemroff
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A young boy's first glimpse of a whale in captivity matures into a writer's paean to the giants of the deep in this poetic blend of nautical history, literary allusion, personal experience, and natural science by British biographer Hoare (Noël Coward). With Melville as his mentor and Ishmael as his muse, the author haunts one-time whaling town New Bedford, Mass., America's richest city in the mid–19th century thanks to whale oil and baleen (whalebone); recreates the cramped life on board the whalers of 200 years ago; weaves writing about whales by Emerson and Poe into his narrative; and finally revels in face-to-fin encounters with his obsession, swimming with the whales in the Atlantic. Though Hoare rhapsodizes most about the fabled sperm whale, the world's largest predator with a history dating back 23 million years, he also describes with succinct precision other species—the beaked, blue, fin, humpback, and the killer whale, the sperm whale's only nonhuman predator. This tour de force is a sensuous biography of the great mammals that range on and under Earth's oceans. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The great thing about this book is that it also seamlessly blends in so many strands of thought, such as the love and awe of the sea, of ships and sailors, of the fishing industry, of American and World history and always in the background is Moby Dick, Ishmael, Melville, Captain Ahab, and other iconic characters and locations. I have never read the Moby Dick, but you don't have to if you have any appreciation for any the world of the sea.
The structure of the book is quite intricate, with different subjects often intertwined, and the same subject sometimes scattered along different parts of the book, what I found sometimes annoying. Mr. Hoare, in addition to cetaceans, is obsessed with Melville's masterpiece; Ishmael is a constant companion, quoted often to illustrate the book's meanderings through whales' biology, anatomy, behavior and unhappy interplay with mankind. Sperm whales are, as would be expected, looked at in more detail. Even then a lot is left unexplained; for obvious reasons leviathans are not easily observed in their natural environment and most of our knowledge about them comes merely from the observation of corpses. Whales in general are mysterious beasts, but sperm whales even more so: the largest toothed animals, mammals' ablest divers, hunters of squids of unfathomable size, owners of surreptitious echolocation powers, and so on.
Mr. Hoare being a biographer, a short one of Herman Melville is provided, revolving around Moby Dick, of course. It goes through his seafaring experience in the Acushnet and the several literary works derived from it, his acquaintance with Hawthorne - to whom Moby Dick is dedicated - and their friendship up to Melville's death.
The history of modern whaling is covered more extensively than whales themselves. Focusing mainly on America and Britain, whaling industry is described since its craddle in Nantucket in the 17th century. So is the evolution of the techniques used to hunt, process and conserve their prey. It's a fascinating and sad history, in which the astonishing array of uses devised along the centuries for cetaceans' carcasses are described - from the pre-electricity need of oil for ilumination up to the use of spermaceti-derived lubricants in spaceships. Chapters relating the slaughtering along the 20th century, with the use of the modern weaponry devised to this end - explosive harpoons, huge factory-ships, helicopters and airplanes to spot the catch among them - are particularly nauseating. The saddest part of it is that the killing only resumed when the cetacean population had been depleted to a level that turned its exploitation economically unviable. According to a scientist quoted in the book, "Conservation had failed mainly because whales belonged to no one and it was no one's direct interest to look after them."
I think that some editing, reducing descriptions of whaling museums and stranded whales, for example, would benefit "The Whale". The narrative of Thoreau's contacts with whales also seems irrelevant in the book's context. I lacked, on the other hand, a more substantial approach to pre-modern whaling.
If you are a Mody Dick fan, I highly recommend this book. If your interest lies only in flesh-and-bone whales though, not so much so.