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The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea Paperback – February 8, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • 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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Yolanda S. Bean VINE VOICE on February 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Like most people, I have loved whales since I was a kid (though I have always been more fascinated by sharks...). This book's title, however, was a bit misleading... there were a lot of fascinating facts about whales, but it was honestly more about whaling than the whales themselves. Which made it a pretty depressing (albeit very interesting) read, all in all. And throughout, the book constantly references Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), and the life of Herman Melville. So, if you are very familiar with that piece of classic literature, I think you will enjoy this more than someone who only has limited knowledge of the book.

My only real complaint was that I would have liked even more information about the whales themselves, their lives and their habits, and a little less about the cruelty and utter destruction brought upon them by mankind. Although, this book managed to give a balanced look into whaling, and did not come off as the Sea Shepard's, or another eco-terrorist group's, manual. There certainly were a lot of facts that any eco-group could use, however. In handling this sensitive topic of history, this author certainly did a wonderfully detailed job. Well-written (despite a few rather abrupt transitions), and well-researched, the photos and drawings added a lot to this good, but on the whole, rather depressing look into the history of humanity's relationship with the whale.
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Format: Hardcover
This wide-ranging paean to the world's largest mammals had its origins in fear. As a boy, British biographer Hoare was terrified of water; his imagination reeling at the depths his eyes could not fathom.

Nevertheless, in his mid-20s he determined to learn to swim. "In the chilly East End pool, built between the wars, I discovered that the water could bear up my body. I realized what I had been missing; the buoyancy of myself."

He still wasn't ready to obsess about the whale for our benefit; he still found his attention wandering from the density of Herman Melville's Moby Dick despite repeated attempts. It wasn't until his first visit to New England and his first sight of a finback on a whale watch out of Provincetown that Hoare was hooked by the majesty of Leviathan.

He dove into Moby-Dick with new eyes and prepared to follow the whale himself, guided by Melville and his own curiosity. "Now, as I came to it again, I saw that Moby Dick is a book made mythic by the whale, as much as it made a myth of the whale in turn."

Hoare muses on Moby Dick's abject failure to stir the collective imagination during Melville's lifetime and the classic status it has since achieved. "Each time I read it, it is as if I am reading it for the first time....Every day I am reminded that it is part of our collective imagination; from newspaper leaders that evoke Ahab in the pursuit of the war on terror, to the ubiquitous chain of coffee shops named after the Pequod's first mate, Starbuck..."

A biographer at heart, Hoare (Noel Coward, Wilde's Last Stand) uses Melville's life as a springboard into 19th century whaling. Coming from a solidly middle class background of revolutionary heroes, Indian fighters and seafarers, Melville ran away to sea at 19.
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Format: Hardcover
After hearing the author on the radio, I was thrilled to find my local library had the book available. Now I'm very glad I didn't buy it, because I found the actaul book quite disappointing. There are interesting passages -- the story of the author's own pursuit of an encounter with whales is vivid and moving, and I enjoyed his examination of Melville's life and work (apparently repurposed from a program he created for the BBC). But the bulk of the book, as another reviewer has mentioned, is about whaling, not whales. Not only are there far too many details (many of them repeated several times) about the development of whaling in various oceans and centuries, there are too many descriptions of beached whales (how many do we really need?!), and too many visits to whale museums. If that's where your interests lie, you'll probably enjoy this book. But the information about the whales themselves is patchy and scattered. Hoare's model for the book is Ahab's pursuit of Moby-Dick, where the whale is seen only through the attempts to capture it, and the animal itself remains mysterious. Unfortunately "The Whale" follows the same pattern, and what is tragedy in Melville is only a missed opportunity in Hoare.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is a reason this book won the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non Fiction... it is an exceptionally good read while being highly educational!

"The Whale" is NOT a scientific treatise on whales yet there are enough facts and details about whales to satisfy just about any level of whale enthusiast and the many illustrations are just an added bonus.

Philip Hoare deeply admires and respects whales and perhaps is even obsessed with them. It is this passion for his subject that gives the book its "hook" as it literally grabs you and pulls you along for the ride.

Hoare tries very hard to seperate fact from fiction as it pertains to our knowledge of whales. He uses Herman Melville's classic "Moby Dick" as a stepping stone to do this. By referencing passages from the book as well as other historical journals and events that Melville might have used to source his story Hoare provides a dramatic history of the whale, the whaling industry and the tenuous relationship that whales and men have had over the past 400+ years! This provides some of the best and most riveting writing in the book. "You are there" as a sailor yells "there she blows" and the crew goes into action to chase and catch the whale.

But throughout Hoare provides specific and fascinating details about each species of whale that he introduces: from Narwhals, Belugas, Bowheads to the grandaddy of them all... the Sperm whale! Hoare tells of why whales were so in demand during the 18th and 19th century and why men would travel to the four corners of the earth risking death to catch them and bring home the spoils while he also tells of the naturalists and the scientists who made it their life's work to go on expeditions to study whales and their world.
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