Leviathan: The History of Whaling in Americaby Eric Jay Dolin
This is the epic history of the "iron men in wooden boats" who built an industrial empire through the pursuit of whales. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," Herman Melville proclaimed, and this absorbing history demonstrates that few things can capture the sheer danger and desperation of men on the deep sea as dramatically as whaling. Eric Jay Dolin begins his vivid narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614. He then chronicles the rise of a burgeoning industry-from its brutal struggles during the Revolutionary period to its golden age in the mid-1800s, when a fleet of more than 700 ships hunted the seas and American whale oil lit the world-to its decline as the twentieth century dawned. This sweeping social and economic history provides rich and often fantastic accounts of the men themselves, who mutinied, murdered, rioted, deserted, drank, scrimshawed, and recorded their experiences in journals and memoirs. Containing a wealth of naturalistic detail on whales, Leviathan is the most original and stirring history of American whaling in many decades.
The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times
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)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In the introduction to his sprawling account of America's whaling legacy, Dolin explicitly warns that his text is not concerned with the modern ethical implications of the whaling industry. Nor is it a revisionist exploration of the industry's heyday in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, with contemporary debate about the fate of whaling increasingly at the forefront, the historical events related here are all the more poignant. The Basques were most likely the first Europeans to centralize their economy around whaling; later, the industry helped enable the Dutch, Germans, and English to establish sea supremacy. Dolin devotes significant space to the importance of whaling in the relationship-and the dissolution thereof-between England and its American Colonies. He thoroughly discusses the pervasive influence of the whaling industry on American society, from the everyday drama of the seamen in search of commodity to the myriad items made of whale by-products available in the marketplace, including Spermaceti candles and ambergris. As its name suggests, Leviathan is a monumental treatise on a formative American institution, and Dolin admirably creates a cohesive story. Narrator James Boles is engaging, though at times his vocal inflections overdramatize what is historical nonfiction. Recommended for most libraries, especially those with strong historical or natural science collections.-Christopher Rager, Pasadena, CACopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
- Tantor Media, Inc.
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- Library - Unabridged CD
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- 6.90(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.80(d)
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Meet the Author
Eric Jay Dolin is the author of Leviathan, which was chosen as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe; Fur, Fortune, and Empire; and When America First Met China. A graduate of Brown, Yale, and MIT, he lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.
James Boles is an accomplished audiobook narrator and an award-winning stage actor.
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Dolin does a good job in tracing the American whaling industry from it's beginnings to it's demise. He's a little light on hard figures and the book could use some quantatative charts and tables but you can create your own from his raw data. My interest in the book was to provide more background on the whaling tradition and stories I grew up with here in New England. I also wanted to understand how industries rise and fall 'fishing, mini-computers'. What I also came away with is a comparison of the whale oil industry and the current petroleum industry. In both, as the resource got scarce, the industry had to go further from the US to find it. Costs increased. Alternative energy sources became more attractive 'petroleum to replace whale oil, ethanol, wind, solar for petroleum'. Because it was ship based, each time the US was at war 'Revolution, 1812, Civil' the whaling fleets were subject to attack, the supply of oil dropped, and whole towns lost their economic livelihood. Its easy to understand why the US Navy maintains a presence in the Gulf to protect oil tankers.