Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

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by Eric Jay Dolin, James Boles
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An exhaustive, richly detailed history of industrial American whaling.... A real taste of the vile life aboard a whaleship and a cleareyed analysis of the cutthroat tactics of the whale-oil trade." —The New York Times
William Grimes
…anyone whose knowledge of whaling begins and ends with Moby-Dick will get a solid education from Mr. Dolin, who fills in the historical record and sets the stage for the glory years when men like Melville set out from Nantucket, New Bedford, Sag Harbor and dozens of other ports on voyages lasting as long as four years.
—The New York Times
Bruce Barcott
It would take courage to approach whaling as a literary subject—everything ever written about it lives in the shadow of Moby-Dick—and Leviathan doesn't really aspire to those heights. Accurate details and a full historical scope, not drama, are the book's driving virtues. At times that approach results in wonderful insights into whaling: a real taste of the vile life aboard a whaleship and a cleareyed analysis of the cutthroat tactics of the whale-oil trade. At other times, the details become overwhelming. In the end, though, Dolin succeeds admirably at what he sets out to do: tell the story of one of the strangest industries in American history.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

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
Library Journal

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, CA

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
National Marine Fisheries Service analyst Dolin compellingly examines whaling's importance to America's early growth and wealth. The author traces the industry's development, from enthusiastic whale hunting by eighth-century Basques to the introduction of an array of whale products throughout Europe by the 17th century. The first American settlers saw Indians cutting up dead pilot whales stranded on the beach and soon tried "drift" whaling themselves. Favorably located near migratory routes, Nantucket took the lead first in drift whaling and then in shore whaling, rowing out to harpoon leviathans swimming near the coast. The island's hardworking, business-minded Quaker settlers, relying on the local Indians as an abundant source of skilled labor, launched deep-sea hunting for the sperm whale and its three lucrative components: oil for clean lighting, spermaceti for medicinal elixirs and candles, ambergris as a fixative for perfumes. (Right whales provided another commercially successful product: baleen for corset stays.) Dolin takes the reader through the facets of sperm-whale hunting, detailing the creature's actual physical makeup and the nasty life aboard whaling vessels, then moving on to describe the dangerous chase for an elusive, troublesome prey, followed by the dismemberment and processing of its carcass. Various American wars dealt disastrously with the whaling industry, though it recovered after 1812 and, by the early 1850s, had entered the golden age Herman Melville depicted in Moby-Dick. In 1853, the top year of production, ships from New Bedford, New London and Sag Harbor killed an astounding 8,000 whales to produce 103,000 barrels of sperm oil and 5.7 million pounds ofbaleen. But the discovery of crude oil in Pennsylvania during the late 1850s produced a flood of cheap kerosene that soon supplanted whale oil as the principle source of lamp fuel. Dolin closes with the final voyage of New Bedford's last whaling ship in 1924. A densely researched and comprehensive portrait, enhanced by fascinating archival paintings and photos. Agent: Russell Galen/Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency
New York Times
Leviathan is an exhaustive, richly detailed history of industrial American whaling...Dolin succeeds admirably at what he sets out to do: tell the story of one of the strangest industries in American history.— Bruce Barcott
The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Dolin handles this long, complex tale with great skill, both as a historian and as a writer (the bibliography and illustrations are splended too)...Leviathan is thoroughly engaging.— John Steele Gordon
New York Sun
...perfect summer reading, especially if you happen to be spending the summer by the sea, or on it.— Adam Kirsch
The Boston Globe
Eric Jay Dolin's lively and thorough history spans the rise, golden age, and decline of what was once one of New England's distinctive industries...Dolin chose to take on the subject in its broadest form, and if he leaves us wanting more, that is what good history does.— David Waldstreicher
Adam Kirsch - New York Sun
“...perfect summer reading, especially if you happen to be spending the summer by the sea, or on it.”
Bruce Barcott - New York Times
“Leviathan is an exhaustive, richly detailed history of industrial American whaling...Dolin succeeds admirably at what he sets out to do: tell the story of one of the strangest industries in American history.”
David Waldstreicher - The Boston Globe
“Eric Jay Dolin's lively and thorough history spans the rise, golden age, and decline of what was once one of New England's distinctive industries...Dolin chose to take on the subject in its broadest form, and if he leaves us wanting more, that is what good history does.”
John Steele Gordon - The Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Dolin handles this long, complex tale with great skill, both as a historian and as a writer (the bibliography and illustrations are splended too)...Leviathan is thoroughly engaging.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400154845
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
08/01/2007
Edition description:
MP3 - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"An exhaustive, richly detailed history of industrial American whaling.... A real taste of the vile life aboard a whaleship and a cleareyed analysis of the cutthroat tactics of the whale-oil trade." —-The New York Times

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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Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.