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Winner of the BBC’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, British author Hoare’s illustrated biography of one of the most magnificent beasts on the planet is a deeply personal pilgrimage across the globe, from the gigantic models of a leviathan at London’s Natural History Museum to his first glimpse of a killer whale in the Azores, where he swam with a sperm whale. Inspired by a careful reading of Melville’s Moby-Dick, Hoare illuminates the intimate yet troubled relationship between whales and men, from a 16th-century tale of a stranded whale “100 fathoms long” that took four days to die to P. T. Barnum’s museum on Broadway where beluga whales were exhibited in 1861. Hoare’s assiduous research also includes the rise of the whaling industry and our more recent efforts to protect these ancient mammals.
Richly stocked with whale lore, studded with glittering shards of natural history and social science, The Whale is also peppered with Hoare’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. In this compendious account, his passion for whales is infectious, delivering an idiosyncratic mingling of autobiography, anthropology, and archaeology in an enthralling yet rigorously researched volume.
“It cast a spell onme that endured for days. This is the book he was born to write, a classic of its kind. What poetry…and what a balm for the soul.” — The Observer (London)
Where there is a place on the planet likely to harbor whales of just about any description, Hoare is likely to have visited it, to have read about it, to have studied its every contour. The Whale results from years of devoted researching, talking, kayaking, diving and swimming; it is equal parts almanac, literary study, celebration, elegy, eulogy and literary travel essay…[it] nicely pairs with the work of Richard Ellis, another modern literary student of the sea and author of The Book of Whales, among many other titles. Hoare takes a less encyclopedic, more poetic approach than Ellis, but his work is equally rigorous, something every serious student of whalesand, more widely conceived, of the natural worldwill want to have at hand.
The Washington Post
Moby-Dick is often viewed as a singularly American creation. Part of the beguiling genius of The Whale, a rhapsodic meditation on all things cetacean, is that Philip Hoare so suggestively explores the English origins of Herman Melville's masterpiece while providing his own quirky, often revelatory take on the more familiar aspects of the novel. But The Whale is about much more than the literary sources of Moby-Dick. Always in the foreground of Hoare's narrative is the whale itself, a creature that haunts and fascinates him as he travels to old whaling ports in both Britain and America, where he speaks with cetologists, naturalists, museum curators and former whalers on a quest to understand the whale, the cosmos and himself.
The New York Times
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.)
First published in Britain in 2008 as Leviathan and the winner of the prestigious BBC Samuel Johnson Prize, this gracefully written exploration of why whales fascinate us combines science, literature, history, and personal reflections. The author is a British writer of biographies of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde and an enthusiastic traveler to such whale-related locales as Nantucket, MA, and Mystic, CT. His discussions of whale biology, physiology, and migration are interspersed with quotes from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, excerpts from well-written accounts of 19th-century whaling voyages, and stories of present-day whale-watching trips, adding rich background. The illustrations, detailed index, and brief glossary add reference value. VERDICT Alexandra Morton's Listening to Whales and Trevor Norton's Underwater To Get Out of the Rain are other examples of books that center on the authors' personal relationships to the marine world. Fans of those titles as well as of Richard Ellis's Men and Whales will enjoy. Sure also to appeal to whale enthusiasts without a formal science background.—Judith B. Barnett, Univ. of Rhode Island Lib., Kingston
British biographer Hoare (England's Lost Eden: Adventures in a Victorian Utopia, 2005, etc.) exults in the outsized glory of whales. The author approaches his subject with fascination, with the creatures themselves, but also their environment: the ports that grew in their wake, the literature they spawned and, of course, the ocean, captured by Thoreau just the way Hoare likes it-"a wilderness reaching around the globe, wilder than a Bengal jungle, and fuller of monsters, washing the very wharves of our cities and the gardens of our sea-side residences." The author claims no scientific insight or cosmic communion with the leviathans, but he seeks to share his pure joy with readers. He delights in curious whale facts: a whale can be lavender in color; the humpback is known for its merriment; sperm whales are known to eat sharks, not to mention the stray human, one of whom was still alive when freed from the whale's stomach. Hoare evokes with color and clarity the historical and latter-day aspects of whaling towns like New Bedford, Nantucket and Provincetown in Massachusetts, and Hull and Whitby in England. He also illuminates the dismal economics of whaling-the oil and ambergris, the candles and scrimshaw. Moby-Dick figures prominently, bowling over Hoare with its pungency, its radical artistic departure and the darkness and mystery of its proceedings. Finally, the author gets his chance to interact with the behemoths out in the deep Atlantic water: "Its great grey head turned towards me, looking like an upright block of granite, overwhelmingly monumental. Its entirety was my own."A delightfully intimate and unapologetically personal engagement-a deserved winner of the 2009Samuel Johnson Prize in Britain. New England regional author tour, including Connecticut, Portland, Maine, Provincetown, R.I., New Bedford, Mass., Portsmouth, N.H., New York, Providence, R.I. and upon request. Agent: Gillon Aitken/Gillon Aitken Associates
“A love letter to the ‘largest, loudest, oldest’ mammal ever to have existed....Salted with astounding facts...this is an exhilarating valentine.”
All Things Considered - NPR
"You don’t have to love Moby Dick to love this book. But if you do, THE WHALE is probably one of the most sublime reading experiences you’ll have this year."
"A love letter to the ‘largest, loudest, oldest’ mammal ever to have existed....Salted with astounding facts...this is an exhilarating valentine."
“Philip Hoare’s THE WHALE is everything you want from a book. It is unpredictable and amusing and informative and original, cavorting between biology, history, travel writing, and memoir with an engaging sense of the subject’s charisma. And the book is even handsome.”
“This singular, magnificent book inspires both awe and shame—awe of the whales, shame of the human species that has tried to destroy them. In the end, Hoare’s virtuosic sympathy for his subject makes you believe in the better angels of our nature.”
“Philip Hoare’s writing is quite untrammelled by convention and opens up astonishing views at every turn.”
“A wonderful read!... Hoare magnificently weaves together his own experiences with stories about literary giants whose writings were inspired by whales—Melville, Hawthone, and Thoreau—and he captures the utter beauty, size, and power of the whale.”
From the Publisher
"[A] gracefully written exploration of why whales fascinate us." ---Library Journal
“[Hoare’s] work is rigorous, something every serious student of whalesand, more widely conceived, of the natural worldwill want to have at hand.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Hoare is a splendid writer and a beguiling guide. I found the spell (he) casts powerful and difficult to shake.”
NPR's All Things Considered
“You don’t have to love Moby Dick to love this book. But if you do, THE WHALE is probably one of the most sublime reading experiences you’ll have this year.”