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The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea

The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea
Author: Philip Hoare
ISBN 13: 9780061976209
ISBN 10: 61976202
Edition: Reprint
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: 2011-02-08
Format: Paperback
Pages: 480
List Price: $15.99

Unpredictable and amusing and informative and original, cavorting between biology, history, travel writing, and memoir.

Mark Kurlansky

The Whale by Philip Hoare is a enthralling and eye-opening literary leviathan swimming in similar bestselling waters as Cod and The Secret Life of Lobsters. Winner of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, The Whale is a lively travelogue through the history, literature, and lore of the king of the sea the remarkable mammals that we human beings have long been fascinated with, from Moby Dick to Free Willy. Bestselling author and naturalist Bernd Heinrich calls it, a moving and extraordinary book, and Hoare s sparkling account of swimming with these incredible behemoths will delight whale and wildlife aficionados, lovers of the sea and sea stories, as well as the socially and environmentally conscious reader.

From his childhood fascination with the gigantic Natural History Museum model of a blue whale to his adult encounters with the living animals in the Atlantic Ocean, the acclaimed writer Philip Hoare has been obsessed with whales. Journeying through human and nat-ural history, The Whale is the result of his voyage of discovery into the heart of this obsession and the book that inspired it: Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.

Taking us deep into their domain, Hoare shows us these mysterious creatures as they have never been seen before. Following in Ishmael's footsteps, he explores the troubled history of man and whale; visits the historic whaling locales of New Bedford, Nantucket, and the Azores; and traces the whale's cultural history from Jonah to Free Willy. Winner of the prestigious BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, The Whale is an unforgettable and often moving attempt to explain why these strange and beautiful animals still exert such a powerful hold on our imagination.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Philip Hoare has written a biography of Noel Coward and the history of a British military hospital, but The Whale is the book he was meant for. Its writing was prompted by the filmmaker John Waters, who worried that his friend was spending more time with whales than humans on his regular visits to Provincetown, MA. "I dream of bodies underwater," Hoare writes in the prologue. By the end of the book, you believe him.

Hoare writes like Proust or W. G. Sebald, delivering his meditations on history, literature (Moby Dick. What else?), and the current state of the world's largest animals in the wandering style of some melancholy professor (or maybe just an unemployed one). The book is filled with photographs and old engravings, and travels easily between Europe and America, but the real setting is Hoare's own head, which turns out to be a strange, lovely, fascinating place. He admits finding whales almost disturbingly sensual. He speculates, with charming irresponsibly, on what Melville's dreams were like. More than once, he writes, "Ah the world, oh the whale." This kind of decadence will get you torn to pieces in an MFA seminar (that may be a compliement).

But Hoare has also done a huge amount of research; I grew up with my own childhood whale fixation--plastic models, coffee-table books, lots of Discovery channel viewing--without ever learning, for example, that Sperm Whales can stun or even kill their prey by emitting 200-decibel clicks from their head. But that's because childish interest and adult obsession are very different things. By the end of the book, as Hoare joins his subjects in the ocean, it's as though he's finally acting on the impulsethat's been driving him all along. This kind of over-investment can't be good for your personal life, but Hoare makes it seem like a necessary precondition for good non-fiction. "While people were shopping, eating, talking, waking, sleeping," he writes, "I swam with whales."

--Reviewed by Richard Beck