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The Sounding of the Whale: Science & Cetaceans in the Twentieth Centuryby D. Graham Burnett
Synopses & Reviews
From the Bibleand#8217;s and#8220;Canst thou raise leviathan with a hook?and#8221; to Captain Ahaband#8217;s and#8220;From Helland#8217;s heart I stab at thee!,and#8221; from the trials of Job to the legends of Sinbad, whales have breached in the human imagination as looming figures of terror, power, confusion, and mystery.
In the twentieth century, however, our understanding of and relationship to these superlatives of creation underwent some astonishing changes, and with The Sounding of the Whale, D. Graham Burnett tells the fascinating story of the transformation of cetaceans from grotesque monsters, useful only as wallowing kegs of fat and fertilizer, to playful friends of humanity, bellwethers of environmental devastation, and, finally, totems of the counterculture in the Age of Aquarius. When Burnett opens his story, ignorance reigns: even Nature was misclassifying whales at the turn of the century, and the only biological study of the species was happening in gruesome Arctic slaughterhouses. But in the aftermath of World War I, an international effort to bring rational regulations to the whaling industry led to an explosion of global researchand#8212;and regulations that, while well-meaning, were quashed, or widely flouted, by whaling nations, the first shot in a battle that continues to this day. The book closes with a look at the remarkable shift in public attitudes toward whales that began in the 1960s, as environmental concerns and new discoveries about whale behavior combined to make whales an object of sentimental concern and public adulation.
A sweeping history, grounded in nearly a decade of research, The Sounding of the Whale tells a remarkable story of how science, politics, and simple human wonder intertwined to transform the way we see these behemoths from below.
About the Author
D. Graham Burnett is professor of history and history of science at Princeton University. He is an editor at Cabinet magazine, as well as the author of four books, including A Trial by Jury, Trying Leviathan, and Masters of All They Surveyed, the last published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
TWO Into the Belly of the Beast
THREE The Prince of Whales
FOUR A Cetaceous Parliament
FIVE Trials of Force
SIX Shots across the Bow
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