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Leviathan: The History of Whaling in Americaby Eric Jay Dolin
Synopses & Reviews
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, is the most original and stirring history of American whaling in many decades.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Massachusetts-based wildlife writer Dolin begins his history with John Smith, disregarding the previous whale hunting by Native Americans. He proceeds chronologically through periods he characterizes as arrival and ascent (1614-1774), tragedy and triumph (1775-1860), and disaster and decay (1861-1924). He does not take up the current controversy about whale hunting, nor does he apply today's moral and ethical standards to whale hunters of previous times. So much information is available, he says, that his job was boiling it down into a coherent narrative. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"The best history of American whaling to come along in a generation."--Nathaniel Philbrick
A Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007 A Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007 Amazon.com Editors pick as one of the 10 best history books of 2007 Winner of the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History, given by the North American Society for Oceanic History "The best history of American whaling to come along in a generation."--Nathaniel Philbrick
This absorbing history demonstrates that few things capture the sheer danger and desperation of men on the deep sea as dramatically as whaling. Dolin provides rich and often fantastic accounts of the men themselves. 32 pages of illustrations.
About the Author
Eric Jay Dolin studied environmental policy and biology at Brown, Yale, and MIT, where he received his Ph.D. The author of Political Waters, he lives with his wife and children in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
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