Leviathan The history of whaling in America

Eric Jay Dolin

Book - 2007

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New York : W.W. Norton & Company c2007.
1st ed
Physical Description
479 p., [32] p. of plates : ill., map ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. [453]-459) and index.
Main Author
Eric Jay Dolin (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Many people regard the hunting of whales as an archaic and even barbaric practice that threatens a magnificent, highly intelligent animal with extinction. The Japanese have been particularly scorched recently for their refusal to abide by various conventions to limit whaling. So it is useful, as well as very interesting, to be reminded of how integral a role whaling has played in our own national development. Dolin, who has written extensively on the marine world, has crafted a survey of the whaling industry over the past four centuries. It began in North America early in the seventeenth century and reached its peak in the mid–nineteenth century. Whaling was critical in the economic growth of New England, and whale products flooded international markets. Dolin provides wonderful, exhilarating accounts of whaling expeditions and illustrates just how dangerous the profession could be. He also describes (in sometimes gruesome detail) the industrialized processing of the fruits of the hunts. Even those adamantly opposed to the industry will find this to be a finely written account of a once-burgeoning industry.

Review by Choice Reviews

Despite the fame of Melville's Moby-Dick, few Americans are aware of the central importance of whaling in 19th-century US life. Dolin brings his expertise on marine life to the study of whaling from its ancient origins through its 19th-century heyday. The author's narrative approach covers all aspects of whaling, from the different types of whales hunted, to the men and ships that did the hunting, to the varied uses of the whale's carcass. In many ways, 19th-century Americans used the whale in a manner reminiscent of their Plains Indian contemporaries' use of the buffalo, as baleen became an important article for women's clothing and spermaceti and whale oil were central to 19th-century lighting. Dolin's engaging writing style makes for a readable book accessible to a wide variety of readers. This reviewer's only quibble is that the text occasionally focuses so rigorously on different aspects of whaling that the historical context becomes muddled. Still, this book will become one of the standards for anyone interested in knowing more about whaling, particularly in the 19th century. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General and undergraduate libraries. Copyright 2007 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Behind the scenes with Moby-Dick and company: whaling in America from 1614. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Ask the average reader about whaling, and all you'll get back (except possibly in New England) is Moby Dick and Free Willy. Most people are unaware of the major role played by the whaling industry in the history and economy of America in the 18th and 19th centuries. This book will definitely help correct that lack of knowledge. Dolin, a fisheries policy analyst with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Gloucester, MA, has used the extensive local museum and library resources available to him to provide a comprehensive and well-written account of North American whaling from the earliest Indians to the last wooden whaling ship to leave New Bedford, MA, in 1924. The author clearly states that this is not a book about the ethics of commercial whaling or the conservation of whales. It is meant to show the numerous ways in which whaling influenced U.S. culture, and this it does extremely well. The extensive notes and bibliography will provide a launch pad for the reader who wants more. Highly recommended for all high school, academic, and public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/07.]—Margaret Rioux, Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst., MA [Page 103]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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) [Page 40]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A social and economic history of whaling in America traces Captain John Smith's ill-fated expedition to the New World in 1614, through the industry's rise to its nineteenth-century golden years, to its decline in the twentieth century.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A social and economic history of whaling in America traces Captain John Smith's ill-fated expedition to the New World in 1614, through the industry's rise to its nineteenth-century golden years, to its decline in the twentieth century. Reprint.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A Los Angeles Times Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007A Boston Globe Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007Amazon.com Editors pick as one of the 10 best history books of 2007Winner 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