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Leviathan selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Providence Journal. Leviathan was also chosen by Amazon.com's editors as one of the 10 best history books of 2007. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," proclaimed Herman Melville, and the vivid story of whaling is one of the mightiest the Leviathan selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Providence Journal. Leviathan was also chosen by Amazon.com's editors as one of the 10 best history books of 2007. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," proclaimed Herman Melville, and the vivid story of whaling is one of the mightiest themes in American history. Indeed, much of America's culture, economy, and even its spirit were literally and figuratively rendered from the bodies of whales. In Leviathan, the first one-volume history of American whaling in many decades, historian Eric Jay Dolin chronicles the epic battle between man and the sea — and, in this case, between man and beast — an often-violent struggle that animates the imagination and stirs our emotions. Beginning his engrossing narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614, Dolin traces the rise of this burgeoning industry-from its rapid expansion in the colonial era and its brutal struggles during and after the Revolutionary War, to its Golden Age in the mid-1800s, when more than 60 ports got into the whaling business and the sails of America's whaleships whitened the seven seas. American whale oil lit the world and greased the gears of the industrial revolution. Baleen cut from the mouths of whales shaped the course of feminine fashion. Spermaceti, from sperm whales, produced amazingly brilliant and clean-burning candles, while ambergris gave perfumes great staying power and was worth its weight in gold. And the profits from whaling created great fortunes and helped fuel the nation's growth. Leviathan teems with fascinating vignettes, from the Pilgrims' frustrating encounters with whales, to the Candle Wars that pitted eighteenth-century New England Industrialists against each other, to the heroic cruise of Captain David Porter and the USS Essex, in which Porter and his men valiantly protected American whaleships during the War of 1812 until they themselves were captured by the British. Then there is the violent tale of Cyrus Plumer, a notorious troublemaker whose mutiny on the whaleship Junior is thrillingly retold. Among the most amazing accounts is that of the Shenandoah, a Confederate raider, which burned 22 of the 26 Union whaleships it captured, most after the Civil War had already ended. In the waning years of the nineteenth century, we witness the agonizingly slow death of an American industry, as the discovery of oil, tragic disasters in the Arctic, and changes in female fashion combine to transform the American whalemen into an historical relic. The final scene comes in 1924, as the whaleship Wanderer, wrecked on the shore of Cuttyhunk Island, provides the last glimpse of a bygone era. Through it all, those "iron men in wooden boats" created a legacy of dramatic, poignant, and at times horrific stories. This sprawling, maritime saga is filled with these tales, as well as rich, lyrical descriptions of whales and the sea. Original, stirring, and authoritative, Leviathan delivers the 300-year history of American whaling in vibrant detail, integrating literary, social, and economic history into an epic account of this once-vital industry. (W. W. Norton, 480 pp., 90 illustrations. Also available in Audiobook format from Tantor Audiobooks.)


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Leviathan selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Providence Journal. Leviathan was also chosen by Amazon.com's editors as one of the 10 best history books of 2007. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," proclaimed Herman Melville, and the vivid story of whaling is one of the mightiest the Leviathan selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Providence Journal. Leviathan was also chosen by Amazon.com's editors as one of the 10 best history books of 2007. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," proclaimed Herman Melville, and the vivid story of whaling is one of the mightiest themes in American history. Indeed, much of America's culture, economy, and even its spirit were literally and figuratively rendered from the bodies of whales. In Leviathan, the first one-volume history of American whaling in many decades, historian Eric Jay Dolin chronicles the epic battle between man and the sea — and, in this case, between man and beast — an often-violent struggle that animates the imagination and stirs our emotions. Beginning his engrossing narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614, Dolin traces the rise of this burgeoning industry-from its rapid expansion in the colonial era and its brutal struggles during and after the Revolutionary War, to its Golden Age in the mid-1800s, when more than 60 ports got into the whaling business and the sails of America's whaleships whitened the seven seas. American whale oil lit the world and greased the gears of the industrial revolution. Baleen cut from the mouths of whales shaped the course of feminine fashion. Spermaceti, from sperm whales, produced amazingly brilliant and clean-burning candles, while ambergris gave perfumes great staying power and was worth its weight in gold. And the profits from whaling created great fortunes and helped fuel the nation's growth. Leviathan teems with fascinating vignettes, from the Pilgrims' frustrating encounters with whales, to the Candle Wars that pitted eighteenth-century New England Industrialists against each other, to the heroic cruise of Captain David Porter and the USS Essex, in which Porter and his men valiantly protected American whaleships during the War of 1812 until they themselves were captured by the British. Then there is the violent tale of Cyrus Plumer, a notorious troublemaker whose mutiny on the whaleship Junior is thrillingly retold. Among the most amazing accounts is that of the Shenandoah, a Confederate raider, which burned 22 of the 26 Union whaleships it captured, most after the Civil War had already ended. In the waning years of the nineteenth century, we witness the agonizingly slow death of an American industry, as the discovery of oil, tragic disasters in the Arctic, and changes in female fashion combine to transform the American whalemen into an historical relic. The final scene comes in 1924, as the whaleship Wanderer, wrecked on the shore of Cuttyhunk Island, provides the last glimpse of a bygone era. Through it all, those "iron men in wooden boats" created a legacy of dramatic, poignant, and at times horrific stories. This sprawling, maritime saga is filled with these tales, as well as rich, lyrical descriptions of whales and the sea. Original, stirring, and authoritative, Leviathan delivers the 300-year history of American whaling in vibrant detail, integrating literary, social, and economic history into an epic account of this once-vital industry. (W. W. Norton, 480 pp., 90 illustrations. Also available in Audiobook format from Tantor Audiobooks.)

30 review for Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    The risk in giving your opinion about a book is that people may think you're an idiot. Worse than that, people may find out that, indeed, you actually are an idiot. This risk usually only runs with books that are acknowledged classics, or books that are trashy. For instance, you will definitely get concerned looks when you say you really hate The Great Gatsby or really love The DaVinci Code. (No offense to Dan Brown-o-philes). This was my plight when I said I really disliked Moby Dick. Since the The risk in giving your opinion about a book is that people may think you're an idiot. Worse than that, people may find out that, indeed, you actually are an idiot. This risk usually only runs with books that are acknowledged classics, or books that are trashy. For instance, you will definitely get concerned looks when you say you really hate The Great Gatsby or really love The DaVinci Code. (No offense to Dan Brown-o-philes). This was my plight when I said I really disliked Moby Dick. Since these reviews are voluntary on my part, and since I'm no longer an indifferent high school student writing a five-paragraph theme based on borrowed Cliffs Notes since it's 1998 and my parents only have a dial-up AOL connection, I try very hard to avoid using the descriptor boring. The word doesn't mean much; if it means anything, it's usually that the person speaking it doesn't have much imagination. But with Moby Dick, despite much hemming and hawing, I eventually was left with that conclusion: I was bored. The book bored me. There, I said it. Whenever I give this opinion, people invariably respond: "You just don't get it." First, thanks for the vote of confidence, you condescending jerk. And second...Well, you're probably right. I don't get it. And I'm not going to waste my time trying again. To quench my lingering thirst for whale blood, I picked up Eric Jay Dolin's Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. I have two main things to say about this book. (1) This is a very good book about whaling. (2) This is a very good book about whaling. Leviathan takes a chronological approach to its sweeping subject. It starts in the 1600s, with a rather pointless discussion about John Smith (yeah, that one) and the whales and ends in the 1920s, when most of the whales have been slaughtered and the human race had turned to raping Mother Earth for its oil. Sorry, I'm just bitter that I have to work on Thanksgiving. Dolin is an engaging writer, and he is an explainer, so that there are tons of interesting factoids and stories with which to wow your wife/life partner/dinner guests/the guy standing next to you at the bar. Just make sure to space these things out, because no one wants a bunch of whale facts all at once. Dolin is at ease tackling subjects as varied as whale biology (with a side-focus on whale penises), types of harpoons, industry economics, and the gory, step-by-step processing of captured whales. The book's scope encompasses many decades. However, because whaling is an industry, rather than a single historical event - or even an series of historical events - the nature of Leviathan is rather anecdotal. Though each time period is discrete and unique - in terms of economic climate (whalers did well in peace, and poor in war) and utilized technologies - the template is always the same: dozens of stories stitched together with background information. There are stories about successful hunts, and unsuccessful hunts; there are stories about rampaging whales and shipwrecks; there are ships stuck in the ice, and mutinies at sea, and attacks by angry natives that seem to leap straight out of a semi-racist Technicolor film from the 40s or 50s. I've always kind of liked anecdotal books. There's nothing better than a good story, and if you're drunk while telling that story, or listening to it, then all the better. Of course, one man's anecdote is another man's aimless digression, and this makes for a read that is hit and miss. When the stories are lame, or seem off topic, the book is a drag. But when the stories are crisp, and exciting, and involve mutineers taking their whaleboats and attempting to escape into the Australian Outback, the pages just fly. For instance, there is a section on whaling during the Civil War. The entire chapter is devoted to two Confederate Raiders wreaking havoc on the American whaling fleet. Now, I know - because I checked - that a lot of folks who read this book loved this section. I thought it was pointless. It has absolutely nothing to do with whaling, other than the victims were whalers. Obviously, the whaling industry was effected by these events, but Dolin tells the story from the point of view of the predators (the Confederates), not the victims (the whalers). Really, what Dolin is doing is filling pages with something he hopes will hold the reader's attention. It's the literary equivalent of Roland Joffre adding an Indian attack (!) to the end of his film version of The Scarlet Letter. In this case, the story didn't work for me. But it could work for you. One major problem I often have with books like this - that is, micro-histories - is that they try to prove too much, or overstate the importance of its subject. Fortunately, Dolin mostly avoids this pitfall. He sticks to the vicarious, exciting, man-against-nature aspects, rather than trying to prove to us that "stabbing whales to drain their precious oils to make brighter-burning candles for rich people" actually changed the course of human events. The big surprise is that there is very little critical analysis of yesterday's whaling industry - or today's. Reading Dolin's bio, with all his fancy, Ivy League degrees, I figured he'd at least touch on the fact that poorly-paid whalemen, at the behest of giant corporate trusts, practically denuded the seas of an entire species in order to reap a fantastic profit. Alas, there is no such preaching in Leviathan. So I added that little sermon for your edification. One of the best things about Leviathan is that it isn't Moby Dick. If you want a good whale yarn, here it is! And in modern English! Then again, if you want to push forward with your plans to read Moby Dick over the holidays, this makes a good companion. Finally, if you read Moby Dick, and loved it, you coud read this book and scoff at its simplistic syntax, and its lack of Biblical allusions. Then you can leave a comment on my Moby Dick review telling me what a simple soul I am.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    Four stars, though I admit being torn between three and four stars. Honestly, three and a half. I would happily say four if I hadn’t gotten completely bogged down in the long middle section of the book giving the history of American whaling ports. The political background on the American whaling colonies didn’t interest me nearly as much as the material on whaling itself – the lives and methods of the whalers, details of ships, whaling grounds, and so on. As a result, I put this book aside somet Four stars, though I admit being torn between three and four stars. Honestly, three and a half. I would happily say four if I hadn’t gotten completely bogged down in the long middle section of the book giving the history of American whaling ports. The political background on the American whaling colonies didn’t interest me nearly as much as the material on whaling itself – the lives and methods of the whalers, details of ships, whaling grounds, and so on. As a result, I put this book aside sometime last year and never managed to pick it up again until about a week ago, when I doggedly ploughed through the (to me) drier middle section into some (again, to me) livelier chapters (chapters 14-19, to be precise) which provided the information on whalers and whaling that I’d hoped to find. On the whole, I enjoyed the author’s approach to the subject, which gave me enough information to understand unfamiliar material but wasn’t overwhelming. As a bonus, I’ve read a fair number of books on overlapping and related events mentioned in this book, such as In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, and recently have been reading Patrick O’Brien’s famed Aubrey/Maturin series along with a few other nonfiction nautical books, which largely account for my decision to pick this book up once again. To put it simply, I'm on a bit of a seafaring book binge. As another reviewer, Matt, has pointed out, this book tends to be anecdotal, and the quality of the anecdotes varies. While I am, on the whole, usually fond of such books, I do wish there had been some underlying theme to unify these anecdotes in a more cohesive way. However, having said that, I do have a much better picture of whaling as an industry and a better appreciation for its economic role, a surprisingly significant one, in our nation’s history. I was surprised to learn, for example, that in 1846, 735 ships out of a worldwide total of 900 whaling ships were American, and that at the height of the “Golden Age” of whaling (1812 to the late 1850s), whaleships accounted for “roughly of the nation’s registered merchant tonnage” and employed approximately 70,000 people. I have two of the author’s other books, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America and When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail on my to-read list and am looking forward to reading them. All in all, these books by Eric Jay Dolin promise to be fine additions to my growing “commodity history” shelf.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joelle

    Joelle Reads Her Bookcase #17 Dolin makes it clear from the preface that this is not a modern manifesto against the brutality of whaling. However, he doesn't glory in the death of the whales, nor add in any unnecessary gore. It is simply a narrative of a part of America's past. The book is well written, and he covers all aspects of the whaling business. Rather than focus on the whales themselves, Dolin focuses on the ingenuity of the whalemen. This is a book about whalemen: how they started; how Joelle Reads Her Bookcase #17 Dolin makes it clear from the preface that this is not a modern manifesto against the brutality of whaling. However, he doesn't glory in the death of the whales, nor add in any unnecessary gore. It is simply a narrative of a part of America's past. The book is well written, and he covers all aspects of the whaling business. Rather than focus on the whales themselves, Dolin focuses on the ingenuity of the whalemen. This is a book about whalemen: how they started; how they adapted; how they were affected by wars and how they overcome. He also gives us glimpses into the what life was like aboard a ship; he charts whale cruises and describes what happens the years they would be gone. When detailing how the whales were processed, his language is mechanical, technical - there's no celebration of death and no deification of the men who were turning the blubber into oil. This was a part of our history, and Dolin does an excellent job of narrating it without becoming tacky or insensitive. Books like these are impossible to read without a modern conversation lens, but they also must be understood from the time frame in which they were happening. Even though we are, today, appalled by the American whaling industry, we cannot change that it did occur, and we do ourselves no favors by refusing to learn about how it occurred. I did find the book to become pedantic in parts, and sometimes it was almost tedious as he worked through the early history. He seemed to constantly bounce back and forth between dates, and I often thought we were further ahead than we were.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    As the subtitle plainly states Leviathan is about the history of whaling in America. As we all learned in middle school, whales were hunted for their meat, blubber, baleen and ambergris (a waxy substance used in perfumes). But it was the oil, which burned cleaner and brighter than other substances at the time, that was the real economic driver for the early whaling industry. Prior to the 1600’s whaling in the continental U.S. largely consisted butchering whales that had been stranded on shore. Bu As the subtitle plainly states Leviathan is about the history of whaling in America. As we all learned in middle school, whales were hunted for their meat, blubber, baleen and ambergris (a waxy substance used in perfumes). But it was the oil, which burned cleaner and brighter than other substances at the time, that was the real economic driver for the early whaling industry. Prior to the 1600’s whaling in the continental U.S. largely consisted butchering whales that had been stranded on shore. But by the mid-1600’s New Englanders began open-boat whaling. The preferred technique was to sneak up on the whale and throw or thrust a harpoon into its body. The harpoon was secured to the boat with a strong rope. The purpose of the harpoon was not to kill the whale, but to affix the whale to the boat to prevent it from diving deeply. In an attempt to escape the whale would take the boat and its passengers on a famed ‘Nantucket Sleigh Ride’ exhausting itself in the process, at which point the whalers would close and thrust a lance into the whale in an attempt to pierce the lungs. The measure of success was a bloody spray from the blow hole. With the whale dispatched it could be towed back to shore for butchering. In the 1700’s the U.S. became a leading exporter as Britain’s demand for whale oil increased and deep sea whaling techniques matured. Trade was interrupted by the Revolutionary War and high tariffs placed on oil by the Brits afterwards caused whaling to founder. The situation improved after the war of 1812 and Nantucket soon became the world’s preeminent whaling port. However, their good fortune was not to last. By 1850, whaling was in decline, and Nantucket's whaling industry was surpassed by that of New Bedford. Though the island suffered great economic hardship, it must have come as no small consolation that the decline in whaling was accompanied by a corresponding rise to prominence as Nantucket became the distinguished subject of filthy limericks around the globe. U.S. whaling peaked in the mid-1800s, but the introduction of kerosene lamps in 1846 began to take its toll on the demand for whale oil. The Civil War further decimated the industry and by 1895 the New England whaling fleet was down to just 51 ships. The last whaler departed from New Bedford in 1927 (and there was much rejoicing from the cetacean community). Dolin goes into great detail of many aspects of whaling - from the long voyages (averaging 4 years), the butchering of whales, shipboard life including the maggot ridden food, hardships, deprivations, living conditions, finances, and injuries suffered, scrimshaw (and scrimshaw porn), hostile natives, mutinous crewmen and rogue whales. He also includes numerous anecdotes such as that of a woman who passed as a seaman for 7 months before discovery, and the techniques used by scalawags to conscript young naifs into whaling service. What is clear is that life for the average whale man was far from romantic and not particularly lucrative, which is why it wasn’t unusual for half of a ship’s crew on each voyage to desert at the first opportunity. Of course no whaling book would be complete without a discussion of Moby Dick (the literary masterpiece as opposed to something relating to scrimshaw porn) and Dolin goes into some detail about the sources of Melville’s ideas for the tale (many of which were based on actual events). As to the book, it was pretty good. Dolin clearly did quite a bit of research in putting it together and the material, though somewhat voluminous, is presented in a fairly interesting manner. By way of criticism: Dolin ignores indigenous whalers entirely. This is particularly egregious given that native Alaskans began hunting whales long before New Englanders did and are currently the only Americans still engaged in the practice (though this is not without controversy). To call the omission of these individuals from a history of American whaling an ‘oversight’ strikes me as rather an understatement. In his section discussing the Civil War Dolin speaks in derogatory terms of union soldiers who attempted to disrupt confederate commerce by blockading ports, yet his coverage of rebel warships who plundered and burned unarmed civilian whaling vessels in order to disrupt commerce is positively heroic. It’s weird. The only explanation that occurs to me is that Dolin (who, according to Wiki, grew up in the northeast) is a closeted confederate sympathizer. Finally - early in the book Dolin states that he intends, in no way, shape or form, to discuss the issue of whale conservation or the disastrous effect that whaling had on the species. I view this as an unfortunate decision. It’s certainly the author’s prerogative to decide what topics to tackle in their work, and Dolin has chosen to limit his discussion only to that of whaling history in the (continental) U.S. But this is an odd choice given the fact that many species of whale were nearly exterminated, that they only exist today due to whaling moratoriums agreed upon by many of the world’s countries and the fact that several species remain critically endangered as a result of whaling to this day. Frankly, I can only view Dolin’s choice as an abrogation of responsibility. There was no reason he could not have dedicated a short chapter to a subject that I view to be of much greater importance and relevance today than the one he chose to write about.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sonya

    Excellent history of whaling in the U.S. My only complaint is that the narrator (who was a bit boring to listen to) didn't pronounce many place names as someone who lived in Massachusetts would. Excellent history of whaling in the U.S. My only complaint is that the narrator (who was a bit boring to listen to) didn't pronounce many place names as someone who lived in Massachusetts would.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Connie

    The sperm whale, what an amazing animal! And man's interaction with it even more so. Colonial American whaling seems to have been overshadowed by the more popular whaling era in the mid 1800's. I am amazed at the whole proposition of chasing a leviathan in a tiny boat (no matter what decade) and have read many books, fiction and non fiction, on the subject. In other books I found no or little mention of the importance of whaling during our country's beginnings but this one has a lot of good info The sperm whale, what an amazing animal! And man's interaction with it even more so. Colonial American whaling seems to have been overshadowed by the more popular whaling era in the mid 1800's. I am amazed at the whole proposition of chasing a leviathan in a tiny boat (no matter what decade) and have read many books, fiction and non fiction, on the subject. In other books I found no or little mention of the importance of whaling during our country's beginnings but this one has a lot of good information for colonial times. Presented in an historic yet fun tone, the reading is easy. This book is corroborating and expanding on other readings in a human way...lots of good quotes. Starting with shore whaling, to nearby offshore whaling, to longer voyages, I like getting the whole picture of how and why this unlikely pursuit began. My view of this time in our history is getting a new dimension. So far it is quite the yarn; I would recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Len

    No false advertising here. This book is exactly what it says it is: a comprehensive narrative of American whaling, from the 1600s through (nearly) the present. I give it five stars because it is difficult to imagine an author covering the subject any better than Dolan does. The highlight of the book is its chapters on the "Golden Age" of American whaling -- from about 1800 to 1850. No false advertising here. This book is exactly what it says it is: a comprehensive narrative of American whaling, from the 1600s through (nearly) the present. I give it five stars because it is difficult to imagine an author covering the subject any better than Dolan does. The highlight of the book is its chapters on the "Golden Age" of American whaling -- from about 1800 to 1850.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aloke

    Panoramic account of whaling in America from colonial times to the beginning of the 20th century. Like all great historical non-fiction it leaves you feeling nostalgic for a lost era. Of course for the whales and the whale men who suffered in their pursuit the end could not have come sooner.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I’m starting to get concerned with myself, how much I like to read about whaling. It’s so scary and disgusting and horrible! Yeah, so, hello friends, let’s enjoy our paid work that is inside a building

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I love the history of whaling so for me to give this anything less than five stars would be foolish.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    It held my interest throughout it's entirety. That's saying a lot from a reader with my ADD It held my interest throughout it's entirety. That's saying a lot from a reader with my ADD

  12. 4 out of 5

    John

    As a person who frequently visits Martha's Vineyard, whaling history has always piqued my interests. Not the barbarity of the kill itself, but more of the romanticism of exploring far off seas like the south pacific, or Bering Sea, or port visits to Hawaii or other newly discovered islands. Additionally, I was also curious to see if this book would answer a question I have had for several years. That being how Nantucket, a isolated island bereft of any natural resources like timber, food, or wat As a person who frequently visits Martha's Vineyard, whaling history has always piqued my interests. Not the barbarity of the kill itself, but more of the romanticism of exploring far off seas like the south pacific, or Bering Sea, or port visits to Hawaii or other newly discovered islands. Additionally, I was also curious to see if this book would answer a question I have had for several years. That being how Nantucket, a isolated island bereft of any natural resources like timber, food, or water, could become the whaling capital of the world. What I learned about this was: 1) Nantucket was actually eclipsed by New Bedford in both whaling vessels and barrels of oil right after the war of 1812. As whaling needed to go farther out, the port of San Francisco became, albeitly brief, a whaling hub. 2) As whaleships became larger, a sandbar in the Nantucket harbor prevented larger draft ships to quickly and easily unload cargo, thus expediting port changes and the creation of several failed inventions geared towards trying to solve this problem 4) The Roche family actively engaged in finding a better port in both the Americas with the creation of New Bedford, and Dunkirk France 5) Lastly, whaling relied on traditional tried and true methods to a fault. Inventions like the tryworks on ships, pneumatic harpoons and wind driven ships were always late to be implemented due to not aligning to how things were in the past. In all this was a nice book outlining the rise and fall of oil use from mammals and the innovations and lives of individuals who put everything on the line.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Josh Liller

    I ended up with a free copy of this after reading the author's excellent "Brilliant Beacons" and decided to give it a go. I'm vaguely familiar with Moby Dick (I think I read a very abridged version in school), but I did not know very much about whaling and don't read very much about non-military maritime history. This book is the history of American whaling, from early colonists to the last wooden whaleship in 1924. "Leviathan" and "Brilliant Beacons" are written in a similar format: a fairly de I ended up with a free copy of this after reading the author's excellent "Brilliant Beacons" and decided to give it a go. I'm vaguely familiar with Moby Dick (I think I read a very abridged version in school), but I did not know very much about whaling and don't read very much about non-military maritime history. This book is the history of American whaling, from early colonists to the last wooden whaleship in 1924. "Leviathan" and "Brilliant Beacons" are written in a similar format: a fairly detailed chronological history of the main subject's early days with the middle of the book being a series of sub-topics about the hey-day of the main subject, with a short history of the subject's decline. I don't think I would have noticed this if I hadn't read the two books the same year. This books seems generally well-written and well-researched. Nevertheless, I found it a bit of an uneven read, starting off fairly interesting then becoming a bit mired in lots of political issues that I found kind of dull. I put this book down on two occasions to move on to other books. The book really hits its stride with the Golden Of Whaling. The final act was pretty interesting too. I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could, but given the strong content I'll round up for this one. I recommend it, although whether strongly or mildly could vary greatly depending on the reader. But if you want to read exactly one book about historical whaling this is definitely it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Robert Snow

    Mr. Dolin has done an excellent job of crafting his history of Whaling in America. For all the history about early America I did not understand how laced with its history was Whaling. Between candles and whale oil the lighting of the 17th through the mid 19th would have been very different without these Integral ingredients made from that of whales. Though today the idea of whaling is repugnant to most people in the 17th century it was vital to lighting European and Colonial homes. The need for Mr. Dolin has done an excellent job of crafting his history of Whaling in America. For all the history about early America I did not understand how laced with its history was Whaling. Between candles and whale oil the lighting of the 17th through the mid 19th would have been very different without these Integral ingredients made from that of whales. Though today the idea of whaling is repugnant to most people in the 17th century it was vital to lighting European and Colonial homes. The need for better and cheaper lighting of homes and factories pushed technology forward swiftly, with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania and the technology to make kerosene it was then lighting and heating became affordable... and with that a sharp decline in whaling by 1866. This is a well written and carefully researched history of whaling, years ago I heard Mr. Dolin speak that talk was as good as this book. If you enjoy history this is a good book to read about a very import time period in United States history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    (Audiobook) I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was a good mix of history and personal accounts that followed one of the bigger industries that drove the American, and much of the international, economy for the better part of the 19th century. It followed how whaling came to American shores and how it evolved from activity of the various native tribes to Europeans to how the Americans (colonists and nation-state members) came to dominate the industry. The author covers the rise in New En (Audiobook) I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was a good mix of history and personal accounts that followed one of the bigger industries that drove the American, and much of the international, economy for the better part of the 19th century. It followed how whaling came to American shores and how it evolved from activity of the various native tribes to Europeans to how the Americans (colonists and nation-state members) came to dominate the industry. The author covers the rise in New England, referencing many known sources, from Moby Dick to Philbrick's works, but he also includes other sources and accounts that many will not know of before reading this. His analysis and story-telling is straight forward and gives the reader a true sense of what was involved with whaling, on the sea and land. The audiobook is solid, as the reader does a good job with the material. For those who want to learn about whaling in America beyond Moby Dick, go to this work. You won't be disappointed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elderberrywine

    Whaling in America. You're thinking Moby Dick, right? But it started well before then with the practice of shore whaling. Apparently in the early years of colonial America, dead whales had a habit of washing onshore, after a storm, in Nantucket and Southhampton. And one dead whale could go a long way in poverty stricken early New England in providing meat, oil, etc. So after a storm, each village had a couple of designated whale watchers to go check out the coast for bounty from the sea. First vi Whaling in America. You're thinking Moby Dick, right? But it started well before then with the practice of shore whaling. Apparently in the early years of colonial America, dead whales had a habit of washing onshore, after a storm, in Nantucket and Southhampton. And one dead whale could go a long way in poverty stricken early New England in providing meat, oil, etc. So after a storm, each village had a couple of designated whale watchers to go check out the coast for bounty from the sea. First village to lay dibs on the whale had it for themselves. And in return for this service, the two spotters didn't have to get involved in the messy business of breaking the whale down, as did the rest of the villagers. This was a fascinating and well-written history of the earlier whaling industry. So much I didn't know! Like at the time of the Revolutionary War, the whale products trade was the most valuable with Britain. None of that sugar, tobacco, etc. nonsense. And the first people to take on whaling in the sea? The Basque, in the seventh century. Who knew?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Halladay

    I don't think I've ever read so much about a subject I went in with such little care or regard for. Throughout the book I kept stopping not out of any fault of the book, but out of sheer joy at the absurdity of just how invested I was in the story of whale-oil monopolies in Nantucket, of the story of spermicidi candles creation and embargo in Britain following the revolutionary war, and how the dangers of whale-hunts changed over time in what was in many ways the first major Energy business in t I don't think I've ever read so much about a subject I went in with such little care or regard for. Throughout the book I kept stopping not out of any fault of the book, but out of sheer joy at the absurdity of just how invested I was in the story of whale-oil monopolies in Nantucket, of the story of spermicidi candles creation and embargo in Britain following the revolutionary war, and how the dangers of whale-hunts changed over time in what was in many ways the first major Energy business in the dawn of the industrial age. It can get dull, but the level of work that went into research for this book, and adapting historical archived information into a narrative of the history of whaling makes it one of my guiltiest pleasures that I probably will never recommend to a friend for the pure look of confusion I might get in return.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    Comprehensive History of Whaling A thoroughly researched and well written narrative about whaling through the ages. Dolin captures the essence of whaling through the heart and soul of the mariners and the ships they sailed in search of their bounty: whales. Dolin also provides enlightening and intriguing details about the history of that shaped whaling, as well as detailed background about the whaling hubs and ports relative to the Puritan settlers of New England, the War for Independence and how Comprehensive History of Whaling A thoroughly researched and well written narrative about whaling through the ages. Dolin captures the essence of whaling through the heart and soul of the mariners and the ships they sailed in search of their bounty: whales. Dolin also provides enlightening and intriguing details about the history of that shaped whaling, as well as detailed background about the whaling hubs and ports relative to the Puritan settlers of New England, the War for Independence and how it influenced whaling in the colonies, especially Nantucket, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Highly recommend!!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Amazing history that is very dense with research. Dolin presented a tome that detailed some background of whaling in Europe and America before colonization, but the bulk is from the Pilgrims through the next three centuries. Every facet of whaling was chronicled, including events of a certain era and how those events impacted the industry. This is also a book that should not be read with modern eyes as it is very detailed on life on the ships.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    This is another great book by Eric Jay Dolin that tells the story of whaling, but it also gives the reader a realistic glimpse into the 19th century. From social mores of the Pacific Islanders to fashion and women's corsets. Few people know what an important part whaling contributed to our young country's economy, not to mention the knowledge gained and shared about our oceans currents and distant lands and peoples. This is another great book by Eric Jay Dolin that tells the story of whaling, but it also gives the reader a realistic glimpse into the 19th century. From social mores of the Pacific Islanders to fashion and women's corsets. Few people know what an important part whaling contributed to our young country's economy, not to mention the knowledge gained and shared about our oceans currents and distant lands and peoples.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janet DeCastro

    NON-FICTION, MARITIME HISTORY, WHALING Author, Eric Jay Dolan covers the topic of Whaling in America - primarily the New England States - from "shore whaling" by Native Americans, through the "golden age", to the decline of whaling due to the discovery of petroleum. The topic is thoroughly researched. Anecdotes and the retelling of sea stories keeps this read lively! Of interest to academics and lay readers of American history. NON-FICTION, MARITIME HISTORY, WHALING Author, Eric Jay Dolan covers the topic of Whaling in America - primarily the New England States - from "shore whaling" by Native Americans, through the "golden age", to the decline of whaling due to the discovery of petroleum. The topic is thoroughly researched. Anecdotes and the retelling of sea stories keeps this read lively! Of interest to academics and lay readers of American history.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tom Peters

    Leviathan is a very interesting and well researched book documenting the critical role that whaling played in American history. This is not a book about whales, but a book about people. The decimation of whale populations at the hands of the world's whaling fleets is addressed in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way that makes the subject of conservation all the more urgent. Leviathan is a very interesting and well researched book documenting the critical role that whaling played in American history. This is not a book about whales, but a book about people. The decimation of whale populations at the hands of the world's whaling fleets is addressed in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way that makes the subject of conservation all the more urgent.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Trisha Yeager

    A good, comprehensive history of American whaling, with engaging stories of whaling feats to make up for the drab economic parts. I loved getting the increased depth into what I thought were familiar historical events. (Note for the audio listeners - this reader does not read with the vigor of the story, and I found him fairly bland.)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bill Taylor

    An adequate and serviceable history of America's engagement with whaling Portions are very engaging but other parts lag Would have wished the author would have finished with a summary of the ecological impact of whaling upon the the whale population of the early 21st century Given his studies in environmental policy and biology this should have been a topic he could easily addressed An adequate and serviceable history of America's engagement with whaling Portions are very engaging but other parts lag Would have wished the author would have finished with a summary of the ecological impact of whaling upon the the whale population of the early 21st century Given his studies in environmental policy and biology this should have been a topic he could easily addressed

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris Bull

    The bottom line Years ago, I was at a museum and the docent mentioned that whalemen made huge amount of money as sperm whale oil was with a fortune. This book sets the record straight. Yes a large whale might equal $80,000 in today’s currency and perhaps several dozen could be taken. So yes, there was money, but a whaler saw a fraction of that perhaps 1/175th

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shayna

    A very comprehensive history of whaling in America, particularly Euro-American with the most focus being on the east coast. It’s such a huge picture that there isn’t much room for the author to get as detailed in some areas that you might want to know more about, but I felt like he at least touched on so many really interesting, important points in this history.

  27. 5 out of 5

    R.J. Gilmour

    Dollin's book which promises to be a history of whaling in America is also a local history that focuses on New England and more specifically, Nantucket. It is a detailed study that at times gets lost in the detail of specific families and stories that are not really about whaling. Dollin's book which promises to be a history of whaling in America is also a local history that focuses on New England and more specifically, Nantucket. It is a detailed study that at times gets lost in the detail of specific families and stories that are not really about whaling.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    History of whaling in the U.S., from Colonial times to the 1920s, with a focus on Nantucket and New Bedford. Interest to read about British and French efforts to entice away the Nantucket whalers to establish their own industries.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marianna

    I expected it to be a little dull, but as an enthusiast wanted to read it anyway. I was totally mistaken, it was extremely well-paced, covered large events as well as interesting anecdotes, and included a great breadth of information.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    I knew some of whaling history but I didn’t realize the pivotal role that Nantucket and New Bedford played right here in Massachusetts where I now live. The book was an excellent overview of the history of whaling, exactly as promised.

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