Archive for October 20th, 2009

Book Review: Leviathan by Philip Hoare

20 October 2009

By Juliana Adelman

leviathanA few weeks ago in a charity shop I bought my son an innocuous looking book entitled The Blue Whale.  We were about ten pages into reading it when, without warning, I turned the page to find a scene of gore that might have been directed by Quentin Tarantino.  Flipping quickly past, the next page showed cozy domestic images of people using products derived from the previous page’s massacre: margarine, hair products, make up, lamps, brushes.  Most of us hardly think about whaling these days.  In fact, whaling was still a substantial industry in Britain in the 1950s.  The international moratorium on whaling has only been in place since 1986 and is still ignored by some countries.  During the nineteenth century whaling was a huge and highly profitable industry.  It dominated the east coast of America, leaving a legacy of whaling towns (Pronvincetown, Nantucket, New Bedford) and inspiring the classic novel Moby Dick.

Leviathan is a history of whaling as well as a kind of literary journey.  Hoare traces the origins of human interest in and exploitation of the whale using Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as a central theme.  He combines natural history with details of Melville’s life and accounts of his own (Hoare’s) fascination with whales.  The book is not structured historically, despite being historical.  Instead, Hoare uses three parallel narrative strands: his own research process, Melville’s life, and the story of Moby Dick.  Read more