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The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare
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The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea: 12/31/13

cover art

The Whale by Philip Hoare is a nonfiction that probably gives catalogers a headache. By it's title — it's a book about whales but there are many many different ways to write about whales: whale anatomy, the history of marine biology, whaling and with a stretch — the author who made a career out of writing about sailing and whaling.

Hoare tries to do all of that in The Whale. The book begins with the author's childhood fascination with whales during trips to see whale models. That opening sounds like it will be a history of how those models came to be and how our understanding of marine biology has expanded and improved in the last two hundred years. Or maybe he'll go down the list of the major species of whales.

No. Instead, he tosses into the mix his love of Moby-Dick as well as a biography of Herman Melville. The biography further distracts the narrative flow with discussions of how Manhattan has changed over the years, as well as descriptions of Nantucket and other whaling towns.

Somewhere along the line the book gets stuck on the homoerotic aspects of Melville's writing. While fascinating and amusing, it's not exactly on topic.

Whale is about all things whale but it is disorganized. The book contains information on whale biology, the history of whale biology, whaling, whale as cultural icon and length passages on the homoerotic aspects of Moby Dick as well as Herman Melville's biography. It's all smashed together with no real rhyme or reason. With better organization, this would be a great book.

Three stars

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