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Leviathan [Paperback]

Philip Hoare
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Jun 2009

The story of a man’s obsession with whales, which takes him on a personal, historical and biographical journey – from his childhood to his fascination with Moby-Dick and his excursions whale-watching.

All his life, Philip Hoare has been obsessed by whales, from the gigantic skeletons in London’s Natural History Museum to adult encounters with the wild animals themselves. Whales have a mythical quality – they seem to elide with dark fantasies of sea-serpents and antediluvian monsters that swim in our collective unconscious.

In ‘Leviathan’, Philip Hoare seeks to locate and identify this obsession. What impelled Melville to write ‘Moby-Dick’? After his book in 1851, no one saw whales in quite the same way again.

This book is an investigation into what we know little about – dark, shadowy creatures who swim below the depths, only to surface in a spray of spume. More than the story of the whale, it is also the story of our own obsessions.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (11 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007230141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007230143
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Hoare's is the author of several books, including 'Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant'; 'Noel Coward'; 'Oscar Wilde's Last Stand'; 'Spike Island'; 'England's Lost Eden'; and 'Leviathan, or, The Whale', winner of the 2009 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. He lives in Southampton.

Product Description


‘This singular, magnificent book inspires both awe and shame – awe of the whales, shame of the human species that has tried to destroy them. In the end, Hoare’s virtuosic sympathy for his subject makes you believe in the better angels of our nature.’ Alex Ross, bestselling author of ‘The Rest is Noise’

‘This history of man’s dealings with whales is respectful, even mystical.’ Daily Mail

‘A scintillating, scattershot, blunderbuss of a book. Throughout the book, Hoare’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject is infectious…this thoroughly engaging, rigorously researched and often revelatory book is a joy to read and one which Melville, surely, would have appreciated.’ Independent on Sunday

‘So compelling and all-encompassing that it cast a spell on me that endured for days after I had done turning its beautifully illustrated pages…This is the book he was born to write, a classic of its kind…What poetry there is here and what a balm for the soul.’ Observer

‘Enjoyable trawl through the history, literature and lore of whales…As well as being a showcase for descriptive prose of great beauty, “Leviathan” is full of fascinating facts.’ Guardian

‘An elegant writer with a sharp eye for quirky detail…A lyrical and timely reminder of what we have to lose if we don't change our greedy ways.’ Mail on Sunday

‘In Hoare's hands, whales are almost limitlessly strange and interesting.’ Sunday Times

‘Hoare’s idiosyncratic mingling of autobiography, anthropology and archaeology has reached its zenith…an enthralling volume. Hoare has the skill and humility to make this work, to him, great art and the Leviathan are both inexplicable, unknowable forces from the deep, wherein lies their wonder.’ Daily Telegraph


'Philip Hoare has long been acclaimed as a brilliantly unconventional writer...This is the book he was born to write' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderfully eclectic, engrossing read... 19 Nov 2009
This isn't my usual kind of reading - as much as I like whales I wouldn't say I was so fascinated by them as to want to read an entire book on them - and yet this had me spellbound. Philip Hoare has a wonderful, poetic way of writing, and his own love for and fascination with whales come over with every word. This isn't just a scientific book about whales; it's an exploration of the whale in human history, religion, literature. He talks about Melville's Moby-Dick as much as whaling and the whale itself, and it just works. It's an incredibly moving read at times too, particularly when he talks about what man has done to the whale. This is a wonderful book.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My top book of the year so far 15 July 2009
This book absolutely blew me away.

I'm a sucker for books that meander through different areas of human knowledge and Leviathan does this with almost effortless aplomb. Hoare delves into literature, history, science, anecdote, anthropology and art to explore our long and often difficult relationship with whales. Hoare manages to dive between poetic lyrical writing and the harshest of scientific facts with only an occasional misstep.

His writing just soars - I was alternatively speechless with wonder, livid with anger, enraptured with awe and on several occasions weeping with shame at how we've treated and continue to treat whales.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whales exert a huge presence in modern consciousness - `Save the Whale' has been a clarion call of the environmental movement for as long as I remember - and yet comparatively little is known about them. Indeed only recently have accurate anatomical drawings been made, and for years scientists and natural historians were reliant on guesswork.

This is Philip Hoare's history of his own fascination with whales. It starts with his childhood encounters with life size replicas at London's Natural History Museum and ends with his adult encounters, a stunning and poignant account of swimming with sperm whales in the Azores. Throughout he mixes literary criticism (invariably Herman Melville features heavily), social, cultural and natural history - much, alas, until recently bloody and driven by man's profit motive rather than his passion for nature - with his own profoundly moving experiences of these great beasts.

It is in so many ways a perfect book: accessible, evocative, brilliantly written, expertly portioned between Hoare and the great Leviathons (and never, as so many of these sort of books are, self indulgent) and superbly illustrated; a worthy winner of this year's Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'I know him not, and never will.' 3 Sep 2009
You don't have to be obsessed with Moby Dick to love this book, but it doesn't hurt. Hoare's extraordinary, complex, respectful, fearful, loving relationship with the largest mammals on the planet takes him back to the history of whaling, to a time when entire cities were lit by whale oil; to places far below the surface of the ocean, where giant whales battle with three hundred foot squid. It's a magical journey, heartbreaking in terms of man's exploitation of these beautiful creatures. Doubt it will sell well in Japan.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A whaley good book - sorry! 23 Sep 2008
This is a heartfelt and poignant book that details the authors deep respect for these giants of the sea. Part scientific description, part history of whaling, part travelogue and with several diversions to Moby Dick, this book shatters myths yet manages to divulge loads of new facts and interesting stories. Beautifully illustrated, this an extremely well laid out book, and for a hardback, remarkably light, which I think is important as it can be read on the train.

Well worth a look for any nature lover, anyone with even a passing interest in the sea, and anyone who just wants to read a darn fine history and travel book, this must encourage you to read and help you understand Moby Dick a book I have never read but certainly intend to do so now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A meta-Moby-Dick? 12 Jun 2011
By Peasant TOP 500 REVIEWER
In "Leviathan", Hoare attempts a sort of "meta-Moby-Dick". Taking Melville's controversial giant of a book as his starting point, he weaves around it a tapestry of fact, myth and personal experience which both illuminates the novel and, after a time, obscures our view of it. One thing this book did, was make me want to read Melville's novel again.

If you are a fan of Moby-Dick, you had probably better read this book, even if at times you find it irritating, for it contains much that you will find adds to your appreciation. Whether you love or hate Hoare's style will depend a lot on personal taste. He, clearly, is a fan of Melville, and he attempts to "channel" the great author's discursive, autobiographical manner. Unfortunately, the pseudo-biblical language and rather portentious tone which we accept in mid-nineteenth century Melville sits awkwardly on a modern author and after a while what at first seems "atmospheric" becomes wearisome.

If you have tried Moby-Dick and given up on it, don't think this book is some "ripping yarns"-style alternative. What you see as faults in Melville will appear as crimes in Hoare. Where Melville is over-leisurely, you will find Hoare long-winded. And so on.

If you simply want a good book about whales, you may still enjoy it. This is not, however, an organised survey of cetaceans, their biology, ecology and conservation; neither is it a cogent and insightful history of the whaling industry. Other reviewers have commented on the photos. There is a trend amongst academic and semi-academic writers at the moment to use small, rather fuzzy black and white illustrations inset in the text, more to stimulate the imagination than to make things clear. W.G.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Leviathan: the whale song.
I have truly enjoyed Leviathan: it is a profound, thought provoking and rather entertaining tour de force depicting the many ways in which the whale has become part of us and of... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Merce
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
This book details the senseless slaughter of whales by men. It also tells us about the natural history of the whale. Read more
Published 5 months ago by N. Macdougall
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book
This book is so beautifully written. Philip Hoare takes you to the whales. He totally captures the anticipation, excitement and sense of connection one feels when being lucky... Read more
Published 6 months ago by M. Orchard
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful.
The best book about whales and indeed the best book about animals that I have ever read. A must-read for anyone interested in these incredible creatures
Published 11 months ago by I. Sharpe
5.0 out of 5 stars Leviathan
Captivating tale of the whale. Detailed, personal and atmospheric study which takes you back in history to think about this incredible animal.
Published 12 months ago by amanda Montague
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and informative
I've recently read a variety of books about sea adventures and voyages of discovery and was keen to find out more about human endeavours at sea. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Cardiff
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerising
I was disappointed at reading the one-star review this book received, as I thought this was one of the best reads I had last year. Read more
Published on 20 Nov 2011 by noobular
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but rambling
Part biography of the author of Moby Dick, part social history of the whaling industry, part natural history of whales, the book contains a wealth of superb facts and anecdotes and... Read more
Published on 19 Jun 2011 by K. Ennis
3.0 out of 5 stars Only for the enthusiast
Moby Dick is my favourite novel, as a result I found large parts of this book interesting and worthwhile. Read more
Published on 4 May 2011 by TMC
2.0 out of 5 stars Pale imitation
The best thing about this book was that it motivated me to finally get around to reading Moby Dick which the author quotes extensively throughout. Read more
Published on 10 Dec 2010 by Angelica Pickles
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