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on 7 January 2016
Leviathan tells the tale of a forgotten genocide - the decimation of the seas and the precious mammals that live within them, by whalers - killers who were part of a massive industry of destruction. Species and in particular the larger specimens, were practically wiped out in order to fuel the west with oil lamps and fashion accessories (whalebone corsets). The industry was insatiable and ruthlessly plundered the seas. Hoare is a master of storytelling and reveals his subject gradually and masterfully. It is a non-fiction book for fiction readers, if that makes sense. Anyone could enjoy it; man or woman or (teenage) child. The dramatic cover does not lie!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 19 November 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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VINE VOICEon 19 September 2009
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 June 2011
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.Sebald does it a lot, (see Rings Of Saturn) and I suspect Hoare has read a lot of Sebald and has been influenced by his style. In this book, the illustrations are just about suitable for a "meditation on the cetacean", but not for a factual study.

For those interested in reading around Melville, I suggest you try In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story that Inspired 'Moby Dick', the true story of a whaler attacked by a whale. The narrative is very different from the plot of 'Moby Dick', but a lot of background is filled in and the story is in itself of interest. Also worth checking out is Mutiny on the Globe, another true story of whaling disaster in the Pacific in the early yeasr of the 19th century.
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on 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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on 3 September 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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on 2 June 2010
Philip Hoare's wonderful book is a meandering meditation on the great cetaceans and on mankind's troubled relationship with these extraordinary creatures. It rambles through history, philosophy and biology with a marvellous lack of apparent structure; being a big baggy animal with unexpected corners at every turn of the page. (Very suitable, given its subject). There is a long and fascinating section on the genesis of Melville's "Moby Dick" and intimate portraits of the major characters and whaling centres of North America and Europe. A chilling survey of the carnage wreaked on the great Rorquals during the latter phase of the 20th Century is balanced by a moving account of Hoare's own personal encounters with whales.
Such was my enthusiasm for the book and my wish to pass on copies to friends that what I needed (I thought) was another copy in which the ropey pictures of the paperback edition are replaced with something much better. Of course, I thought to myself, these will surely be found in the original hardback edition? Wrong.

So, in short, although you should indeed get a copy of this marvellous book; you will be perfectly happy with the paperback. The latter is, in every respect - right down to the pagination and poorly reproduced photographs, identical to the hardback. So you do NOT need to shell out your hard-earned sponduliks for this one.

On the other hand, my misplaced assumptions are hardly the fault of Braydon Books, who supplied exactly what I had ordered with exemplary alacrity and decent (if flimsy) packaging.
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on 13 August 2010
As a fan of Moby-Dick, I was attracted to this book as it has a lot to say about that great work and its author Herman Melville. Yet it also describes Hoare's own interests and research, containing a huge amount of information about whales with many intriguing asides drawn from the writer's personal experiences.

I read this cover to cover and liked it overall but have to say that it wasn't always an easy read and Hoare sometimes falls into the trap of 'over-writing' certain passages. I found this forgivable as a clear sign of his enormous love for the subject and whales themselves. However, I do think he uses some unusual words to impress rather than inform occasionally and confess that I had to reach for the dictionary on several occasions.

That said, this is a good book and worth persevering with. There is plenty of information for Melville fans, historians and natural historians here and Hoare's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. I was also impressed by the fact that, despite his evident disapproval of whaling in the past and the present, Hoare didn't feel the need to preach. Occasionally he does make sarcastic or humouress remarks about the more dubious decisions in human history but generally he explains how and why things happened without becoming overly judgemental.

This book could have benefitted from some better editing and should have been shorter but overall it contains some good information and I found it very interesting indeed. I learned some good things from this book and recommend it.
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on 20 November 2011
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. The one-star review criticizes the writing style of the book, so maybe it was a matter of personal taste, although from the review it seems to be that the book did not match up to the expectations of the reviewer To be clear: this book contains a lot of interesting facts about whales, but is mostly an analysis of the relationship between whale and man, not only on a physical level, but also as metaphor. Whales have been known of by man for a very long time and were seen as near mythical creatures (Noah and the whale; the narwhale's tusk being the root of unicorn myths). Only in very recent history have they been more understood, although for many species, much of their life still remains total mystery. This is due to the extreme difference in the nature of their habitat compared to ours: They easily reach the depths of the world which are so alien to us, forming a bridge between us and the other world which they inhabit. The whale is also often glimpsed only as a disappearing tail, much of it hidden below the surface - itself acting as a metaphor of the limit of our knowledge about these amazing animals. The whale itself is also near relation: a mammal just like us, which over time has transformed via evolution into something more closely resembling a fish. Yet despite admiring them and knowing so little about them, man has still readily chased, harpooned and killed them, hauled them from the water into an unnatural habitat and chopped them up to burn for fuel. The relationship and contact between man and whale has mostly occurred via whaling, and so there is a lot of fascinating history about the whaling industry (I have seen another review for the american edition of this book complaining about this focus on whaling rather than whales, but I think this is unfair: the two are hard to separate).
These are the themes of the book: while containing many interesting facts, the book also focuses on the whale almost as an ethereal being, its relationship with mankind, and the influence of the whale on man's views of nature and the unknown. Expect a mix of metaphor, facts, and great use of language: as the cover quote says this book really is mesmerising and left me thinking of whales for quite some time: It even led me to try to read Herman Melville's Moby Dick (which was pretty dull, actually).
Five stars!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 September 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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