THE whale is the sperm whale. The Moby Dick whale.
But the leviathan of this post is The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea, a book by Philip Hoare.
Hoare goes to Nantucket, a Melville place, and checks in with Poe, Hawthorne and Thoreau. He consults the writing of Thomas Beale, the foremost authority on whales in the early 19th century. Beale influenced others - even the whaling paintings of Turner derive which inspired Melville who was new to writing.
Hoare finds whale information like Melville found and wrote about in those Moby Dick inter-chapters:
During World War II, whales were bombed from above because they were misidentified as enemy submarines. They were also hunted by Allied and Axis ships alike for meat and oil.
When John F. Kennedy was buried, in his coffin was a whale tooth. It was an intended Christmas gift, placed there by his wife. Hoare writes: "It was a potent act, the king of Camelot interred with the talisman of a heroic age."
The book is described as "part memoir, part nature writing and part literary criticism, the book takes readers around the world for an exhaustive look at the mysterious mammal."
After reading Moby Dick, author Phillip Hoare was so captivated by the subject that he spent years trying to fathom the planet’s most enormous and enigmatic of creatures. Hoare's admitted mania for whales led him to write Leviathan, or the Whale—which was awarded the 2009 Samuel Johnson Prize, Britain’s most prestigious award for nonfiction. The book has finally migrated to this side of the Atlantic under a new title, The Whale. Hoare is not a scientist, but rather a biographer whose subjects have tended toward highbrow figures like Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde. In approaching cetaceans, the author’s non-scientific background works to great advantage. Similar to Melville, Hoare has captured a wide range of historical and scientific facts about whales, but has chosen to present them through an extremely powerful instrument--the literary imagination. The result is a deeply moving and thought-provoking biography of the planet’s toughest, yet most vulnerable of prehistoric survivors. The Whale takes us well beyond the limits of what we can see, hear or otherwise objectively "know" about whales, and offers a much more vivid sense of their true magnitude. --Lauren Nemroff
A "trailer" by Phillip Hoare about the search for Moby Dick.