In Search of Moby Dick
Quest for the White Whale
By (author) Tim Severin
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In Search of Moby Dick by Tim Severin
Book DescriptionHerman Melville's novel MOBY DICK immortalised the concept of a battling white sperm whale, but did such a creature really exist? Acclaimed explorer and writer Tim Severin travelled to the islands of the Pacific to find out. From Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas archipelago to Pamilacan and Tonga, Severin compares myth with reality in a fascinating journey of discovery. Along the way he investigates the real extent of Melville's whaling experience, and unearths other potential sources for his famous story; encounters the extraordinary whale-jumpers, who even now make their living by leaping on the backs of whales to ram home their spears; and observes a retired harpooner re-enact the curious ballet of a kill -- transporting himself to his youth in the process, like a shaman from a forgotten age. Superb travel writing combined with personal and historical anecdote make this a hugely enjoyable and enlightening exploration of one of the ocean's enduring myths.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9780349112336
(198mm x 126mm x mm)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 5-Oct-2000
Country of Publication: United Kingdom
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UK Kirkus Review » What was the truth of Herman Melville's story about Moby Dick? How did he learn about it and how accurate was his account? Was there a real white whale: a malevolent renegade whale bent on destruction? Tim Severin traces the original account that Melville based his story on, and then goes himself to visit and learn about traditional whaling and sperm whales in the Pacific. The 'quest' is well conceived and realized, and the result is a story that blends literary adventure and investigation, anthropological scholarship, and the first hand adventure that has been a trademark of Tim Severin's books. Severin takes us to fascinating places: Pamilacan in the Philippines, the Indonesian island of Lamalera, Tonga, and the Marquesas. We learn firsthand about whale shark hunting and humpback whale watching and meet some of the last traditional sperm whale hunters in the world. Thsi book is truly a fitting 14th title in his interesting opus of mainly sea expeditions (The Brendan Voyage, The Jason Voyage, The Spice Islands Voyage). Many other writers have been inspired by Melville and have explored his sources, and sperm whales have been studies extensively. Thus, some of the 'findings' that Severin talks about are not as surprising or as original as they might seem. I have spent most of the past 25 years working with whales and have visited and written about some of the locations Tim Severin talks about in his book. Although his book does not claim to be science, I have some observations: the practice of orcas taking the lips and tongue of large whales is not one story but many and it has been well known to scientists from many accounts for a long time (e.g., the 1934 Whalemen Adventures by Australian zoologist W J Dakin). To say that blue whales 'are too widely scattered across the world's oceans ever to be counted', ignores the painstaking work of the past two decades in which more than 1000 blue whales have been individually identified. Blue whales are being counted, though a total world number is still some years away. One of Severin's premises is that there is a gap between the knowledge of scientists and that of fishermen and other mariners. (This is meant to set up his quest and gives the reader confidence in the fishermen's stories.) I agree with this in certain cases, but the gap is rapidly closing, as more and more whale researchers spend months and years at sea. There has been a revolution in whale research since about 1970; today's whale researchers not only listen to fishermen and natives, but they have their own amazing stories to tell. I think it's good that Severin gives credence to fishermen and natives, but I don't think it's necessary to do so at the expense of science. Still these minor points should not detract from what is a splendid, enjoyable book. A good yarn, well told, recommended for a wide audience of armchair and real travellers. Review by Erich Hoyt, whose books include 'Insect Lives: Stories of Mystery and Romance from a Hidden World'. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Tim Severin
Tim Severin is a renowned adventurer and writer, who has specialised in re-creating voyages of exploration in primitive vessels. He holds the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
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