The best books on whaling from an expert on whaling captains of color

Who am I?

Before becoming a writer I was widely acknowledged as a successful radio station executive, a business relying heavily on audience and other numerical information. That earned me the nickname “Data” (from Star Trek). Having written an article about a Black whaling captain for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine I became intrigued about how this could have occurred in the years of slavery and began buying and reading books on whaling to find that answer. About 100 such books resulted in my book on 50 some men who had attained that lofty rank; today I’m up to about 180 and/or I can attest I’ve read fundamentally all of the books on the subject.


I wrote...

Whaling Captains of Color: America's First Meritocracy

By Skip Finley,

Book cover of Whaling Captains of Color: America's First Meritocracy

What is my book about?

Whaling was the first American industry to exhibit any diversity, and the proportion of men of color people who participated was amazingly high. A man got to be captain not because he was white or well connected, but because he knew how to kill a whale. Along the way he would also learn navigation and how to read and write. Whaling presented a tantalizing alternative to mainland life. Working with archival records at whaling museums, in libraries, from private archives, and studying hundreds of books and thesis, I culled the best stories from the lives of over 50 Whaling Captains of Color to share the story of America's First Meritocracy.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

Skip Finley Why did I love this book?

If you could only read one book on whaling it would be Leviathan. It’s written by an estimable storyteller and experienced researcher who provides a thorough history of the subject that is digestible, authentic, and easy to read in a literate, nontechnical style. Author Dolin has become a friend and mentor whose early review was of great assistance to me in framing the story of how my captains fit into the industry.

By Eric Jay Dolin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leviathan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The epic history of the "iron men in wooden boats" who built an industrial empire through the pursuit of whales. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," Herman Melville proclaimed, and this absorbing history demonstrates that few things can capture the sheer danger and desperation of men on the deep sea as dramatically as whaling. Eric Jay Dolin begins his vivid narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614. He then chronicles the rise of a burgeoning industry-from its brutal struggles during the Revolutionary period to its golden age in…


Book cover of The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea

Skip Finley Why did I love this book?

Too many books about whaling omit the obvious, the whale itself. An example is that we killed the largest creature on earth for 100 years before we learned it wasn’t a fish! The Whale is educational, laugh-out-loud funny, at times scatological, and easy to read. Best-selling author Nathaniel Philbrick called it “genius... rhapsodic meditation on all things cetacean” in his New York Times book review. It’s the bible of whales and, dare I say it, more interesting than Moby-Dick.

By Philip Hoare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Whale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A love letter to the 'largest, loudest, oldest' mammal ever to have existed...exhilarating." -People Magazine

Winner of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction,

From his childhood fascination with the gigantic Natural History Museum model of a blue whale, to his abiding love of Moby-Dick, to his adult encounters with the living animals in the Atlantic Ocean, the acclaimed writer Philip Hoare has been obsessed with whales. The Whale is his unforgettable and moving attempt to explain why these strange and beautiful animals exert such a powerful hold on our imagination.

An enthralling and eye-opening literary leviathan swimming in similar…


Book cover of The American Whaleman: A Study of Life and Labor in the Whaling Industry

Skip Finley Why did I love this book?

Author Hohman’s classic treatise offers readers the most complete—and interesting and readable—history of the business of whaling that is so vitally important, having been published in literally the year of the last working American whaleship (The Wanderer). It offers a rare contemporary history of the fifth largest industry in America—and the third largest in its home state of Massachusetts.

By Elmo Paul Hohman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The American Whaleman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book has been considered by academicians and scholars of great significance and value to literature. This forms a part of the knowledge base for future generations. So that the book is never forgotten we have represented this book in a print format as the same form as it was originally first published. Hence any marks or annotations seen are left intentionally to preserve its true nature.


Book cover of The Sea-Hunters: New England Whalemen during Two Centuries 1635 – 1835

Skip Finley Why did I love this book?

Stackpole’s remarkable history of the men of whaling from its inception to its glorified height included the only mention of one Captain in my book—Peter Green—and why a Black man achieved the rank of captain, a role fundamentally omniscient as management ranks go. As historically significant is that his son, Matthew Stackpole—an adviser and personal friend—is credited with the restoration of America’s second oldest ship (after the U.S.S. Constitution), the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Charles W. MorganAmerica’s last whaleship whose last voyage’s Captain and entire crew were men of color.

By Edouard A. Stackpole,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sea-Hunters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This the first edition from 1953. In very rough condition.


Book cover of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Skip Finley Why did I love this book?

Besides Nat Philbrick being a friend who wrote a wonderful blurb for my book, his bestselling book about the whaleship Essex best answers the questions of why whaling had a desertion rate upwards of 40% and why almost 90% of everyone who ever went whaling only went once. The true-to-life tale best introduces the reader to what could happen to those who went ‘a whaling’.

By Nathaniel Philbrick,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked In the Heart of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

The epic true-life story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the nineteenth century - and inspiration for `Moby-Dick' - reissued to accompany a major motion picture due for release in December 2015, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy.

When the whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket in 1819, the unthinkable happened. A mere speck in the vast Pacific ocean - and powerless against the forces of nature - Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale, and her twenty crewmen were forced to take to the open sea…


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By Carrie A. Pearson, Nancy Carpenter (illustrator),

Book cover of Virginia Wouldn't Slow Down!: The Unstoppable Dr. Apgar and Her Life-Saving Invention

Carrie A. Pearson

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What is my book about?

A delightful and distinctive picture book biography about Dr. Virginia Apgar, who invented the standard, eponymous test for evaluating newborn health used worldwide thousands of times every day.

You might know about the Apgar Score. But do you know the brilliant, pioneering woman who invented it? Born at the turn of the twentieth century, Virginia Apgar soared above what girls were expected to do―or not do. Ginny adored science, hated cooking, drove fast, made her own violins, earned a pilot’s license, and traveled the world. Here, Carrie Pearson’s jaunty storytelling and Nancy Carpenter’s playful illustrations capture the energy and independence of a woman who didn’t slow down for anything―and changed newborn care forever.

Virginia Wouldn't Slow Down!: The Unstoppable Dr. Apgar and Her Life-Saving Invention

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