The best books to nerd out on cool facts about whales

Why am I passionate about this?

I began as a journalist and turned into a novelist who uses extensive research to build my imagined stories. So, I tend to end up writing novels about whatever is fascinating enough to send me down research rabbit holes. I’m finishing a novel now about the wonders and mysteries of whales and the researchers who commit their lives to try to understand them. During the last three years, I have interviewed whale researchers, gone on expeditions with them, and have read countless scientific papers and quite a few books on whales. These books I’m recommending here were some of my favorites.


I wrote...

The Highest Tide

By Jim Lynch,

Book cover of The Highest Tide

What is my book about?

One moonlit night, thirteen-year-old Miles O'Malley, a speed-reading, Rachel Carson-obsessed insomniac out looking for tidal specimens in Puget Sound, discovers a giant squid stranded on the beach. As the first person to see a giant squid alive, he finds himself hailed as a prophet. But Miles is really just a kid on the verge of growing up, infatuated with the girl next door, worried that his bickering parents will divorce, and fearful that everything, even the bay he loves, is shifting away from him. As the sea continues to offer up discoveries from its mysterious depths, Miles struggles to deal with the difficulties that attend the equally mysterious process of growing up.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Leviathan: Or, The Whale

Jim Lynch Why did I love this book?

Leviathan is an incredibly well written book about Hoare’s own fascination with whales and Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s intense whale-driven masterpiece. Hoare captures whales in words as well as anybody. “The whale is a miracle of marine engineering,” he writes, and then explains both their biological wonders as well as their psychological impact on us. “There is a supernatural physicality to them… They look like we feel as we float in our dreams.”

By Philip Hoare,

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 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…


Book cover of Wild Blue: A Natural History of the World's Largest Animal

Jim Lynch Why did I love this book?

Bortolotti’s book reveals the beguiling fact that we don’t know much about the largest animals to ever live on earth. Despite their hugeness, blue whales remain elusive and mysterious creatures. Most of the whales’ calls to each other operate at frequencies below our hearing range. Their breeding and migration patterns remain unpredictable compared to other whales. This book drops the reader into a small inflatable Zodiac out in the ocean looking for and studying these whales with several of the world’s most accomplished and tenacious blue whale researchers.

By Dan Bortolotti,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The blue whale holds the title of largest creature that has ever lived, and it may also be the most mysterious. The biggest blue whales can outweigh every player in Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League combined. Their mouths can gulp more than thirteen thousand gallons of seawater. A newborn can be over twenty feet long and gain nearly twenty tons in seven months—about eight pounds per hour. Blue whales emit more powerful sounds than any other animal on earth, though many of their vocalizations are beyond the range of human hearing.
Yet nearly everything that we have…


Book cover of The Presence of Whales: Contemporary Writings on the Whale

Jim Lynch Why did I love this book?

The Presence of Whales includes more than twenty different articles, essays, and excerpts about whales, including work from famous nature writers like Diane Ackerman and Farley Mowat, as well as seminal pieces from whale scientists Hal Whitehead and Roger Payne. Barry Lopez’s story about 36 sperm whales stranding on the Oregon coast alone is worth the price of this book—if you can find it. Here’s Lopez describing a sperm whale: “Imagine a forty-five-year-old male fifty feet long, a slim shiny black animal with a white jaw and marbled belly cutting the surface of green ocean water at twenty knots.”

By Frank Stewart (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Frank Stewart, an observer, writer, storyteller, and lover of whales gathers the most compelling contemporary essays on cetaceans in the first anthology to bring together many of the foremost  marine scientists and nature writers, including Diane Ackerman, Barry Lopez, Farley Mowat, Faith McNulty, and Jonathan White.   

The essays are organized in five sections that celebrates our ongoing fascination with these fragile giants.

Sharing the World of Giants

contains essays inspired by being in the presence of whales,

Songs from the Deep

concentrates on whale vocalizations,

Sightings of the Leviathan

are compelling accounts of personal observations of whale behavior,

Death at…


Book cover of Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales

Jim Lynch Why did I love this book?

Kelsey’s book is a graceful mix of science and personal odyssey. She hangs out with whale scientists and asks smart questions. Her subjects are as much the scientists as the whales, including Chris Clark who studies the acoustics of whales and our increasingly noisy oceans. She takes us on her personal journey to the last page where she concludes that whales “inspire me to act more generously.”

By Elin Kelsey, Doc White (photographer), Francois Gohier (photographer)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Watching Giants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Personal, anecdotal, and highly engaging, "Watching Giants" opens a window on a world that seems quite like our own, yet is so different that understanding it pushes the very limits of our senses. Elin Kelsey's colorful first-person account, drawing from her rich, often humorous, everyday experiences as a mother, a woman, and a scientist, takes us to the incredibly productive waters of the Gulf of California and beyond, to oceans around the world. Kelsey brings us along as she talks to leading cetacean researchers and marine ecologists about their intriguing discoveries. We encounter humpback whales that build nets from bubbles,…


Book cover of Fathoms: The World in the Whale

Jim Lynch Why did I love this book?

Giggs is first and foremost a great writer. Her powers of description and analysis pop off the page. The first 100 pages of Fathoms are particularly strong as she zeroes in on disturbing and fascinating topics such as all our garbage showing up in the bellies of stranded whales or scavenger ecosystems created by whale carcasses once they fall to the ocean floor.

By Rebecca Giggs,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Fathoms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN NONFICTION
WINNER OF THE NIB LITERARY AWARD
FINALIST FOR THE KIRKUS PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
HIGHLY COMMENDED IN THE WAINWRIGHT PRIZE FOR WRITING ON GLOBAL CONSERVATION

A SUNDAY INDEPENDENT BOOK OF THE YEAR

'There is a kind of hauntedness in wild animals today: a spectre related to environmental change ... Our fear is that the unseen spirits that move in them are ours. Once more, animals are a moral force.'

When Rebecca Giggs encountered a humpback whale stranded on her local beach in Australia, she began to wonder how the lives of…


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We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope – about figuring out where you belong, finding your way there, and living a life that matters.

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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