The best whaling books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about whaling and why they recommend each book.

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Leviathan

By Eric Jay Dolin,

Book cover of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

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.

Leviathan

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…


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.

Book cover of Etchings of a Whaling Cruise

J. Ross Browne experienced first-hand whaling in the early-to-mid 1800s, serving as a crewman on a Yankee whaler. His vivid account of life on board, and the gruesome business of whaling, is beautifully written, enlightening, and dramatic. In his review of the book, Melville said, “It is a book of unvarnished facts … [which] unquestionably presents a faithful picture of the life led by the twenty thousand seamen employed in the seven hundred vessels which now pursue their game under the American flag.” So impressed was Melville that he used Browne’s book as one of his primary sources while writing Moby-Dick.

Etchings of a Whaling Cruise

By J. Ross Browne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Etchings of a Whaling Cruise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…


Who am I?

I am the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. This book was sparked by a painting I own of a whaling scene. Gazing at that painting, I often wondered what it was like to go whaling. Having Moby-Dick in school, I already knew a fair amount about whaling. But the painting continued to stir my curiosity, and soon I discovered that there were libraries devoted to whaling, providing almost unlimited material for a historical narrative. This book, then, is my attempt to weave that material into a maritime tapestry that attempts to do justice to America’s rich whaling heritage.


I wrote...

Book cover of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

What is my book about?

“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. I begin this vivid narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614. Then I chronicle the rise of a burgeoning industry — from its brutal struggles during the Revolutionary period to its golden age in the mid-1800s when a fleet of more than 700 ships hunted the seas and American whale oil lit the world, to its decline as the twentieth century dawned.

Petticoat Whalers

By Joan Druett,

Book cover of Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea, 1820–1920

Virtually every book on America’s whaling history focuses on men—the owners of ships and the crewmen who sailed on them. However, in the nineteenth century, women, and more specifically the captain’s wives, began appearing on whaleships in increasing numbers. Incredibly, by 1850, roughly one-sixth of all American whaling ships had these so-called “petticoat whalers” on board. Druett tells the fascinating stories of many of them, mixed in with more general whaling history.

Petticoat Whalers

By Joan Druett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Joan Druett offers an informed and accessible account of little known stories of wives of whaling captains who accompanied their husbands on long and arduous journeys to bring whale oil and blubber to New England. Surprisingly, by 1850 roughly a sixth of all whaling vessels carried the captains' wives. Invariably the only woman aboard a very cramped ship, they endured harsh conditions to provide companionship for their husbands, and sometimes even exerted a strong unofficial moral influence on a rowdy crew. Joan Druett provides captivating portraits of many of these wives and the difficult circumstances they endured.

Petticoat Whalers, first…


Who am I?

I am the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. This book was sparked by a painting I own of a whaling scene. Gazing at that painting, I often wondered what it was like to go whaling. Having Moby-Dick in school, I already knew a fair amount about whaling. But the painting continued to stir my curiosity, and soon I discovered that there were libraries devoted to whaling, providing almost unlimited material for a historical narrative. This book, then, is my attempt to weave that material into a maritime tapestry that attempts to do justice to America’s rich whaling heritage.


I wrote...

Book cover of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

What is my book about?

“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. I begin this vivid narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614. Then I chronicle the rise of a burgeoning industry — from its brutal struggles during the Revolutionary period to its golden age in the mid-1800s when a fleet of more than 700 ships hunted the seas and American whale oil lit the world, to its decline as the twentieth century dawned.

The American Whaleman

By Elmo Paul Hohman,

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

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.

The American Whaleman

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.


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.

The Sea-Hunters

By Edouard A. Stackpole,

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

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.

The Sea-Hunters

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.


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.

Men and Whales

By Richard Ellis,

Book cover of Men and Whales

This oversized book traces the long history of man’s tempestuous relationship with whales, and rather than focusing solely on American whaling, it covers whaling around the world. In addition to sections on Basque whaling going back more than a millennium, other parts of the book survey whaling in Australia, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Norway, and the Caribbean, among many other locales. The book also discusses the anti-whaling movement in the twentieth century that ultimately led to the International Whaling Commission’s (not quite universal) moratorium on whaling, adopted in 1986. There are more than 300 images that beautifully complement the text and bring history to life.

Men and Whales

By Richard Ellis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Traces the complex history of humans and whales--from the aborigines to tenth-century Basques to eighteenth-century British and Dutch whalers to the Yankee sperm whale fishery and the whaling industry in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa


Who am I?

I am the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. This book was sparked by a painting I own of a whaling scene. Gazing at that painting, I often wondered what it was like to go whaling. Having Moby-Dick in school, I already knew a fair amount about whaling. But the painting continued to stir my curiosity, and soon I discovered that there were libraries devoted to whaling, providing almost unlimited material for a historical narrative. This book, then, is my attempt to weave that material into a maritime tapestry that attempts to do justice to America’s rich whaling heritage.


I wrote...

Book cover of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

What is my book about?

“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. I begin this vivid narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614. Then I chronicle the rise of a burgeoning industry — from its brutal struggles during the Revolutionary period to its golden age in the mid-1800s when a fleet of more than 700 ships hunted the seas and American whale oil lit the world, to its decline as the twentieth century dawned.

In the Wake of Madness

By Joan Druett,

Book cover of In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon

Studying the journals of the surviving crew, the historian of this real-life nineteenth-century tragedy pieces together the situation aboard the ship that set sail out of Massachusetts for the whaling grounds of the North Pacific. What happens aboard makes the literary Captain Ahab's monomaniacal actions seem heroic in comparison. Druett's true-crime-at-sea story provides a brutal counterpoint to the American epic, Moby Dick, and calls to mind The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex, a true account that is said to have inspired Melville. I pick Druett's account because of its historical true-crime approach, and because it is a lesser-known account.

In the Wake of Madness

By Joan Druett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Wake of Madness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After more than a century of silence, the true story of one of history's most notorious mutinies is revealed in Joan Druett's riveting "nautical murder mystery" (USA Today). On May 25, 1841, the Massachusetts whaleship Sharon set out for the whaling ground of the northwestern Pacific. A year later, while most of the crew was out hunting, Captain Howes Norris was brutally murdered. When the men in the whaleboats returned, they found four crew members on board, three of whom were covered in blood, the other screaming from atop the mast. Single-handedly, the third officer launched a surprise attack to…


Who am I?

Linda Collison's composite career has included critical care and emergency nursing, freelance writing and novelist, and teaching skydiving. She has sailed many bluewater miles with her husband, Bob Russell, aboard their sloop Topaz, based in Hawaii. Their three-week sailing experience aboard the HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook's three-masted 18th century ship, inspired Linda to write Star-Crossed, an historical novel published by Knopf in 2006, and a New York Public Library pick in 2007 for Books for the Teen Age. Star-Crossed has been republished as the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series from Fireship Press. Her sailing experiences also inspired the novel Water Ghosts, a Foreword Reviews finalist for Independent Book of the Year, 2015.


I wrote...

Water Ghosts

By Linda Collison,

Book cover of Water Ghosts

What is my book about?

"I see things other people don't see; I hear things other people don't hear." Fifteen-year-old James McCafferty is an unwilling sailor aboard a traditional Chinese Junk operated as adventure therapy for troubled teens. Once at sea, James believes the ship is being taken over by the spirits of courtiers who fled the Imperial palace during the Ming Dynasty, more than 600 years earlier, and sailing to its doom. A psychological nautical adventure with strong historical and paranormal elements.

The Whale

By Philip Hoare,

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

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.

The Whale

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…


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.

Herman Melville's Whaling Years

By Wilson Heflin, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards (editor), Thomas Farel Heffernan (editor)

Book cover of Herman Melville's Whaling Years

Wilson Heflin’s indispensable but unfinished account of Melville’s life at sea from 1841-45, here lovingly edited by two experts on Melville and maritime life, unearths the full story and factual basis of Melville’s Pacific travels. Drawing from logbooks, consular records, newspaper accounts, and museum archives from around the world, Heflin reveals what Melville knew and fictionalized in his books. Highly readable for novices and scholars alike, this book provides an exciting entrée into early shipboard adventures and dangers and a chronicle of places and people around the globe—many long gone. 

Herman Melville's Whaling Years

By Wilson Heflin, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards (editor), Thomas Farel Heffernan (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Herman Melville's Whaling Years as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on more than a half-century of research, this work examines on of the most stimulating period's of Melville's life - the four years he spent aboard whaling vessels in the Pacific during the early 1940s.


Who are we?

We approached our book, theme, and recommendations as readers and lovers of Melville’s work who were inspired by following in his footsteps to places “whole oceans away,” as he describes the Pacific in Moby-Dick. Melville traveled widely and kept up his travels throughout a lifetime of further exploration, as well as voluminous writing. We want to share the exhilaration of traveling with a writer: that is, by reading of Melville’s travels, traveling to the places he visited, and also hearing from people who know those places too. We hope our book gives readers contact with the many dimensions of global travel, in whatever form they find for themselves.


We wrote...

"Whole Oceans Away": Melville and the Pacific

By Jill Barnum (editor), Wyn Kelley (editor), Christopher Sten (editor)

Book cover of "Whole Oceans Away": Melville and the Pacific

What is our book about?

This is the first essay collection to consider Melville’s novels from the perspective of people in the Pacific Islands. Whether you have read Moby-Dick or not, Melville’s Polynesian adventures, which he converted into often sensational narratives, take readers to fascinating places. He won avid 19th-century admirers for portrayals of lush tropical scenery, tales of purported cannibalism, tattooing, sex, and violence, and often humorous mishaps. Today’s readers will want to know more, and this volume offers 21st-century perspectives on what Melville gleaned from his travels. Most importantly, what Melville described in Moby-Dick as “an everlasting itch for things remote” led to astounding reflections on the world and its splendid varieties of human nature. This book might accompany journeys around the globe—or simply to the bookstore.

In the Heart of the Sea

By Nathaniel Philbrick,

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

A small lifeboat is spotted off the coast of Chile in 1821, below the gunnels skeletal men cling to a pile of human bones. Nathaniel Philbrick opens his National Book Award-winning story with an almost incomprehensibly brutal scene and rarely takes a breath for the remaining 300-odd pages. Considered to be the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is the true story of a ship stove in by a whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the harrowing survival of some of its crew. 

In the Heart of the Sea

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.

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…


Who am I?

I grew up on the tip of a peninsula jutting out into the raging Atlantic ocean. Both of my grandfathers spent their lives at sea. The power, and fear, that the ocean inspires has been a constant in my life, and most recently while working on Acadian Driftwood. Spending years working on a story so closely tied to tragedy, and the sea, I’ve consumed a lot of nautical disaster stories. While not everything on the list is a disaster (Nansen got his ship stuck in the ice on purpose) each story will make you rethink whether you ever want to head out to sea.  


I wrote...

Book cover of Acadian Driftwood: One Family and the Great Expulsion

What is my book about?

Growing up on the south shore of Nova Scotia, Tyler LeBlanc wasn’t fully aware of his family’s Acadian roots—until a chance encounter with an Acadian historian prompted him to delve into his family history. LeBlanc’s discovery that he could trace his family all the way to the time of the Acadian Expulsion and beyond forms the basis of this compelling account of Le Grand Dérangement.

LeBlanc tells the story of Joseph LeBlanc (his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather), Joseph’s ten siblings, and their families. With descendants scattered across modern-day Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the LeBlancs provide a window into the diverse fates that awaited the Acadians when they were expelled from their homeland. Some escaped the deportation and were able to retreat into the wilderness. Others found their way back to Acadie. 

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