Philip Hoare

Shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

An extraordinary journey into the underwater world of the whale – to tie in with a BBC film-length documentary hosted also by the author.

Moby Dick is a book made mythic by its whale; but the reverse is also true. After Melville published his book in 1851, no one saw whales in quite the same way again. Melville created a modern myth out of an already legendary beast. But what is the true nature of the whale? Why does it fascinate us? All his life, Philip Hoare has been obsessed with these creatures, from the huge skeletons in London’s Natural History Museum to adult encounters with the wild animals themselves. Whales haunt him, as they seem to elide with dark fantasies of sea-serpents and other antediluvian monsters that swim in our collective unconscious.

In ‘Leviathan’, he seeks to locate and identify that obsession. Why does the whale so vividly inhabit our imaginations? Is it a symbol of Edenic innocence in a time of threatened species and climate change? Or an older emblem of evil, the grotesque fish which swallowed Jonah? Travelling around the globe in search of the whale, Philip Hoare sheds light on our perennial fascination with the strange creatures of the sea, whose nature remains tantalizingly undiscovered.

Reviews of Leviathan

    • Reviews for Leviathan:
    • ‘A wonderfully idiosyncratic book, passionate zoology counter-pointed with the glories of Moby-Dick…This is a deep book about the deep: an inspiring book about inspirational beings…If you can’t board a ship this week, read this book.’ Simon Barnes, The Times
    • ‘Successful as Hoare’s book is in expanding and its encyclopaedic sources, it also has a personal thread, detailing his own fascination with whales. The author describes his experiences swimming with sperm whales off the Azores, and his prose rises admirably to the demands of the encounter.’ The Financial Times
    • ‘As well as being a showcase for descriptive prose of great beauty, Leviathan is full of fascinating facts…These are tough times for whales, but Hoare brings to light an endangered world of cetacean savoir vivre that mocks our best efforts to be happy.’ The Guardian
    • ‘A celebratory study of the gentle giants that have for so long gripped the human imagination…This book is a lyrical and timely reminder of what we have to lose if we don’t change our greedy ways.’ The Mail on Sunday
    • ‘Anyone who loves the sea will love this book…a Sebalesque triumph, in which the author meditates on his obsession with whales…it is one of those books into which you can dip at random and find something interesting.’ The Sunday Telegraph
    • ‘Philip Hoare’s wonderfully illustrated biography is studded with glittering shards of natural history and social science but it’s also an exploration of the potent place whales occupy in the collective imagination.’ Metro
    • ‘A superb book…This is the book [Phillip Hoare] was born to write, a classic of its kind.’ Rachel Cooke, The Observer
    • ‘…studded with generous illustrations and poetic details…In Hoare’s hands whales are almost limitlessly strange and interesting.’ Bee Wilson, Sunday Times