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Leviathan - or the Whale by Philip Hoare

Leviathan - or the Whale

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Winner of the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

Since the days of Moby Dick and before, man has held in awe the planet’s largest mammal and rightly so; they are magnificent and fascinating creatures. Philip Hoare has had his obsession with these creatures since childhood and in this wonderful book we follow him around the world as he follows these mesmerising creatures of the deep.


Leviathan - or the Whale by Philip Hoare

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 his book in 1851, no one saw whales in quite the same way again. This book is an investigation into what we know little about – dark, shadowy creatures who swim below the depths, only to surface in a spray of spume. More than the story of the whale, it is also the story of our own obsessions.


'This history of man’s dealings with whales is respectful, even mystical.’ Daily Mail

‘Enjoyable trawl through the history, literature and lore of whales…As well as being a showcase for descriptive prose of great beauty, “Leviathan” is full of fascinating facts.’ Guardian

‘In Hoare's hands, whales are almost limitlessly strange and interesting.’ Sunday Times

‘Hoare’s idiosyncratic mingling of autobiography, anthropology and archaeology has reached its zenith…an enthralling volume. Hoare has the skill and humility to make this work, to him, great art and the Leviathan are both inexplicable, unknowable forces from the deep, wherein lies their wonder.’ Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Philip Hoare was born and brought up in Southampton. At college in London in 1976, he became involved in the punk movement, returning to Southampton to produce fanzines, manage groups and design album sleeves. After working for Virgin and Rough Trade, he set up his own independent label in Hackney, releasing records by 23 Skidoo and the Pale Fountains, and managed Max, the group formed by Kevin Mooney of Adam & the Ants.

In 1990 Philip Hoare published his first book, Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant, an account of the outrageous and reclusive Wiltshire aristocrat which appeared on bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic. Reviewing it for the New York Times, film director John Waters called it 'witty and amazing…both scholarly and hilarious at the same time'. Noel Coward: A Biography, (1995) was acclaimed by Sheridan Morley as 'the definitive biography', and reviewing Wilde's Last Stand: Decadence, Conspiracy & the First World War (1997) Simon Callow wrote in the Sunday Times: 'Hoare has identified one of the key moments in the formation of the modern world, and he has documented it with dazzling brilliance.'

Hoare was consultant to the BBC2 Arena: Noel Coward Trilogy of three one-hour films broadcast over Easter 1998 in the UK, and in January 1999 on PBS in the US. He has lectured at literary festivals in Birmingham, Cheltenham and Charleston, at the National Portrait and Tate galleries, and the Royal Festival Hall on subjects ranging from punk rock to Noel Coward. In 1998, together with Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, he curated an exhibition of photographs of Coward as part of the Twentieth-Century Blues project, at the NPG and the Photographer's Gallery. He also appeared in the BBC Omnibus film on Oscar Wilde, and was script consultant to BBC Knowledge's recent Wilde Night. In November 1998, his film for the BBC2 series, Travels With Pevsner, was praised as 'masterful' by John Preston in the Sunday Telegraph. In summer 1999 he co-curated Icons of Pop at the National Portrait Gallery, an exhibition of British pop photography which drew a record 226,000 visitors to the gallery.

Hoare has also appeared on BBC2's Newsnight and CNN's Larry King Show. He has made many appearances on radio, contributing to and presenting programmes for BBC Radio 4, and is a regular contributor to the Independent, Guardian and Times Literary Supplement. His latest work of non-fiction, Spike Island, was published by Fourth Estate in 2001. He divides his time between London and Southampton.

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Book Info

Publication date

11th June 2009


Philip Hoare

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Harpercollins Publishers


352 pages


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