|Pages/Publication Date:||208 / 2013|
Before the coming of steamships with instruments of mechanized slaughter, the hunt for sperm whales was a relatively even contest between two wily mammals. A photographer and filmmaker as well as a blacksmith and sculptor, James McGuane here offers a spectacular visual exploration of the material culture of New England whaling in the age of sail in more than 250 color photos. Along with ships and equipment, many aspects of the sperm whale's unusual physiology are illustrated here, as are the whaler's personal belongings and scrimshaw carvings. Here too is a firsthand account of the hunt, from naturalist Robert Cushman Murphy's Logbook for Grace, a diary he kept of his time aboard the whaleship Daisy.
"Long before electricity and kerosene, a more common substance used in lighting lamps and making soaps was whale oil, a fluid derived from the animal's blubber and, more profitably, from the foreheads of sperm whales.... In 10 abbreviated, easily digestible chapters, McGuane covers every aspect of whaling lore, from life aboard whaling ships and descriptions of the hunt taken from 19th-century journals, to surveying the kind of people who made up a crew and the often brutally designed tools of their trade. An abundance of McGuane's photographs display little-seen museum pieces such as whaleboats, harpoons, and whale teeth—or scrimshaw—decorated with scenes from seafaring days. Readers looking for a simple but rich overview of whaling will find it in this appealing and informative volume."—Booklist