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Tim Severin is a renowned adventurer and writer, who has specialised in re-creating voyages of exploration in primitive vessels. He holds the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
In the role of adventurer-cum-historian, Severin (The Brendan Voyage, etc.) has built leather boats and replicas of ninth-century Arab dhows in order to re-create the voyages of St. Brendan, Jason and the Argonauts, and Sindbad. His new adventure explores Melville's white whale and the culture of the gifted harpooners who are the last people on earth to hunt whales from small boats. Melville himself met such men when he deserted a whaling ship in French Polynesia in 1842, and Severin returns to the same island, Nuku Hiva. There he collects the information that allows him to dissect the myths and facts of Melville's Typee, and convincingly argue that Moby-Dick was influenced by Melville's contact with the Nuku Hivans. Severin also expounds on the disaster of the whaleship Essex, the habits of the great mammals themselves and the spiritual and mystical aspects of the Polynesians' whale hunts. A description of a young islander's coming of age in a successful hunt is transfixing. The author's firsthand account of whaling from a small boat is equally powerful. Severin is mystified that the whales don't flee as the hunters draw near enough to attack: "Where is their sense of self-preservation?" But the hunters know: the whale gives himself to those who have performed the ritual; just as surely, the whale will punish those who are greedy or negligent. This, Severin suggests, is the root of Melville's spiteful cetacean: Ahab was unworthy, and Moby-Dick delivered divine retribution in accordance with islander lore. The islanders' generations of experience, legend and myth are the authorities for Severin, as valid to him as any laboratory test results, and his description of their culture is profoundly moving. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
'With Melville-like dexterity, Severin stitches together this story of his global search for the "real" Moby Dick and his creator . . . Well worth reading' FINANCIAL TIMES 'Severin is one of the few men living who can genuinely be called an explorer . . . [His] quest has the epic quality of Melville's novel and his conclusions go far beyond the bounds of most travelogues . . . A remarkable investigation' DAILY EXPRESS 'An extraordinary explorer' INDEPENDENT 'Tim Severin is one of the last of the old-style explorers ... His deeds speak to us of the purity of achievement in an age where experience has become blunted by comfort and complacency' THE TIMES 'One of the refreshing things about Tim Severin is that one believes what he says.' LITERARY REVIEW 'His observations are sharp and sympathetic, to whale and people alike, and the result is an intriguing account of a passing world.' WANDERUST 'Vivid travel writing, maritime folklore and insight into the lives of people who depend on the ocean keep the pages turning.' FOCUS 'Unlike Ahab he has survived to tell the tale and a good tale it is: a great adventure story interleaved with diverting historical anecdotes.' TIME OUT 'Near the beginning of Tim Severin's account of his search for a great white whale, he tells the story of a marine biologist who joined a 1980 expedition of his to spot whales. Riding in a bosun's chair high up on the mast of an Arab sailing vessel, the biologist scanned the ocean with binoculars. He spotted whales-- "but not nearly as many as did two members of the crew far below him on the deck. Again and again one or other would call up to the masthead and draw the lookout's attention to a whale he had not yet noticed ... When the time came for him to leave the ship ... he confessed with a wry smile that the one thing he had really learned was [to] be more sceptical of the observations of marine biologists." Severin's search takes him around the Pacific and particularly to the Marquesas, where the technique of hunting whales by hand armed only with home-made bill- hooks has not yet been entirely forgotten. Conversations with old whalers bring him closer to true whale lore than any biological treatise. Not that Severin is interested in scoring cheap points. Rather, In Search of Moby Dick is an eloquent demonstration of how much valuable knowledge is locked up in the practices and stories of indigenous people--working people whose very lives and livelihoods, after all, depend upon it. Melville's Moby Dick was fashioned from the stories and reports of whalers of his day. Severin begins his own hunt in the belief that there is no smoke without fire. He is not disappointed.' - Simon Ings, AMAZON.CO.UK REVIEW
Beginning with his first book, Tracking Marco Polo, Severin has specialized in retracing famous historical or fictional voyages and journeys. (Other recent examples include In Search of Genghis Khan, The China Voyage: A Pacific Quest by Bamboo Raft, and The Spice Island Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man who Shared Darwin's Discovery of Evolution.) In this book, Severin travels to the South Pacific in search of the great white sperm whale immortalized in Melville's Moby Dick. In the Philippines, he accompanies hunters who jump on the backs of manta rays and whale sharks to set the hook, and in Indonesia, he follows the hunt for the sperm whale, using a hand-thrown harpoon. References to Melville and his book are made throughout this well-written and interesting travel adventure, and although Severin himself never encounters a great white whale, he ably relates the stories and legends he hears during his travels. Recommended for large public and academic libraries as well as those where Severin's previous books have been popular.DJohn McCormick, New Hampshire State Lib., Concord Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.