Monday, July 21, 2014

War of the Whales: a True Story

War of the Whales: A True Story
by Joshua Horwitz
Simon & Schuster, 2014.  426 pgs.  Nonfiction

When a number of beaked whales came ashore and mostly died in March of 2008, whale researcher Ken Balcomb is on hand to save those he can but perhaps more importantly to save the heads of the dead for analysis--what caused the whales to run aground en masse? He doesn't suspect the Navy until he sees a destroyer plying the channel above the Great Bahama Canyon where the whales live and feed and where conditions are perfect for training against submarine attacks. Balcomb keeps his mouth shut about the destroyer at first because he is a former Navy man trained there in underwater acoustics and besides his loyalty to the service, he has signed non-disclosure agreements.  But by and by for him and for many other environmentalists and researchers who are beholden to the Navy for funding, the whales' plight trumps even concerns for national security.  Horwitz's fine story of the battle between two good causes:  saving the lives of whales and, perhaps, saving the lives of American sailors and civilians is a profound character- and action-driven story of what happens when two forces seemingly essential to our welfare clash. Well-written and compelling, War of the Whales is already showing up on multiple Best Books of the Year lists, and rightly so.


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