Harpoon: Into the Heart Of Whaling by Andrew Darby9780306816291

publication date: 2008
pages: 300
ISBN: 978-0-306-81629-1

The full title of this book was Harpoon: Into the Heart Of Whaling. So, when I picked it up off the shelf at the library, I expected a history of whaling and a description of global whaling practices. Instead, what I got was a screed against hunting whales for most any purpose. The book wasn’t a history of whaling but more a list of reasons against it.

The author’s obviously-not-objective viewpoint sometimes made me question the accuracy of the events he was presenting. For example, he talked often of the environmental group Greenpeace and its work disrupting whaling fleets. Greenpeace boats attempted to stop whale kills by surrounding the whaling ship and attaching themselves to it. I didn’t have much prior knowledge of these action and, to me, Greenpeace’s behavior seemed radical and maybe even unnecessarily dangerous. But, instead of objectively retelling these events, Darby gave breezy accounts from Greenpeace’s point of view that concluded, for example, by lamenting the fact that photos taken “lacked fire.”

The book’s cause was also not helped by Darby’s poor and confusing writing. Darby’s writing was often jumbled or unclear. I had to reread a lot of sentences. Here was his blasé account of an accident on a whaling ship, which I had to read a few times to realize that yes, a horrific calamity had occurred:

A few days later [Japanese whaling ship] Nisshin Maru turned up in the Ross Sea, 1000 kilometres away from [the nearest Greenpeace vessel]. Around 6 am on 15 February the ship’s captain phoned the bemused Wellington rescue centre to say the ship was on fire, most of its crew had evacuated, and one was feared dead. . . There was no more whaling, no chance of Greenpeace intervening [in a hunt] or of recording the whaling.

Darby’s bemoaning Greenpeace’s lack of acceptable subject matter for recording, and not his bemoaning the loss of a human life, could have been because the life at stake was a Japanese whaler. The book was vaguely and eerily anti-Japanese throughout. Darby discussed Japan’s reputedly violent and militaristic attitude. At one point, he wondered if the supposed tendency of Japanese whalers to hunt inhumanely stemmed from the poor treatment of POWs in Japan in World War II.

Notwithstanding all the aforementioned flaws of the book, it was obvious Darby had done a lot of research on this topic. The book was sometimes informative. A few of my assumptions about whaling – not that I had a lot – were effectively challenged. However, the informative or compelling aspects of the book were not enough for me to recommend it.

2/6: many problems

Other reviews:

Earth Island Journal
Green Lifestyle
Olly Zanetti on Pop Matters