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Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature
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Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature

3.44  ·  Rating Details ·  52 Ratings  ·  12 Reviews
In "Moby-Dick," Ishmael declares, "Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that a whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me." Few readers today know just how much argument Ishmael is waiving aside. In fact, Melville's antihero here takes sides in one of the great controversies of the early nineteenth century--one that ...more
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published November 11th 2007 by Princeton University Press (first published October 22nd 2007)
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Frank Stein
Mar 08, 2011 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing
Just an amazing book that uses an 1818 court case, Maurice v. Judd, to look at everything from science to law to economy in the early American Republic.

Unlike other books of this type the case is not merely a framing device used reiterate a bunch of interesting factoids, but rather a central and essential part of the story, and eminently fascinating in its own right. It centered on the question of whether a "whale" was a "fish" for the purpose of an inspection tax on importers of "fish oil." Bur
Sep 18, 2012 Joshua rated it really liked it
This book is everything I want in a history text. Finding an obscure but fascinating piece and expanding it to highlight broad societal trends during the period. In this case the book highlights a case where taxonomy had direct fiscal implications. Drawing on whether a whale was a fish or not, this book highlights how four different groups of people; naturalists, whalers and captains, merchants, and everyone else viewed the taxonomy and natural history of cetations. While the stories themselves ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
Except for being nonfiction, this was sort of like reading Moby Dick, but not quite as long. It is the story of how the legal system in 1818 takes on the new science of taxonomy to challenge the view of the whale as fish. Burnett looks upon the trial in great detail, examining the views of whalers, philosophers, lawyers, and the common (?) man.
Held a half century before Darwin and a century before the Scopes Trial, Maurice v. Judd reminds us that science is not static, nor is human nature.
Catherine Siemann
Apr 05, 2010 Catherine Siemann rated it liked it
Fascinating trial narrative: in early 19th century New York, a commercial lawsuit pits popular against scientific opinion: is a whale a fish? The writing didn't engage me quite as much as I expected, but the research is thorough and the book works well as history of science.
Jan 02, 2009 Ellen rated it liked it
I would have given this book four stars had it not been for the author's trying (ha ha) practice of inserting puns and jokes in the text. They were a little too clever, and a bit distracting.
Adam Driggers
Aug 08, 2011 Adam Driggers rated it it was ok
A little too dry for my taste. Best chapter was the one describing the opinions of whalers and sailors.
Kelly rated it it was ok
Mar 25, 2012
Apr 10, 2013 Mike marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Must read this, but it's FIFTY BUCKS in hardcover. Anyone have a used copy they want to part with?
Aaron Hung
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I didn't make it through this book.
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Speaking for us in January, hopefully...
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