Nick Black's Reviews > The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century

The Sounding of the Whale by D. Graham Burnett
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Feb 22, 12

bookshelves: i-heart-teuthology, incredibly-large, she-blinded-me-with-science
Recommended to Nick by: NYT
Read from February 16 to 21, 2012 — I own a copy, read count: 1

oh my, *that* was an ordeal! i was expecting something entirely different, basically a massive new textbook on Cetacea biology and environmental biology (did i horribly misread the NYT review, or did the reviewer not read the book?). no, that was not at all what D. Graham Burnett was setting out to do in this doorstop of a tome. he's some kind of crazy hyperacademic historian, versed in disciplines i've never thought to differentiate, and certainly never contemplated by herodotus or gibbon. i think it was around page 353:

a bunch of horseshit

that i loudly cried out TELL US ABOUT THE FUCKING WHALES for the first time. i had no idea what he was talking about at moments like this, and eventually just rolled my eyes and skipped forward a few pages. i have not been so bewildered by terminology ("partisans of strong-program SSK?") since dating a "poststructuralist women's studies/queer theorist" a few weeks ago, which yeah good luck getting a job with that. but! when not reveling in useless hieratics (and frankly even they are kinda wryly amusing, because Prof. Burnett is obviously quite brilliant, and you're just like wow dude, you really waste your brain thinking about this shit? go do some semiconductor physics!, and he's an absolutely perfect technical writer at all times).

exhibit 2:


someone needs transfix this footnote upon a sharp stick before it becomes self-aware and destroys us all.

so why 4 stars nich-o-las? you ask. well friends,

(1) there's still a whole hell of a lot of awesome whale stuff among these 792 pages
(2) it is a technically flawless book
(3) he's linguistically classical as a motherfucker, full of a deliciously eurocentric dead white man sprachgefühl that seems entirely out of character. learned references abound, and he's not miserly with the actual Greek glyphs. the guy's clearly read five pages for every one of mine, and remembered twenty. great fun this past fortnight cursing and digging out the ol' OEDe2.
(4) absolutely encyclopedic regarding cetacean history
(5) he's a total dick. lengthy footnotes just totally talking sweet smack about all the know-nothing jabroni whatnots who've come before him -- and he totally deserves to do so.
(6) some great character studies here, though highly dispassionate ones.
(7) footnotes often give descriptions like "{address of some hoary timeless Norwegian archivist who's lived off butter crisps, whitefish oil and Sterno for 30 years}, Baldersgate 11A, N - 026, Oslo, Back bedroom, under bed, red folder. Previously unknown in the literature." you can say many things but you can in no way say Prof. Burnett did not set out to write the book of...whatever exactly it is, and by God succeeded.

in a term Prof. Burnett might have used himself, this is a fine example of stormannsgalskap. if it weren't for all the bullshit, i'd even generally recommend it. unfortunately, i doubt anyone but another weird historian or fellow half-mad cetacean-crazy Samoans who ought be getting married instead of reading 800-page treatises on whale policing would read it, and it's expensive at $45. leave this one on the Great Amazon Wish List in Heaven, my friends.

had to remove the "snap-crackle-pop-science" tag -- this book is absolutely not fucking around.
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Reading Progress

02/16/2012 page 55
7.0% ""intense physical layer on the flensing platform" -- fourth book in which i've ever seen this word, others being Moby-Dick, the OEDe2, and Judy Blume's Blubber." 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Nick Black i'd like to meet the Professor and be like,

"David Rydh and I have been dscussing residual gerbes and stratifcations by gerbes. We have now shown that if X is an algebraic stack whose inertia I_X is quasi-compact over X, then X has a canonical stratification by locally closed algebraic substacks which are gerbes… but this stratification is indexed by a possibly infinite well ordered set. This is the stratification of type (a) of Lemma Tag 06RF.

As the example in this post shows we cannot always expect to find a finite stratification. To me an intriguing question is what possible order types one can obtain from the canonical stratification of these algebraic stacks. My first guess is that the index should in any case always be countable (but I do not even have a heuristic argument for this).

The result above relies on a very general “generic flatness” result which also allows one to prove the existence of residual gerbes at any point of an algebraic stack whose inertia is quasi-compact."


message 4: by Matt (new)

Matt Wow. Sounds like it might be worth tackling to me.

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