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The Moon by Whale Light and Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians and Whales

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  1,053 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Part scientific journal, part personal essay, part exotic travelogue, here is a richly described, closely observed odyssey to the four corners of the animal kingdom--by the bestselling author of A Natural History of the Senses.
Hardcover, 249 pages
Published October 23rd 1991 by Random House (NY) (first published 1991)
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Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book had been on my reading list for a while, ever since I read The Rarest of the Rare: Vanishing Animals, Timeless Worlds, which I loved. I finally got a hold of it through my library's inter-library exchange. (I love my library!)

The book has 4 main sections focusing on 4 different animals: bats, crocodilians (alligators and crocodiles), whales, and penguins. I was really looking forward to the whale chapter, especially since part of it took place in Hawaii - and I really enjoyed it. But t
Jul 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature, animals
Another beautiful book of writings by Diane Ackerman. Her writing style is so lyrical and her descriptions are so vivid - reading her work is like biting into the juiciest of fruits. This particular collection highlights bats, crocodiles, penguins, and whales. Ackerman spends time with these animals, learning about their biology and psychology, talks with their keepers, trainers, and researchers.

While all of them were wonderful, the chapters on bats and crocodiles were my favorites of all - per
Kerri Anne
An essay about bats followed by an essay about alligators followed by an essay about whales followed by an essay about penguins. It's like this book was written just for me (and anyone else super into bats, alligators, whales, and penguins; if that's you, hi; let's be friends!).

I was so smitten with this book that I wrote notes all over it and savored it for over a month. I would (and have and will continue to) read 100 more books just like this one. (Also, it was fun to randomly run into the s
Nico Daniel
She tries to make everything sound beautiful and poignant, but at some point I just start to get annoyed.
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is an appealing, attractively packaged collection of four essays on animal behavior, all of which originally appeared in the New Yorker. While the subject matter is interesting and entertaining, reading this book can be even more educational if attention is paid to what it reveals about current perceptions of scientists and issues of "animal rights" in the general media.

Ackerman sets herself up as a myth debunker, and does a good job where nature is concerned. When describing bats or i
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ackerman is a lovely writer. Even when she doesn't talk about the animals as much as the researchers (e.g. the whales chapter), still interesting! ...more
Kristin Allen
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Diane Ackerman may be the best non-fiction nature writer of our time. She embarks on adventures far, deep and wide to dive into the wild and come back with delicious words that attempt to convey what she has seen and experienced. This is a book that will remain on my bookshelf forever, ear marked from beginning to end for its revelations and beautiful descriptions. She doesn't just report from the field, she learns and then shares her lessons with us. One example:
"The lesson whales teach us is t
Mary Lee
Mar 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
My favorite essay was the one about whales. (She also writes about bats, alligators and penguins.) In the first part of it, she wonders about the size of whale brains and what they might do with the largest brain on earth.

"After all, mind is such an odd predicament for matter to get into. I often marvel how something like hydrogen, the simplest atom, forged in some early chaos of the universe, could lead to us and the gorgeous fever we call consciousness. If a mind is just a few pounds of blood,
Dec 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I really loved this book. It is filled with beautiful descriptions of Ackerman's experiences learning about four different types of animals: bats, crocodilians, whales and penguins. In each chapter I learned unexpected things about the animals, and experienced Ackerman's wonder at the beauty and uniqueness of each animal group. Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about this book. Ackerman perfectly captures that feeling of awe and wonder experienced when observing nature working so perfec ...more
I'm pretty sure this is not the edition I read.

I encountered the essay on bats from this book in serial form in the New Yorker. I was more captivated by the description of the bats (and of Bat Conservation International's Merlin Tuttle) than by the other esssays in this book--but I did like the other essays. I was interested enough in Ackerman's work that I got another book by her--but I had difficulty getting through that, so I didn't pursue her work further.

Still, I'd recommend this book, if y
Mar 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it, especially the chapter on bats. Like many other reviews, I would have loved to see some pictures and maps. However, I did go to the Internet to look up Bat Conservation International and am seriously considering putting a bat house in my yard. I'm also recommending this book for people I know who are freaked out by bats. Some of the traveling the author did that led to this material happened over 20 years ago, which makes me wonder the current status of the 4 animals she wrote about. ...more
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought I was a writer...and then I read this book. Writing about animals and their environment doesn't get more exquisite than this. Camera technology now gives us high-definition visuals and slow -motion action; but it takes a brilliant nature writer with the sensibilities of a poet to bring us all that plus understanding. I found myself lingering over some of her descriptions and re-reading sentences much as one might stay and stare at a painting or sculpture that you find amazing. What a g ...more
It look me awhile to get through the first two sections on bats and crocodiles, but once I got to the whales and penguins I was happy (I like bats and crocodiles and all, but not like I like whales and penguins)! Ackerman writes beautifully and there was a lot to interest me here, once I got to the marine animals. I'm not sure if I'm really planning to read any other books of hers because it looks like most of them are not about animals (haha, I'm a nerd), but...maybe? ...more
Apr 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I would give this six stars if I could.
This book made me love bats. Have you ever looked at one up close? They are extraordinary, and intelligent and we need to do whatever we can to make sure they thrive in the wild.
Diane Ackerman is a field biologist and, as you can tell by the title of this book, a poet.

There are four sections: bats, crocodilian species, whales and penguins. And although I would not have picked up a book on crocodiles, Ackerman’s writing made this family of beasties fascinating and entertaining.

I enjoyed the science, but especially enjoyed her flights into philosophy and poetry.

The section about whales is the longest, and for me, the most interesting. She tells of whale songs which have
Reading this book brought back the feelings of childhood: the immense curiosity and wonder at life, the excitement of learning, facts that inspire awe, stories that provoke wonder. This book stoked emotions that are rarely touched by manmade objects and are usually only reached by nature itself, and I found myself getting excited and worked up with each new piece of knowledge gained. I didn't want this book to end. I wanted to keep on reading and keep on learning more and more about everything t ...more
Sherrill Watson
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whales by Moonlight?
In these masterful essays written in 1991 Ms. Ackerman gives us some insight into what it's like to travel with the primary researchers in their fields of bats, penguins, crocodiles and whales and study with them. Decidedly NOT squeamish and matter-of factly determined, they give her their reads on their findings into the various animals in their habitats, which she faithfully reports, adding poetic and beautiful passages a little like a travelogue. I have no intention of go
I really enjoyed this book and the deep dive into the worlds of bats, crocodilians, whales, and penguins. The author is a gifted wordsmith, with vivid descriptions of these different universes. And her passion for nature shines through, reminding the reader that these alien cultures are actually intimately connected to our world. And mankind, in our collective ignorance and arrogance, is destroying the world we all live in and these amazing creatures besides. I came away feeling as if I had acco ...more
2.5 stars

Dated, obviously, given how much more scientific knowledge we've since gained and how much more destruction we've wrought since 1991. So, somewhat depressing. My favorite section was on the bats but I couldn't help thinking of how many more bats we've lost since this was published due to humans and white-nose syndrome. The crocodiles section came across as more standoffish and the people involved were rather unlikable IMO. The whale and penguin sections were nothing I haven't read many
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Diane Ackerman is a joy to read. Her subjects in this series of essays are creatures that she clearly is passionate about. Who knew that reading about bats and crocodiles, for instance, would be so fascinating. There is tons of natural history data, but what I most appreciated was that these two creatures, although not beloved or cuddly were so passionately described with a true desire to help the reader understand and even relate to animals that we may not be inclined to claim kinship with. It ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have always liked Diane Ackerman's nonfiction. She really puts the reader in touch with the natural world. This book hones in on the lives of a few animals: bats, penguins, crocodiles, and whales. My favorite chapter is the one on bats. Everyone should be aware of the importance and value of bats after reading this segment of the book. She always does a thorough, good job of capturing her subject whether it be an animal, a plant, or a sense. I've read several of her books and like them all. ...more
Ackerman is a beautiful writer, writing about natural history (in this case, four types of animals) in a clear and most poetic way. This book is made up of four essays, one each on bats, crocodilians, whales, and penguins. Reading her work is a joy, not unlike the "creative nonfiction" experience of reading John McPhee, Susan Casey, or Terry Tempest Williams. Ackerman wrote these essays in the early '90s; I'd be very interested in reading updates that take into account our current situation in t ...more
Ackerman's journeys and experience with animal scientists and their studies of choice are enough to make anyone green with envy (and seasickness), but the descriptions too often shy away from the subject to interior musings and "dear diary" entries. It's poetic, but not for me. If I read this on a park bench in a large city, I'm sure I'd love it.

An afterthought: It's amazing how outdated many descriptors for far-away places have become since the publication of these essays. A fair number of sen
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title should have clued me in to how this book was going to read, as it certainly pulled me towards it in the first place. She's a poet naturalist of the most profound order, missing no details, relaying fascinating information in a breathtaking way, and wanting her, and only her, as a guide to wherever I'll be traveling. The narrative was positively sensual. This is my first experience with her writing, and it most definitely won't be the last. ...more
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lovely compilation of poetically beautiful essays about the natural world. There are a handful of claims that seem scientifically dubious and/or dated, but this book is 20 years old so I'm forgiving of it. There were also a handful of similes that were glaringly awful, but they stood out because of how gorgeously the rest of the language flows. I especially appreciated her balanced perspective - sincere awe, but not romanticized. ...more
DAVID Miller
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Astonishingly gorgeous! Ackerman lends the reader her eyes, to behold what she has seen on the land, in the water, atop hills, ice, and ship decks. The book is not the proverbial word picture, rather it is a vehicle, an elevator that carries the reader to fresh heights and perspectives of the natural world of whales, penguins, bats, and crocodiles. You will learn. You will be entertained. You may even be changed!
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was gifted this book my first time to the San Juan Islands in the early 90s and have been holding on to it ever sense. Finally, after over 25 years being on my shelves, I finally found the time to read it, and I am so glad I did. This book is simply beautiful.
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and informative

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the level of detail and information. I did find myself wanting to read it when I had full attention so that I could absorb it all and taken in the stories.
Some parts are beautifully written, but some parts ramble or are repetitive. Also, smacks of wealth and privilege (or access to those who are wealthy and privileged) which was off-putting.
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Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the bestsellers The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses.

The Zookeeper’s Wife, a little known true story of WWII, became a New York Times bestseller, and received the Orion Book Award, which honored it as, "a groundbreaking work o

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“There was nothing to do but wait. It is always like this for naturalists, and for poets--the long hours of travel and preparation, and then the longer hours of waiting. All for that one electric, pulse-revving vision when the universe suddenly declares itself.” 23 likes
“Alligators have beautiful undulating skin, which feels dense, spongy, solid, like the best eraser.” 5 likes
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