Follow the Whale


This charming book is not about what whalemen read, but rather about good reading about whales. While presenting a broad picture of the history and literature of whaling, Sanderson does offer a caution: We still don't know very much about anything, and our current ideas on the past are grotesquely warped in certain respects. Our cultural background in western Europe bequeathed to us a singularly lopsided view of ancient history and a strangely biased opinion of our own importance. Europe has been regarded by Europeans for over a thousand years not only as the hub of the universe, but also as the fountainhead of civilization. In point of historical and geographical fact, it is nothing more than a large, rugged peninsula at the west end of Eurasia, the greatest land block on earth, and the womb of culture, as possibly also of modern man himself. One, two, three, or even four thousand years of ascendancy by Europe or any other part of the world is of little real significance in the over-all sweep of history, and even our history is now being discovered to be much more ancient than was previously supposed possible. Stone Age man in Europe, and his more cultured counterparts in other continents, was not nearly so stupid and primitive as we used to think. Jewelry was traded between Ireland and Crete two thousand years before Christ; the Koreans used ironclad ships centuries before we did; Indian princes sailed the open oceans with seven hundred retainers in one ship before the Greeks had invented a fore-and-aft sail; and rorquals were shot with harpoon guns a thousand years before Svend Foyn initiated the modern whaling period. What is more, all kinds of people were roving the oceans from continent to continent millennia before the peoples of western Europe had so much as put a mast in a coracle. Not until the lateness of our own times is appreciated, can any real concept of the past be obtained. And when we come to the history of the whales, we have to start thinking in altogether different terms again. In order to gain a proper perspective, therefore, let us turn from contemplation to action and follow the whale. (p. 12-13)