By Troy Patterson
Updated July 06, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Leviathan

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As you might know from that obscure little book about Ahab, whales appeal to obsessive types, and this volume reads like a history of America through whaling. In Leviathan Eric Jay Dolin leads us through the business of spermaceti, ambergris, and oil with a historian’s diligence and a trivia nut’s eye for oddities. He reels in the big one by moving confidently from the days of ”drift whaling” — when the suckers would just wash up on shore — through the industry’s golden age and into its decline, summed up by a cartoon reprinted from an 1861 Vanity Fair: A herd of whales in formalwear kick up their tail fins to celebrate the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania. B+

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Leviathan

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