Philip Hoare combines autobiography with literary criticism and nature writing to investigate the idea of the whale in human history and thought. If the creature is often a metaphor, at the book’s lyrical climax, when Hoare goes swimming with a sperm whale off the Azores, the whale is utterly, incontestably itself: ‘I could not believe that something so big could be so silent. Surveyed by the electrical charge of her sixth sense, I felt insignificant and yet not quite. Recreated in her own dimension, in the dimension of the sea, I was taken into her otherness, my image in her head. As the whale turned past me, I saw her eye, grey, veiled, sentient; set in her side, the centre of her consciousness. Behind it lay only muscle, moving without effort. The moment lasted forever and for seconds. Both of us in our naked entirety, nothing between us but illimitable ocean.’

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