Google full text of our books:


Trying Leviathan:
The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature
D. Graham Burnett

Winner of the 2007 Isabelle Hermalyn Book Award, New York Urban History
Winner of the 2007 New York City Book Award

Paperback | 2010 | $30.95 | £25.95 | ISBN: 9780691146157
288 pp. | 6 x 9 | 16 color plates. 19 halftones.
Add to Shopping Cart

eBook | ISBN: 9781400833986 |
Our eBook editions are available from these online vendors

Reviews | Table of Contents
Chapter 1 [HTML] or [PDF] pdf-icon

Google full text of this book:

In Moby-Dick, Ishmael declares, "Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that a whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me." Few readers today know just how much argument Ishmael is waiving aside. In fact, Melville's antihero here takes sides in one of the great controversies of the early nineteenth century--one that ultimately had to be resolved in the courts of New York City. In Trying Leviathan, D. Graham Burnett recovers the strange story of Maurice v. Judd, an 1818 trial that pitted the new sciences of taxonomy against the then-popular--and biblically sanctioned--view that the whale was a fish. The immediate dispute was mundane: whether whale oil was fish oil and therefore subject to state inspection. But the trial fueled a sensational public debate in which nothing less than the order of nature--and how we know it--was at stake. Burnett vividly recreates the trial, during which a parade of experts--pea-coated whalemen, pompous philosophers, Jacobin lawyers--took the witness stand, brandishing books, drawings, and anatomical reports, and telling tall tales from whaling voyages. Falling in the middle of the century between Linnaeus and Darwin, the trial dramatized a revolutionary period that saw radical transformations in the understanding of the natural world. Out went comfortable biblical categories, and in came new sorting methods based on the minutiae of interior anatomy--and louche details about the sexual behaviors of God's creatures.

When leviathan breached in New York in 1818, this strange beast churned both the natural and social orders--and not everyone would survive.


"Trying Leviathan isn't just another fish story....[H]is story is riveting, one of those wonderful obscure microcosmic matters."--Sam Roberts, New York Times

"It's science itself that was put on trial in 1818 in a dispute over a $75 inspection fee, as related in this fascinating account...Burnett's look at the trial and its fallout adds a historical dimension to debates caused by science's role in the legal sphere, especially when it introduces new concepts."--Publishers Weekly

"In 1818, in a New York City courtroom, the case of Maurice v. Judd posed an apparently straightforward question: Was whale oil fish oil, and therefore subject to state inspection and taxation? As expert witnesses testified, however, the trial quickly became a passionate public debate on the order of nature and the supremacy of man. In the fascinating Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, D. Graham Burnett describes the trial, its undercurrents, and its repercussions with sublime wit and consummate skill."--Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe

"At once bewitching and bookish, with a Dickensian cast of characters (including a sea captain named Preserved Fish), Trying Leviathan bristles with insights about the relationships between popular belief, democracy, science and the law that resonate with contemporary controversies over Darwinism and intelligent design."--Glenn C. Altschuler, New York Observer

More reviews

Table of Contents:

List of Figures xi
Chapter One: Introduction 1
The Peace Offering That Stank 1
Maurice v. Judd and the History of Science 5
From Dock to Docket 14
Chapter Two: Common Sense 19
Manhattan and Its Whales 19
Chapter Three: The Philosophical Whale 44
Samuel Latham Mitchill and Natural History in New York City 44
“No More a Fish than a Man” 61
Taxonomy at the Bar 72
Chapter Four: Naturalists in the Crow’s Nest 95
What the Whalemen Knew 95
Chapter Five: Men of Affairs 145
The Whale in the Swamp ?145
Chapter Six: The Jury Steps Out 166
The Knickerbockers Slay a Yankee Whale 166
Who Decides Who Decides? 167
Picking Up the Pisces 178
Chapter Seven: Conclusion 190
New Science, New York, New Nation 190
Epilogue:Whales and Fish, Philosophers and Historians, Science and Society 210
Acknowledgments 223
Bibliography 225
Index 247

Subject Areas:

Shopping Cart options:

  • For ebooks:

Our eBook editions are available
from these online vendors:

  • Amazon Kindle Store
  • Apple iBooks
  • Barnes & Noble Nook Store
  • Google Play eBook Store
  • Kobo eBook Store
  • Many of our ebooks are available through
    library electronic resources including these platforms:

  • Books at JSTOR
  • Ebrary
  • Ebook Library
  • EBSCO Ebooks
  • MyiLibrary
  • Dawsonera (UK)

    • For hardcover/paperback orders in United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, and Australia

     Paperback : $30.95 ISBN: 9780691146157

    Add to shopping cart
    View contents of your shopping cart

    • For hardcover/paperback orders in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan

     Paperback  £25.95 ISBN: 9780691146157

    Add to shopping cart
    View contents of your shopping cart

    Prices subject to change without notice

    File created: 7/11/2017

    Questions and comments to:
    Princeton University Press

    New Book E-mails
    New In Print
    PUP Blog
    Princeton APPS
    Sample Chapters
    Princeton Legacy Library
    Exam/Desk Copy
    Recent Awards
    Princeton Shorts
    Freshman Reading
    PUP Europe
    About Us
    Contact Us
    PUP Home

    Bookmark and Share 
    Send me emails
    about new books in:
    History Of Science And Medicine, Philosophy Of Science
    American History
    American Literature
    More Choices