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By: D Graham Burnett(Author)
266 pages, illustrations
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 re-creates 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.
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
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D. Graham Burnett is associate professor of history at Princeton University and an editor at Cabinet magazine. His books include Masters of All They Surveyed and A Trial by Jury.
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