Page last updated at 07:38 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 08:38 UK

Whale tale wins non-fiction prize

Philip Hoare talks to the BBC about his prize winning book

The story of a man's lifelong obsession with whales has won the £20,000 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.

Leviathan, Or The Whale, traces British author Philip Hoare's fascination with the marine mammal, which he calls "a living thing past our comprehension".

As he travels the world in pursuit of the creature, he compares his findings to Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

US journalist Jacob Weisberg, who led the panel, said Hoare's passion for his subject was infectious.

"What made Leviathan stand out in a shortlist of wonderful reads was Philip Hoare's lifelong passion for his subject and his skill in making his readers share it," he said.

"His prose is dream-like and rises to the condition of literature."


In explaining his fascination, Mr Hoare said: "This wonderful mysterious creature so elusive.

"They're so under threat from climate change, from noise pollution," he went on.

"Until 1859 the whole world was lit by whale oil. The impact of man on whale is extraordinary but also the impact of whale on man."

Named in honour of the 18th Century essayist, the Samuel Johnson Prize is open to English-language books from any country in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography, autobiography and the arts.

Last year's winner was Kate Summerscale, whose book, The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher, investigated the brutal murder of four-year-old Savile Kent in 1860 - which shocked Victorian Britain and inadvertently inspired legions of fictional detectives.

The other finalists this year were:

• Liaquat Ahamed - Lords of Finance

• Ben Goldacre - Bad Science

• David Grann - The Lost City of Z

• Manjit Kumar - Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality

• Richard Holmes - The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.

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