Eye of the Whale, by Dick Russell
(Simon & Schuster; $35).
This superb natural-history book, like its subject, is huge and appealing. In the days when the California gray whales were hunted to the edge of extinction, they earned a reputation for ferocity, but then – around the time that they became a protected species – they began approaching boats to play with the passengers. Gray whales travel close to shore, and Russell follows their migrations from Baja California to the top of the map and around to Siberia, talking along the way to scientists, sailors, and fishermen who share his excitement. The joy of the journey is shadowed only by continued threats to the species’ survival.