Heller, Peter 1959–

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Heller, Peter 1959–


Born February 13, 1959, in New York, NY. Education: Attended college.


Home—Denver, CO.


Writer. Has worked as a dishwasher, construction worker, logger, offshore fisherman, kayak instructor, river guide, and pizza delivery person.


Michener fellowship, Iowa Writers' Workshop, for the epic poem "The Psalms of Malvine."


Outside Magazine's Urban Adventure, Denver/Boulder, Outside Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River, Rodale (Emmaus, PA), 2004.

The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including Men's Journal. Contributor to National Public Radio (NPR). Contributing editor at Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure.


Hell or High Water was adapted as an audio recording, Tantor (Old Saybrook, CT), 2005.


Peter Heller became an outdoorsman and white-water kayaker when he attended college in Vermont and New Hampshire. He went on to travel the world, writing about challenging descents down treacherous white-water rivers in places like Peru and the Tien Shan mountains.

In Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River, Heller writes about joining the crew of what many believe to be the most ambitious and perhaps dangerous white-water expedition in history. The book recounts the assault on the extremely dangerous Tsangpo Gorge in Eastern Tibet, a famous spot for the kayaking elite. Sacred to Buddhists and three times deeper than the Grand Canyon, the gorge was also the inspiration for novelist James Hilton's depiction of Shangri La in his novel Lost Horizon. "Heller does a smooth job of introducing the participants and … a rip-roaring job of evoking the river's conditions," noted a contributor to Kirkus Reviews.

In Hell or High Water, the author describes how the gorge is known as a habitat for leopards and tigers at its bottom and as a home to 25,000-foot peaks. The area's remoteness can be attested to by the 1998 discovery of a mythical waterfall sought by explorers since Victorian times.

Heller's adventure takes place in "one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, still almost entirely untouched, but also subjects him to the ugliest aspects of human nature," a Publishers Weekly contributor noted. For example, the author writes about the intense antagonism he faced from group leader Scott Lindgren, an adventure filmmaker, and others on board who thought Heller was exploiting their adventure for his own profit. Heller also describes the many close calls that the expedition experienced in the notorious gorge. In an exploration of why kayakers challenge the gorge, the author focuses on everything from the rather mundane idea of bragging rights to the more esoteric feelings of euphoria provided by an intense experience.

Heller offers "an enthralling tale for anyone who joys in conquests of new frontiers," wrote Jim Casada of Hell or High Water in Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor wrote that the author "stokes plenty of the action that propels thrill-seeking readers."

The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals was described as "sometimes funny, almost always adrenalin[e]-fuelled" by a contributor to Maclean's. Nancy Bent commented in Booklist: "The reader rides the rush of adrenaline and understands their dedication and passion."

In The Whale Warriors, Heller reports on his assignment for National Geographic to join an eco-pirate ship, the Farley Mowat, belonging to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a radical marine wildlife conservation group. Heller joined Captain Paul Watson and his crew in December 2005 as they set sail to the Antarctica to find and halt a Japanese whaling fleet.

In the Farley Mowat, equipped with water cannons, a garbage-throwing catapult, and a large blade welded on to the ship's hull (the "can opener"), the crew chased whaling and illegal fishing ships for weeks. "It's hard not to be gripped by a book that contains breathless passages of imminent danger, such as when Watson, readying his ship like a torpedo, announces: ‘Tell the crew, collision in two minutes,’" noted Shawn Query in a review for Audubon. Heller also details the crew's willingness to die to save the whales as well as his own uncertainty about the justifications for their actions. "The author's reflections on his doubts about the methods of Capt. Paul Watson and his crew are especially well expressed," wrote Margaret A. Rioux in a Library Journal review.

Watson, a notorious environmentalist, is sometimes referred to as an "eco-terrorist." As the author recounts, Watson justifies his dangerous approach by emphasizing the continued lack of action by individual countries and international world organizations. As the author points out in The Whale Warriors, "in 1986 the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a group of seventy-seven nations that makes regulations and recommendations on whaling around the world, enacted a moratorium on open-sea commercial whaling in response to the fast-declining numbers of earth's largest mammals. The Japanese, who have been aggressive whalers since the food shortages following World War II, immediately exploited a loophole that allows signatories to kill a certain number of whales annually for scientific research."

According to Heller, the whales are primarily meant for the food market in Japan. He also writes that whale meat is not in high demand, as Japanese surveys show that the people do not especially like this type of seafood. Referring to The Whale Warriors as a "stirring account," the Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the book is "a convincing, passionate account that both educates and infuriates."



Heller, Peter, Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet's Tsangpo River, Rodale (Emmaus, PA), 2004.

Heller, Peter, The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.


Audubon, January-February, 2008, Shawn Query, review of The Whale Warriors, p. 94.

Booklist, September 15, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of Hell or High Water, p. 192; August, 2007, Nancy Bent, review of The Whale Warriors, p. 19.

Canadian Geographic, November-December, 2007, Wayne Grady, "Watching the Whalers," p. 107.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of Hell or High Water, p. 726; August 1, 2007, review of The Whale Warriors.

Library Journal, October 1, 2004, Jim Casada, review of Hell or High Water, p. 89; July 1, 2007, Margaret A. Rioux, review of The Whale Warriors, p. 116.

Maclean's, October 15, 2007, "Finally, a Book about … Taking on Whalers," p. 108.

Publishers Weekly, August 16, 2004, review of Hell or High Water, p. 52.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2005, review of Hell or High Water, p. 90.


Peter Heller Home Page,http://www.peterhellerbooks.com (June 15, 2008).