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Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011)

by Nathaniel Philbrick

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4162843,795 (3.75)79
Shares expert guidelines on how to read and appreciate Herman Melville's classic work, offering insight into its history, characters, and themes while explaining its literary relevance in the modern world.

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Philbrick gives readers an excellent gloss on Melville's "Moby Dick" for those who -- for whatever reason -- don't "get" the wonderful novel. Almost everyone who reads Philbrick's little book will learn something from the experience. Recommended. ( )
  NathanielPoe | Apr 14, 2019 |
A few summers back, under the name of samizdat, my friends and I read Moby Dick. Joel and i raved for weeks about it. Roger did not. He hated the book. He owns a microbrewery and is accustomed to people heeding his opinion. I did not. Nathaniel Philbrick's book won't change Roger's mind. the imp within me wants to buy the book for Roger. I likely won't. There is mucth to say about this book: it is a sage decision to allow Melville the insights. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Philbrick’s passion for Melville, Moby, and the times that spawned them will carry you through this slim volume, no matter how you feel about the famous novel. Each chapter is a reflection on one aspect of the book: Melville’s friendship with Hawthorne, for example, which was crucial in helping Melville maintain his sanity while birthing the most famous whale in literature. Light-hearted, yet full of interesting trivia...and lots of Melville worship. ( )
  LaurelPoe | Dec 25, 2017 |
There's nothing rhetorical about the question Nathaniel Philbrick asks in the title of "Why Read Moby-Dick?," for his 2011 book, brief as it is, answers it in full.

Herman Melville's American classic, he says, has just about whatever one might want in a book: history (he calls it "nothing less than the genetic code of America"), natural history, poetry, theology, humor, psychology, philosophy and a terrific story besides. OK, female characters are scarce, so don't expect great romance, but there is action, suspense and drama aplenty.

What Philbrick doesn't say is that the fact that Melville packs so much into "Moby-Dick" is what makes the novel intimidating to readers. If it's just the story one wants, those detailed chapters on whales and whaling can be off-putting. Of course, they can also be skipped or skimmed without missing any of the story, as I learned as a college freshman when the novel was assigned reading. When I read it again years later, I gave more attention to these chapters.

Philbrick calls this "the greatest American novel ever written." Others might argue in favor of "Huckleberry Finn," "The Great Gatsby," "The Sun Also Rises" or some other work, but Philbrick makes a good case for Meville. He says it "deserves to be called our American bible."

While reading "By the Book," Pamela Paul's collection of interviews with notable writers, and a few others, about their reading habits, I was struck by how often "Moby-Dick" is mentioned. Joyce Carol Oates says it should be required reading for American presidents. "This truly contains multitudes of meanings: the Pequod is the ship of state, the radiantly mad Captain Ahab a dangerous 'leader,' the ethnically diverse crew our American citizenry." It is one of the books Michael Chabon would want on his desert island. Andrew Solomon somehow missed it in his literary education but still yearns to read it. Actor Bryan Cranston says it is the novel that has had the biggest impact on his life.

Unfortunately, "Why Read Moby-Dick?" is a book most likely to be read by those of us who have already read the novel, rather than those who haven't. Perhaps it should have been titled "Why Read Moby-Dick Again?" It certainly has made me want to. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Aug 7, 2017 |
It has been years since I read Moby Dick and I decided that I should re-read it at some point. Before doing so, I figured reading this treatise on the novel would be a good idea. I liked how Melville's writing process and inspirations were discussed in depth. There are certainly spoilers in this book, so if you have not yet read Moby Dick, read that first, then read this novel, then re-read Moby Dick in order to get the most of out it. ( )
  ktlavender | Jul 17, 2017 |
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Philbrick, whose “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” recounted the real-life inspiration for Melville’s shipwreck, wears his erudition lightly. He broaches the novel in quirky thematic fashion, with gracefully written compact essays on topics like landlessness, chowder and sharks. His voice is that of a beloved professor lecturing with such infectious enthusiasm that one can almost, for a moment, believe in the possibility of a popular renaissance for Melville.

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philbrick, NathanielAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Teirney, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Early in the afternoon of December 16, 1850, Herman Melville looked at his timepiece.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Shares expert guidelines on how to read and appreciate Herman Melville's classic work, offering insight into its history, characters, and themes while explaining its literary relevance in the modern world.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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