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Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

Why Read Moby-Dick? (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Nathaniel Philbrick

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3292133,583 (3.77)67
Title:Why Read Moby-Dick?
Authors:Nathaniel Philbrick
Info:Viking Adult (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 144 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Literature, education, Herman Melville

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Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick (2011)


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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
There is a bit of useful context here, but the literary criticism part seems like balderdash. In any case, I intend to read Moby Dick because James Morrow promised me that it is hilarious. ( )
  themulhern | Sep 11, 2016 |
Well, it made me want to read "Moby Dick" so it accomplished what it set out to do! ( )
  tloeffler | Jun 5, 2016 |
This short and sweet book gives the author's insights and observations about Moby-Dick and the reasons it is so revered in American Literature. He explains some of the major historical and life events that shaped Melville and his writing. He also unpacks his opinions on the most significant symbolism in the novel. The tone of the book is extremely conversational, yet is packed with information. The chapters fly by - quite the opposite of the book which is parental to this one. Both are a joy to read.

To make the most of this book, you really need to have recently read Moby-Dick. Otherwise, the explanations and insights will be far less meaningful. Having just finished a month-long reading of Moby-Dick, I believe that this wass the perfect book at the perfect time. ( )
1 vote BooksForYears | Mar 31, 2016 |
A great big little book. Wish it had been written before I first read MD, but glad to have it now for when I reread it. The stories behind the story always make for the best story and wow, what a story! No wonder many consider MD the great American novel. ( )
  Charlie-Ravioli | Jan 18, 2016 |
Having read Moby Dick, which I enjoyed a great deal, for the first time a few months ago I was intrigued to read this “slender, pleasant and sincere book” (New Republic). I was not disappointed. It is insightful and interesting, blissfully free of academic jargon and infused with a love of the multiple meanings of Moby Dick. In a departure from my usual parsing and analysis of a book, I am going to note a number of the passages that struck me and which I underlined as worthwhile comments on the value of Moby Dick.

“…the novel, like all great works of art, grows on you. Instead of being a page-turner, the book is a repository not only of American history and culture but also of the essentials of Western literature. It has a voice that is one of the most nuanced in all of literature: at once confiding, funny, and oracular—an outpouring of irrepressible eloquence that soars into the stratosphere even as it remains rooted to the ground.”
“I am not one of those purists who insist on reading the entire untruncated text at all costs. Moby Dick is a long book, and time is short. Even a sentence will do, a mere phrase, will do. The important thing is to spend some time with the novel, to listen as you read, to feel the prose adapt to the various voices that flowed through Melville during the book’s composition like intermittent ghosts with something urgent and essential to say.”

“…Ishmael comes to the realization that artificial distinctions between civilization and savagery are beside the point. ‘What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself—the man’s a human being, just as I am; he has just as much reason to fear me as I have to be afraid of him. Better to sleep with a sober cannibal that a drunken Christian.’ This startling insight was revolutionary in 1851 and is still wickedly fresh to us today, more than 150 years later, as globalization makes encounters with foreign cultures an almost daily occurrence.”

“Ishmael…hits upon the approach to life that will act as the emotional and philosophical center of the novel. ‘There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own’”.

“Time passes, fashions come and go, and the past becomes its own hermetically sealed world. It’s easy to laugh at those people under figurative glass, or, even worse, to revere them as exempt from the complexities of our own age. Baloney. Life is life, and the world Melville describes in Moby Dick is as cutting-edge, confused, and out-there as anything we can dream up in our own time.”

“The compartmentalization of spiritual and worldly concerns is a temptation in every era. In Melville’s day it was most apparent with the issue of slavery…”
“Melville was one of the few authors of his time to have firsthand experience with where the future lay for America in a demographic sense, and his portrayal of working people is never stereotypical or condescending.”

“I must admit that it wasn’t until my most recent reading of Moby Dick that I came to appreciate the importance of Fedalah. He and his men from Manila are much more than infernal window dressing. They are essential to what makes Ahab Ahab because no leader, no matter how deranged, is without his inner circle of advisers, the handlers who keep him on task.”

“To be in the presence of a great leader is to know a blighted soul who has managed to make the darkness work for him. Ishamael says it best: ‘For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease’…Melville shows us how susceptible we ordinary people are to the seductive power of a great and demented man.”
Ahab: “What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do! They think me mad—Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened.”

“Melville’s incomparable ability to humanize evil…Moby Dick, a novel that is as much about the microclimates of intimate human relations as it is about the great, uncontrollable gales that push and pull all of us.”

“As Starbuck discovers, simply being a good guy with a positive worldview is not enough to stop a force of nature like Ahab, who feeds on the fears and hatreds in us all.”

“Moby Dick is a novel, but it is also a book of poetry. The beauty of Melville’s sentences is such that it sometimes takes me five minutes or more to make my way through a single page as I reread the words aloud, feeling the rhythms, the shrewdly hidden rhymes, and the miraculous way he manages consonants and vowels.”

“This is Melville’s ultimate view of humanity…The job of government, of civilization, is to keep the shark at bay. All of us are, to a certain degree, capable of wrongdoing. Without some form of government, evil ill prevail.”

“Ishmael reminds us that, ‘there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.’ All of us, whales and men alike, have our absurdities, especially when our fears get the better of us.”
“Melville has created a portrait of the redemptive power of intimate human relations…”

“Ishmael: ‘There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness’. What is needed more than anything else in the midst of a crisis is a calm steadying dose of clarity, the kind of omniscient, all-seeing perspective symbolized by an eagle on the wing….Melville provides a description of the ideal leader, the anti-Ahab who instead of anger and pain relies on equanimity and judgment, who does his best to remain above the fray, and who even in the darkest of possible moments resists the ‘woe that is madness’”.

“Just about anyone, it turns out, can be a demagogue or a dictator if he or she masters a few simple tricks, what Ishmael calls, ‘some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base.’ As a result, most leaders, ‘become famous more through their infinite inferiority to the choice hidden handful of the Divine Inert, than through their undoubted superiority over the dead level of the mass.’”

“…I want to make something perfectly clear. The White Whale is not a symbol. He is as real as you or I. He has a crooked jaw, a humped back, and wiggle-waggle when he’s moving fast. He is a thing of blubber, blood, muscle, and bone—a creation of the natural world that transcends any fiction. So forget about trying to figure out what the White Whale signifies….don’t fall into the Ahab trap of seeing Moby Dick as a stand-in for some paltry human complaint. In the end he is just a huge, battle-scarred albino sperm whale, and that is more than enough.”

“In the end, Melville had found a way back to the view espoused by Ishmael in Moby Dick: ‘Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.’ This redemptive mixture of skepticism and hope, this genial stoicism in the face of a short, ridiculous, and irrational life, is why I read Moby Dick.”
2 vote John | Mar 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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.
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670022993, Hardcover)

The New York Times bestselling author of seagoing epics now celebrates an American classic.

Moby-Dick is perhaps the greatest of the Great American Novels, yet its length and esoteric subject matter create an aura of difficulty that too often keeps readers at bay. Fortunately, one unabashed fan wants passionately to give Melville's masterpiece the broad contemporary audience it deserves. In his National Book Award- winning bestseller, In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick captivatingly unpacked the story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex, the real-life incident that inspired Melville to write Moby- Dick. Now, he sets his sights on the fiction itself, offering a cabin master's tour of a spellbinding novel rich with adventure and history.

Philbrick skillfully navigates Melville's world and illuminates the book's humor and unforgettable characters-finding the thread that binds Ishmael and Ahab to our own time and, indeed, to all times. A perfect match between author and subject, Why Read Moby-Dick? gives us a renewed appreciation of both Melville and the proud seaman's town of Nantucket that Philbrick himself calls home. Like Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life, this remarkable little book will start conversations, inspire arguments, and, best of all, bring a new wave of readers to a classic tale waiting to be discovered anew.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:04 -0400)

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.

(summary from another edition)

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