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

by Nathaniel Philbrick

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

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Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

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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.”
  John | Mar 4, 2014 |
I listened to the audio-book version and it started out promising but I was quickly bored. I never really had any desire to read Moby Dick and reading this almost, almost, made me mildly interested in picking up the classic. Author, Nathaniel Philbrick, brings together history, Melville's personal letters, and the original work itself to make a convincing argument on why it's worth reading this imposing classic American tome... close buddy, close. I was really intrigued by the historical aspects, but as the two discs droned on... I lost the will to read Moby Dick. It was worth a shot though! ( )
  ecataldi | Dec 30, 2013 |
I went to see Nathan give a talk at The New Bedford Whaling Museum on this book and I found it compelling. He made a very convincing case for not only reading but also savoring it. Nathan was named for Nathaniel Hawthorne and Philbrick's father adored Melville's Tale about the White whale. This book is short but serves its purpose to get you back to wrestling with Ahab and his pursuit of vengeance. ( )
  Your_local_coyote | Dec 29, 2013 |
This review is based on an Advanced Reader's Copy - thank you Penguin Books!

I recently finished reading Moby Dick which I enjoyed, but found occasionally off topic and meandering. So many people have described MB as the ultimate American novel. Although it was good, I wasn't positive that it deserved that accolade. Unlike Moby Dick, Nathaniel Philbrick's book Why Read Moby-Dick? is short - it's really a set of essays about various characters and features of the book. But in spite of its length, it packs in a wealth of information. He covers much of Melville's background and the friendships and events that influenced Melville to write Moby Dick. I especially liked his discussion of how the country was torn apart by the issue of slavery and how that issue is reflected in the book. Philbrick has won the National Book Award for In the Heart of the Sea which is the incredible story of the whaleship Essex that was rammed and sunk by a whale. This event inspired Melville's classic. Philbrick's analysis of different passages of Moby Dick really added to my appreciation of this book - so much so that I know I will be reading MB again. And I'll definitely add some of Philbrick's books to my list - this book was excellent. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
A personal exploration of Philbrick's love of Moby Dick with a nice dose of insight into the novel. While it doesn't quite ring of preaching to the choir, it does strike me that the book will mean more to those who have already read the novel (or, perhaps, to those who have given it a good-faith go but not quite gotten through?) than those who haven't. Precisely my kind of thing, that is someone writing genially about why they love a particular book. ( )
  lycomayflower | May 7, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:55 -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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