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Why Read Moby-Dick? [Kindle Edition]

Nathaniel Philbrick
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


“Gracefully written [with an] infectious enthusiasm…”—New York Times Book Review

“Exuberant.”--Boston Globe

“Brilliant and provocative…”—The New Yorker

“[A] slim, passionate manifesto…”—Chicago Tribune

 “A slim, easy-to-read argument on why you should definitely put [Moby-Dick] on your bucket list.”—History Wire

WHY READ MOBY-DICK? reels in a compelling case… short, lucid, intelligent… Philbrick’s more like a literary color analyst, helping readers see the novel better while also creating a sense of excitement about it.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“This slender volume is packed with reasons why you might want to read the whaling classic.”

—Minneapolis Star-Tribune


 “This slender, pleasant, sincere book by the maritime historian and naval enthusiast is more than a respectable tribute unencumbered by academic prose. Approaching Moby-Dick from outside the academy is refreshing, and Philbrick’s enthusiasm is contagious….So put me down for a reading of Moby-Dick in 2012, and count Philbrick’s book a success.”—The New Republic

“Philbrick does the literary world great service by bringing Moby-Dick back into popular attention and also by his skill in keeping American history fresh and alive.”—Aspen Daily News

“Sure to swell the readership of Melville’s masterpiece.”—Booklist (Starred review)


In this cogent and passionate polemic for Melville’s masterpiece, Philbrick… combines a critical eye and a reader’s adoration to make a case for Moby-Dick… Less lit-crit and more readers’ guide, this tome will remind fans why they loved the book in the first place, and whet the appetites of trepid potential readers.”—Publishers Weekly

A slim celebration of the elements of a literary masterpiece…Philbrick is an enthusiastic salesman for a sometimes daunting novel.”—Kirkus


So you liked Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, which re-created the wreck of the whaleship Essex, inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick? Then you’ll love Philbrick’s new book… From a wonderful and knowing writer.”—Library Journal, pre-pub alert

About the Author

Nathaniel Philbrick grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting: A Parody.  
In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy, Abram’s Eyes. He was the founding director of Nantucket’s Egan Maritime Institute and is still a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association. 

In 2000, Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book is the basis of the forthcoming Warner Bros. motion picture “Heart of the Sea,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Ben Wishaw, and Tom Holland, which is scheduled for release in March, 2015. The book also inspired a 2001 Dateline special on NBC as well as the 2010 two-hour PBS American Experience film “Into the Deep” by Ric Burns.
His next book was Sea of Glory, published in 2003, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society. The New York Times Bestseller Mayflower was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, won the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction, and was named one the ten Best Books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review. Mayflower is currently in development as a limited series on FX.
In 2010, he published the New York Times bestseller The Last Stand, which was named a New York Times Notable book, a 2010 Montana Book Award Honor Book, and a 2011 ALA Notable Book. Philbrick was an on-camera consultant to the two-hour PBS American Experience film “Custer’s Last Stand” by Stephen Ives. The book is currently being adapted for a ten-hour, multi-part television series. The audio book for Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011) made the ALA's Listen List in 2012 and was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award.
Philbrick’s latest New York Times bestseller, Bunker Hill:  A City, a Siege, a Revolution, was published in 2013 and was awarded both the 2013 New England Book Award for Non-Fiction and the 2014 New England Society Book Award. Bunker Hill won the 2014 book award from the Society of Colonial Wars, and has been optioned by Warner Bros. for feature film adaptation with Ben Affleck attached to direct.
Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society, and the Boston History Award from the Bostonian Society. He was named the 2011 Cushing Orator by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and has an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he delivered the commencement address in 2009.
Philbrick’s writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, C-SPAN, and NPR. He and his wife still live on Nantucket.

Product Details

  • File Size: 321 KB
  • Print Length: 145 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 20, 2011)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0052RERYQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,278 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
82 of 85 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Whiteness of the Whale October 20, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Philbrick is expansive in his praise of Moby-Dick describing it variously as history, poetry, adventure story, parody, portrait of 1850's America, metaphysical blueprint and, finally, epic depiction of man's struggle against an uncaring universe. He lovingly refers to the book as a "magnificent mess" and as a "quirky and demanding ride" which he urges readers to take. Philbrick details the curious history of the book which had sold fewer than 4000 copies in the forty years prior to Melville's death in 1891, only to become subject of a reader resurgence after the first World War.

Melville's masterpiece, according to Philbrick, contains within its pages "nothing less than the genetic code of America." Because of this, the book becomes "newly important " as each new American crisis occurs. The "genetic code" in Moby Dick contains lessons in tolerance between cultures, compartmentalization of worldly and spiritual concerns, the labor theory of value, the impact of a harrowing occupations on the worker, perils of charismatic leadership, and the need for government to prevent angels from becoming sharks.

Philbrick is most effective in introducing the reader to the first anti-hero - Captain Ahab- and his fight to create meaning in a universe which can be seen as a vast practical joke on man. Nathaniel Hawthorne's emotional inspiration on Melville helped transform a more straightforward whaling story into a dive into the darkness. The white whale becomes a mask obscuring the "outrageous strength" and "inscrutable malice" of a hostile universe. Moby-Dick is nothing less than "evil personified and made practically assailable." Whether the whale is agent of darkness or its principal is unimportant, Ahab must strike a blow for man against him.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
WHY READ MOBY-DICK? may be better titled "Why Re-Read Moby-Dick?" As students, all of us were subjected to what many consider the Great American Novel. My experience came in junior high school, and the passage of many decades does not dim the excruciating boredom I felt when reading Herman Melville's epic tome. The passing years exposed me to other Melville literature, specifically the novella "Billy Budd" and the short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener." At a used book sale several years ago, I came across a beautiful copy of MOBY-DICK. The edition contained stunning illustrations and leather binding. By this time, my children were reading it in their literature classes, and I was enticed to buy it. I decided that perhaps Melville and the great white whale deserved another chance. I was not disappointed.

Nathaniel Philbrick's historical studies have often been sea-related. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, published in 2000, was the story of a Nantucket whaling ship that, on an expedition to the Pacific in 1820, was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. The saga of the ship, The Essex, was believed to be the inspiration for Melville's novel, published in 1851. Philbrick's maritime history of the tragedy won a National Book Award. More than a dozen readings of MOBY-DICK inspired Philbrick's brief but thorough study of what makes Melville's classic so endearing. Along the way, he provides readers with an excellent complement to the epic novel. And after reading over 800 pages, an additional 127 cannot be too taxing.

In a series of 28 essays, Philbrick covers an extensive number of thought-provoking topics. Commencing with some brief introductory information, he notes that MOBY-DICK was far from an instant classic. The book was actually a flop when it was originally published.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reading Nathaniel Philbrick January 1, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you have a couple of hours and are looking for a pleasant read that can help you to appreciate one of the greatest books around, this is a more than worthy read. While I am only giving this one three stars, since it is really an "homage" of limited ambition, not a creative work in itself, each of those stars is well earned and this will be among my most glowing three star reviews.

Philbrick gives us an entry into Moby Dick that is personal and easily accessible, and so does Melville's book a great service. All too often, Moby Dick is read at too young an age*, an age where the wry, often sardonic and subtle humor is ill-appreciated and the references are difficult and obscure, and this has given the book a bad rap - a rap as a difficult, daunting work, one a reader must steel themselves for and endure. In reality, for those who enjoy the humor, and who have enough reading behind them so that a not-too-subtle dig at the philosopher Locke, mentioning him by name, or a joke about Jonah or Job, can bring a chuckle, this is a most readable and enjoyable book, and Philbrick gets that across. He demystifies the book.

Philbrick also gives you some tools to make the read easier. By pointing out some elements of Melville's humor, which is sometimes so dry you only spot it if you're looking for it, and some of Melville's approaches to writing and characterization, he sets up an easier reading of the book. He gives you tools to climb that mountain (and, again, the mountain really isn't as tall as it looks).

Philbrick's reading of the book will not be everyone's reading.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars a good motivation to tackle the original
I'd never read "Moby Dick" and always felt I should. I finally signed up for a reading group that was going to read it with a professor's guidance. Read more
Published 11 days ago by J. E. Mynchenberg
5.0 out of 5 stars inspired and passionate homage by a normally dispassionate historian
I had only read Philbrick's histories prior to stumbling on this book. I expected it to be either weird or boring but instead was seduced by the incredible passion and poetic... Read more
Published 22 days ago by Lee Roussel
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction
An accessible book with interesting insights into the author and contents of Melville's mammoth and intimidating masterpiece by someone who obviously relishes every sentence.
Published 1 month ago by Lance Ware
4.0 out of 5 stars and then again as an adult with an amazing professor. What a...
I have read other books by Nathaniel Philbrick and have always gleaned much information from them. I read Moby Dick twice, once as a high school student, and then again as an... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ann Moriarty
4.0 out of 5 stars A meditation on the meaning of America
Although this book is short - a longish essay - it puts Melville's great novel in perspective and makes it somewhat less daunting to approach. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Richard
3.0 out of 5 stars Why Read this Book?
The only real reason I can see for reading "Why Read Moby Dick?" is if you have tried to read "Moby Dick", got mired in it, and need some inspiration to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by L. Bloch
5.0 out of 5 stars Philbrick's superb insights and excitement provide a compelling...
Philbrick's superb insights and excitement provide a compelling inducement to read about the White Whale once again-- this time for pleasure not a grade.
Published 5 months ago by S. L. Shapiro
3.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointed read I have read Moby Dick and this was ...
Very disappointed read I have read Moby Dick and this was a dis service to Herman Melville
Published 5 months ago by john a parilla
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read!
Nathaniel Philbrick is poetic!
Published 6 months ago by Jackie Gormley
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
You should read this BEFORE you read Moby Dick!
Published 6 months ago by Roderick Anderson
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More About the Author

Nathaniel Philbrick
Life at a Glance

1956 in Boston, Mass.

Linden Elementary School and Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, Pa.; BA in English from Brown University in Providence, RI, and an MA in America Literature from Duke University in Durham, NC

Philbrick was Brown's first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978; that year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI; today he and his wife Melissa sail their Beetle Cat Clio and their Tiffany Jane 34 Marie-J in the waters surrounding Nantucket Island.

Melissa Douthart Philbrick, who is an attorney on Nantucket. They have two children: Jennie, 23, and Ethan 20.

After grad school, Philbrick worked for four years at Sailing World magazine; was a freelancer for a number of years, during which time he wrote/edited several sailing books, including Yaahting: A Parody (1984), for which he was the editor-in-chief; during this time he was also the primary caregiver for his two children. After moving to Nantucket in 1986, he became interested in the history of the island and wrote Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People. He was offered the opportunity to start the Egan Maritime Foundation in 1995, and in 2000 he published In the Heart of the Sea, followed by Sea of Glory, in 2003, and Mayflower, due in May 2006.

Awards and Honors
In the Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award for nonfiction; Revenge of the Whale won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award; Sea of Glory won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society. Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, and the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#58 in Books > History
#58 in Books > History

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