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Why Read Moby-Dick? Hardcover – October 20, 2011
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“Gracefully written [with an] infectious enthusiasm…”—New York Times Book Review
“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.”
“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, is a leading authority on the history of Nantucket Island. His In the Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award. His latest book is Sea of Glory, about the epic U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. His other books include Away off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890 (which Russell Baker called "indispensable") and Abram's Eyes: The Native American Legend of Nantucket Island ("a classic of historical truthtelling," according to Stuart Frank, director of the Kendall Whaling Museum). He has written an introduction to a new edition of Joseph Hart's Miriam Coffin, or The Whale Fisherman, a Nantucket novel (first published in 1834) that Melville relied upon for information about the island when writing Moby Dick.
Top customer reviews
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. The captain's metaphysical quest transforms him to obsessed and elemental hero: "They think me mad...but I am demoniac. I am madness maddened."
In a concise text that can be consumed in an evening, Philbrick may have achieved his goal of recruiting more readers to Moby-Dick. If so, this is an important accomplishment. He suggests that it is unnecessary to read the entire book if the alternative is to ignore it altogether because of its imposing length or its prolix manner. "The important thing is to spend some time with the novel. Even a sentence, a mere phrase will do." The rewards, as described by Philbrick, can be considerable.
So why four stars and not five? The final chapter of this wonderful book seemed vague and the concluding paragraphs felt like a contradiction to every valid point in the previous pages. It is almost as though the editor said to Philbrick: "Geez, you can't end the book on such a dark note. Put in a rainbow, or something." Melville was a complex, needy and troubled person, as this book recognizes. He was probably bipolar (although the word is never mentioned), and certainly had a strong streak of depression in his personality and life experiences. That Melville somehow clung to youthful dreams through the end of his life is just a little too improbable. That a scrap of paper found by Melville's family after his death is the evidence of such hope is very weak evidence indeed. That he managed to live out his life in obscurity after failing to achieve family harmony, financial success or artistic recognition does not suggest hope as much as resignation. Philbrick is certainly entitled to this opinion, although for me, as a reader of this tiny gem of a book, it seemed a falsified conclusion, unworthy of all of the sensitive and almost poetic content in the rest of the book.
I have now gone back to hunt the white whale!
His essays are not earth shattering revelations, but they will imbue you with a desire to dig deeper, reread, check out some commentaries, and enjoy the work a little more than viewing it as a chore.
While the list price is somewhat ridiculous for a collection of essays, the prices you can get for it used/discounted here help a great deal. Don't get me wrong, it's a great series of essays (though nothing truly shocking), but I wouldn't spend 30 dollars for the hardback. I won't review on the price--the content is quite good.
Most recent customer reviews
Essex whaling ship which was destroyed by a whale.Read more