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Why Read Moby-Dick? Hardcover – October 20, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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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, 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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (October 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022993
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022991
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Ginger Man VINE VOICE on 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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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