Why Read Moby-Dick?

by on January 19th, 2012
Why Read Moby-Dick? Cover Image

I have a confession to make: I have never read Moby-Dick. I realize that this is a little odd since I read a great deal of 19th century novels, I enjoy maritime history, and I was assigned Moby-Dick a few times in school.  What makes it even more egregious is that I was born and raised in the same town that Melville wrote the novel. I could see Mount Greylock at the end of my street, which is the same mountain that Melville saw from his study and thought of whales (when there was snow, it looked like a white whale). The fact that I even know that tidbit of Melville miscellanea (and I know plenty more), but continue to resist reading the novel, is sort of bizarre. Now that Nathaniel Philbrick, one of my favorite nonfiction writers, has a book titled Why Read Moby-Dick?, I feel the pressure even more.

Philbrick’s small book is comprised of short chapters on various subjects (much like the format of Moby-Dick) from the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne to Melville’s poetic writing. He revels in the small musings of Melville (or rather Ishmael), such as his chowder preferences and advice on how to stay comfortable while sleeping in a cold room. Philbrick also looks at Moby-Dick with a wider lens, discussing Melville’s insight into 19th century America, manipulation and obsession, and the human condition (with a global perspective). Philbrick believes it is “the one book that deserves to be called our American bible.”

In his chapter on Melville’s first reading of Shakespeare (in his early thirties), Philbrick writes, “Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference.” Perhaps this is my year to read Moby-Dick. Perhaps it is yours. Check out Why Read Moby-Dick? to see for yourself.


3 Responses to “Why Read Moby-Dick?”

  1. Maeve says:

    I read Moby Dick my first semester in college. We spent the entire semester reading Moby Dick. I loved that class and my teacher. (He also introduced the class to the Deadwood, it was 1979.) I still have the paperback, quite a bit worse for wear and the journal I kept for class. I look forward to reading Philbrick’s work.

  2. Beth says:

    I am fond of saying Moby Dick is Whale Week on the Discovery Channel. Lots of individual stories on whales and whaling, culminating in the exciting adventure story (last 3 chapters) that everyone knows.

  3. Heidi says:

    Like Anne, I have not (yet) read Moby-Dick but did read this little book, and am inspired to plunge in. Besides all the things of interest that author Nathaniel Philbrick has to say, I enjoyed the book for its physical self: the beautiful cover, the paper used, the type, its small size. I am a user of and appreciate ebooks too, but this book was such a pleasure to read in the hard copy. Check it out.

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