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Why Read Moby-Dick?

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  2,299 ratings  ·  239 reviews
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 audien...more
Hardcover, 131 pages
Published October 20th 2011 by Viking Adult (first published October 20th 2010)
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Author: I LOVE Moby-Dick!!!!
Me: Well, why don't you marry it, then?

Philbrick's obvious love for this book and everything about it is overwhelming. His enthusiasm glows through every sentence.

2 scenarios:
a) If you've never read Moby-Dick before, he makes it sounds like a truly awesome, larger-than-life book, with scenes of such high-pitched excitement that it must needs be read next to the fainting couch.

b) If you have read Moby-Dick already, the vast majority's response would be: "Wait, what? W...more
Here is that rare piece of criticism that not only gives you a deeper appreciation for its subject, but also compels you to revisit it. In 127 pages, Philbrick makes his points succinctly, supporting them with some of the "Moby-Dick"'s best passages. Among them: Ishmael's emotional and philosophical center, the irreconcilability of heartless business and religion's idealized benevolence and the difference between Ahab's "urgent, soul-singed probing into the meaning of life" and the crew's intere...more
I enjoyed this introduction (or for me, re-introduction) to Moby Dick, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. The reason I'm only rating this 3 stars, is that Philbrick only scratches the surface of the novel. Philbrick populates his short book, with a lot of short chapters. Many of these chapters (such as "Ahab," "Poetry," "Hawthorne," etc.), which run on average about 3-5 pages, could easily be expanded into much longer discussions. In fact, some of these chapters could easily be books t...more
I hated Moby Dick in high school. Absolutely loathed it. I liked Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor and Bartleby, the Scrivener but the one about the whale drove me absolutely freaking nuts and, although I was a huge bookworm, and had a really excellent English teacher that year, I barely got through it.
Well, Nathaniel Philbrick has changed my mind. I'm rethinking Moby, now that I know a little of what writing his masterpiece did to Melville, how much of his soul he poured into this book, how strongl...more
Mikey B.
This hi-lights the great passages found in the novel by Hermann Melville. And what a unique novel it is – there is no other story quite like it. As Mr. Philbrick suggests there are several stories or themes or myths interwoven within it – all told with an inspiring realism. All at the same time, the book is intense, tangible and magic. Melville has an uncanny ability to “flip the coin” – dwell on something from one perspective and examine it from an entirely different viewpoint. If there is any...more
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,...more
James Murphy
I came to Why Read Moby-Dick excitedly because I have the yen to reread Melville's novel and hope to next year. I thought Philbrick might provide me with new interpretive keys to inform my reread. I don't think he did. He downplays interpretation, in fact, encouraging the reader to consider it in naturalistic terms. He plainly states that the white whale isn't a symbol. It's what it seems to be: an aggressive sperm whale who happens to be an albino. Any meaning assigned to him beyond that, any b...more
Laura Leaney
Philbrick's book is an ode to both Moby Dick and to genius. To the burning intensity that is Melville. Philbrick's love for Moby is similar enough to my own that this little book gave me a lot of pleasure. I know very few people who've read (let alone love) Moby Dick so reading this appreciative book was like finding a friend who could validate my own feelings.

No writer can mine Melville's depth in 100 or so pages, and that's not the purpose. Philbrick merely attempts to tell you why you should...more
Tyler Jones
I am conflicted. I think Why Read Moby Dick? By Nathaniel Philbrick is an important book that everyone over the age of eighteen should read, but it is also a book that I wish was better than it is.

In my opinion Moby Dick is the most important novel ever written, but I have always had difficulty explaining why I feel this way. I am grateful to Philbrick for elegantly arguing that the novel transcends the time it was written in and has relevancy, even urgency, to those us living one hundred and si...more
Kathleen Valentine
Whether or not you have read Moby Dick, this brief but thorough examination is filled with facts, opinions, and background material that can provide a compelling introduction to those who have not read it or a satisfying supplement to those who have. I've read Moby Dick, I've listened to the audio book, I've seen the movies, and I've argued with people who find it tedious and over-wrought. I, personally, love Moby Dick. This book, like its inspiration, is one I'll read again just to absorb the w...more
Mar 16, 2012 Tuck rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: essays
highly recommended for anyone who is, has, or is thinking about reading moby dick. philbrick has thought very deeply about the novel and melville and has done lots of research into his life and life in 1850's usa and his friendship with nathaniel Hawthorne so incorporates letters they wrote each other with history and Melville's personal circumstances to take the reader though the book (quickly though, just takes a few hours to read this and 131 pages) and relate some very good insight (maybe no...more
Because it's there, like a mountain looming over American literature? Because it is one of the best American novels ever written? (Only From Here to Eternity comes close to its accomplishment. Billy Budd's right up there too.)Because Melville was aiming at greatness and achieved it? How many other novelists are really trying to write a great book? Not many. I can't get anywhere near Moby Dick without its creeping into my mind and taking over. That's what happened with this book. One extra deligh...more
Page 61: "Melville's example demonstrates the wisdom of waiting to read the classics. Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference." I found this to be the case when I read Les Miserables for the first time after I was grown, had finished college, and was married. I truly treasured the insights I was able to gain through the reading which touched many of the things I had thought deeply about in the years since leaving my home t...more
I confess, I have never read Moby-Dick. Who among you can say that you have read the whole thing, the uncut version? Now I know what I've been missing. National Philbrick has written several prize-winning novels, many of them about the sea and he says he's read Moby-Dick "at least a dozen times.".

What a brilliant book! At only 127 pages, it's full of insight and thoughtfulness. It's a glimpse into the soul of Herman Melville, the author of Moby-Dick; it's the story of how he wrote the book and...more
As a testament to Moby Dick's power (and Philbrick's skill in discussing the work), a brief vignette: I was reading Philbrick's "Why Read Moby Dick?" on the plane the other day and was so excited that I began underlining and making notes in the margins. I finished and closed the book. Then I saw the library markings on the outside and remembered where I got it.

"Why Read Moby Dick?" is a good and enthusiastic introduction to Melville's masterpiece. I've read Moby Dick three times now (and only th...more
This was fine---as someone who teaches the novel every year and loves it more than any other text, I wasn't impressed with most of Philbrick's book. Perhaps it is better suited for those contemplating whether to read the novel or for those who have only read it once. I also thought Philbrick overused the word 'eerie' to describe Melville's seeming prescience. Twice in two pages means he's not that great of a writer and/or he had a bad editor. In short, fine for a layperson with general interest...more
This is a charming little book devoted to the pleasures of reading Herman Melville's Moby-Dick . As someone who was profoundly affected by reading Moby-Dick for the first time, just two years ago, this book brought back to me some of the power and magic of Melville's masterpiece. If I have one complaint it's that I would have loved for this book to be a bit longer--or even much longer. Philbrick's insights into Moby-Dick are compelling enough that I'd be happy to read a far more in-depth study,...more
This is an excellent and infectiously enthusiastic slim book (long essay?) that delivers more than the answer to its title. I'd recommend it to anyone who read and was bored with Moby-Dick in high school but is curious about reading it again without a stodgy English teacher looking over your shoulder. Or, someone who is halfway through Moby-Dick and is thinking "wha?"

This lightly-critical work provides a quick-paced primer to the historical and biographical contexts in which Moby-Dick was writte...more
Steve Greenleaf
Why indeed? How about because it’s the best piece of literature written by an American? The Great Gatsby and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might claim the title (from me anyway), but Moby-Dick stands out. This novel, which started out as just another novel about a sea-faring voyage, morphed into something much more: a meditation on the great world.

Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the award winning In the Heart of the Sea about the whaling ship Essex tragedy that affected Melville’s work, wri...more
Candi H
I loved this small spare but fascinating book explaining a lot about Moby Dick. But then I really like Moby Dick start with. But each short essay/chapter lists one thing that makes the book worth reading. The one I loved was "poetry" quoting several beautiful passages, from someone who loves the sea. If you haven't read Moby Dick get this book and read M>D> with it inb hand. it will really improve your enjoyment of the book.
I hated reading Moby Dick in high school. It is the first book I ever consciously abandoned reading, and I have never had any interest in going back to finish it. In fact, I continue to be amazed that anyone else has ever made it to the end of the book.

But Nathaniel Philbrick HAS read Moby Dick to the end--several times. On purpose. He finds its weaknesses--including every other chapter that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot or the characters--charming and endearing and emotionally reso...more
This is short plea to read the nineteenth century book that became a classic in the next century. It could also be considered a book length book talk or extended hand selling job by a fan. Perhaps it’s fan nonfiction? Whatever you consider the form, Philbrick points out in chapters as short as Melville's why he loves the book. He talks about the author’s influences: his momentous meeting with Nathaniel Hawthorn in person, and with William Shakespeare in a Large Print edition. And points out the...more
I felt a little bit like I was cheating because I haven't actually read Moby-Dick, however, this made me really want to read it, sooo...

If all literary criticism was like this, I'd read it all.
Tom Romig
As it happens, I have read Moby-Dick and greatly enjoyed the experience. Nathaniel Philbrick has significantly enriched this enjoyment through his insightful interpretations; the background he provides on Melville, especially his relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne (who had a signal impact on the composition of Moby-Dick); and his recounting of the key scenes and characters in the novel. Winner of the National Book Award for In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick brings a special perspective to hi...more
In preparation for the Charles W. Morgan's 38th Voyage, I set out to read Moby Dick, an epic and daunting undertaking... and one I fortunately missed in High School. However, before I even opened the book I took the time to read Philbrick's "Why Read Moby Dick", and I'm extremely fortunate to have done so.

Moby Dick is more than intimidating based on its size, the actual writing is dense and terse at times. It can be difficult to slog through, and the archaic language use can obscure themes and...more
I picked this up when I saw it, because I'd never read Moby Dick before. I wanted to be swimming in it, so I listened to this before reading Moby Dick, and then again afterward.

Philbrick obviously loves Moby Dick, and he convincingly lays out why. He puts the novel in context in Melville's life, as well as the life of the country. He points out things I would have missed otherwise, like the parallels between slavery and events of the novel, and the way Melville describes the sea using land imag...more
This is a phenomenal reading of Moby Dick that unwinds important themes that my too-long-out-of-college brain missed. I worry, though, that people will read it and feel they have read the real thing. Yes, everybody should read Moby Dick. But for the love of god, save Philbrick's extended essay for afterward.

Some favorite sections:

"In our age, we all love whales and wish them nothing but the best, but you’ve got to hand it to this castrated, one-legged, fifty-eight-year-old lapsed Quaker; he doe...more
Why read Why Read Moby-Dick*

Because it's quick.

At only 129 page split into 28 chapters, it's nothing like Melville's behemoth. It's an appreciation rather than a scholarly work, so the prose is clear and free of jargon.

Because you'd like a little insight into Melville.

Philbrick spends about half of the book discussing Melville's life around the time he was writing Moby-Dick, about what he was trying to accomplish, how he felt about it while it was in progress, and some of his thoughts after. (Mu...more
I don't get this, what is this lightweight stuff about the greatest tome in American Literature. This book kind of makes Moby Dick sound like reading Jane Austen, which is fun and enlightening, but it is not deeply and soul wrenchingly disturbing.

Two good essays on Moby Dick:

1. Roberto Bolano's short piece from Between Parenthesis

2. William Vollaman's essay "Melville's Magic Mountain" from Expelled from Eden

so eh,

Should people read Moby Dick? Well fuck yeah, but I'm not sure how you can approac...more
Amanda Griggs
A great little book (only 133 pages, and quite small in size!) that does an admirable job in explaining why one should tackle the great white whale. I had to read Moby Dick for a 400-level American Lit class in undergrad, and Mr. Philbrick touches on a lot of the things I learned over the course of the class.

Moby Dick is a great book, full of killer storytelling, and one of literature's most magnetic characters, in the obsessive Ahab. But it is also an exceptional snapshot of life, especially se...more
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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.

After grad school, Philbrick worked for four years at Sailing World magazine; was a freelancer for a number of years, during whic...more
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“Melville's example demonstrates the wisdom of waiting to read the classics. Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference.” 4 likes
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