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Why Read Moby-Dick?

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,690 Ratings  ·  320 Reviews
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, Nat ...more
Hardcover, 131 pages
Published October 20th 2011 by Viking (first published October 20th 2010)
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Jun 10, 2012 Kerrie rated it really liked it
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?
May 13, 2012 Steve rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-crit
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
Oct 12, 2011 Gabe rated it really liked it
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
Tyler Jones
Nov 10, 2011 Tyler Jones rated it liked it
Shelves: on-reading
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
Nov 15, 2015 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Manages to not only inspire the reader to take on Moby Dick without being preachy or taking a lecturing tone, but genuinely conveys the love and enthusiasm of the author. Philbrick is a lifelong student of the book and as such his insights, collected esoterica concerning Moby Dick and Melville combine to produce not just a fanboy gushing over his favorite book, but a reading that shows how we are never far away from this book in our national and social concerns as Americans. From the mechanisms ...more
Jun 05, 2011 Julie rated it it was amazing
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,
Sep 26, 2014 Gaijinmama rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 02, 2016 Kris rated it really liked it
Fast, but insightful little analyzation of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. As much as I hated reading Moby Dick itself, this was enjoyable because there were a lot of great connections in here that I had never heard of before. This makes me want to revisit the novel, which is good, I suppose?

Taylor, you'd like this. Read this!

Read the audio book in December 2015.
Mikey B.
Aug 20, 2013 Mikey B. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
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
James Murphy
Dec 03, 2011 James Murphy rated it really liked it
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
I am working up to the desire to read Moby Dick, daring myself to join the ranks of those who have. I am leery because I have heard of the tedious writing, I am not a fan of endless details. I am thinking about listening to the audio narrated by Anthony Heald and I hope that this will be the catalyst to get me read a well known classic of all time.
Laura Leaney
Feb 07, 2014 Laura Leaney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kathleen Valentine
Nov 01, 2011 Kathleen Valentine rated it really liked it
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
Jun 01, 2015 Nick rated it liked it
Those who find the idea of reading a 19th-century tome about whaling, homoeroticism and self-aware symbolism concerning the nature of evil off-putting still probably will so having read Nathaniel Philbrick's "Why Read Moby-Dick?" Those who have already read and enjoyed "Moby-Dick" will get a few pleasant hours out of this collection of brief essays by a Melville fanantic and historian of oceans and shipwrecks. If you've ever argued with someone over which chapter of MD is the best (clearly "The ...more
Mar 16, 2012 Tuck rated it really liked it
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
Roger Brunyate
Apr 26, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An Engaging Shipmate

I have had my Norton Critical Edition of Melville's Moby-Dick on my shelves for four years now. I meant to start the day I bought it, but its 425 pages of small-print text, plus another 300 of supplementary materials, just proved too daunting. Until I came upon this beautifully produced slim volume that, like an attentive tour guide, welcomed me aboard and promised to keep me company the entire voyage. The result, embarking on Melville with Philbrick by my side, turned into o
Dec 19, 2015 Rick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Why Read Moby-Dick? is a brief, enthusiastic and witty tip of the hat to Melville’s classic. I read it in Montauk, New York, after having recently finished re-reading Moby Dick (no hyphen in my edition) and it added to the great pleasure I had in my re-reading. For me it was like a post-game highlight show after your team won the final game of a post-season series. Yes, yes! Right! It hits everything you noticed and celebrated in your reading, plus things you might not have noticed or known. The ...more
Jul 07, 2015 Julia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
First of all, those who know me know that Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is my favorite book, and that I also was very impressed by In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick.

What I wasn't expecting was to be so taken by this very slim volume, enough that I've purchased my own copy after reading the one from my library. Philbrick has a way of making non-fiction sing in my mind, something usually reserved for fiction by my brain :-)

As the inside front cover says:
W.D. Clarke
May 21, 2016 W.D. Clarke rated it really liked it
Should be titled: Why Re-read Moby Dick, since, as an introduction, I can't see this being all that helpful before one dives in and lingers over Melville's masterpiece. Really, you need to have immersed yourself in the breadth, depth and ambition of Melville's mind, and to luxuriate in the allusive poetry of his prose to really appreciate what Phibrick's book has to offer, which is (for this reader at least) akin to a breathless tourist's photo album. It is a forgetful reader's aide-memoire, as ...more
Mar 10, 2014 Richard rated it really liked it
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
Dec 18, 2015 Melinda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
What a great idea. Ask a reader and writer who is crazy about a book to tell you why. It worked for me. I found these essays to be insightful and passionate. What else could someone ask for in terms of an introduction? This slim volume probably works best as an impetus to read M-D for those who haven't. And if you've seen the Great Books episode, there is much here that will sound familiar. Still. It's a great little book and an enjoyable read. I especially liked the insight shared on the relati ...more
Dec 29, 2011 Becky rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 20, 2013 Jean rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 26, 2011 Jennifer rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011-reads
Having only just nerved myself this year to finally face Melville's white whale - and having come out of the experience enlightened as to the phenomenon but not terribly moved - I was curious to hear Philbrick's arguments for the classic people (including this author) are most likely to advise you to skip half of when reading. Unfortunately, Philbrick offers not a single reason for me to read Moby Dick - he's too busy natting on about why he reads it, and summarizing the plot so that the next pe ...more
Dec 26, 2012 Colin rated it liked it
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
Jan 01, 2015 Tracey rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2014-new
I'm actually feeling a desire to re-read Moby-Dick after reading this. I read it high school, mumblety-mumble years ago, but may have to take another go at it, and look for the things Philbrick talks about. I think it's kind of funny that Philbrick's entire book is shorter than the collected chapters in M-D about how to butcher and render sperm whales.
Peter Boody
Jul 31, 2015 Peter Boody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

For the few hours it took to read this fascinating book, i was back in college relishing every moment of English class with a brilliant, engaging professor. Philbrick has created a masterpiece of literary criticism that celebrates the greatest of all the great American novels.
Jun 21, 2012 Deb rated it it was ok
Yes...we SHOULD read Moby-Dick and Nate..I LOVE your other stuff, but this slim essay doesn't really add much to scholarship and the analogies that this essay purport are thin and could use some hard evidence (Likening the blubber process to slavery is indeed a very astute idea, yet making it sound like that was Melville's actual purpose...not proven. Too many times Philbrick makes areas of the novel have ultimate, intended correlations with Melville's society, when this can ONLY be conjecture. ...more
Jan 17, 2012 Igolder rated it it was ok
Pros: many lovely passages from "Moby-Dick", biographical info, excerpts from Hawthorne correspondence
Cons: the rest

Is this book going to convince anyone to read Moby-Dick for the first time? I doubt it. Moby-Dick deserves a better booster than this book. Moby-Dick is my favorite book and I think about it all the time but if I had to make a list of the top 50 things it was "about," the Civil War would not be on there. The Civil War? Really? In the sources section, Philbrick cites himself like si
Jul 01, 2012 Kelly rated it liked it
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
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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 about Nathaniel Philbrick...

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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.” 11 likes
“To be in the presence of a great leader is to know a blighted soul who has managed to make the darkness work for him. Ishmael says it best: "For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but a disease." In chapter 36, "The Quarter-Deck," Melville show us how susceptible we ordinary people are to the seductive power of a great and demented man.” 0 likes
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