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Why Read Moby-Dick?
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Why Read Moby-Dick?

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  2,453 ratings  ·  268 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
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?
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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 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
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
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.
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
Two weeks ago, I went to a book sale with my wife and my mother-in-law (yes, mom and I enjoy each other’s company.) The selection of books was awesome, we were in a huge room filled with boxes of books that had at least two titles in each box; we are talking at least a thousand titles offered. Then I came across a book I knew I had to get. Why Read Moby Dick? By Nathaniel Philbrick.
I was never required to read Moby Dick in school. Each year, I tell myself I will read it, and each year I get side
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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
Not really worth your time. Not much insightful content, just rehashing really, especially for an author who's read the novel 12 times. This was obviously meant as a gift book for (and from) the reluctant reader, originally priced at a ridiculous 25 dollars! I got it used for several dollars, and it's certainly not worth keeping. It's more like the quickest book to read if you really WON'T be reading the novel. It does remind me to read Shakespeare, though.
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
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.
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
Elizabeth McDonald
I read Moby-Dick; or, The Whale as a high school junior, and it was kind of a slog. Philbrick's bite-sized chapters examining different aspects of this classic made me want to give it another go. In fact, he's so convincing, that at one point while listening I decided that I should not only a) reread Moby-Dick, but also b) create a blog about rereading Moby-Dick, reading and then writing about a chapter every day. "It'll be such a great project!" I thought to myself. "It'll only take an hour or ...more
Kay Berry
I have not read Moby Dick. I don't know why, I need to. This small little 127 pages book is fascinating. Philbrick has done a great deal of research about Melville which makes me WANT to read Moby Dick. Philbrick says: "I am not one of those purists who insist on reading the entire untruncated texts at all costs. Moby Dick is a long book, and time is short…the important things is to spend some time with the novel, to listen as you read, to fell the prose adapt to the various voices that flowed t ...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.
Barbara Gregorich
This small, well-written book dives as deep as Moby Dick himself. In a series of 28 chapters, some of them only two pages long, Philbrick examines the impetus behind Herman Melville writing the novel he called "The Whale"; the correspondence between Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom he dedicated the book; the state of the United States, half-slave and half-free; the character of Ahab; the real-life stories of whales staving boats; the character of Ishmael; and the importance of various c ...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...
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842

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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.” 7 likes
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