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Why Read Moby-Dick?

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  3,512 ratings  ·  490 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, Nath ...more
Hardcover, 131 pages
Published October 20th 2011 by Viking (first published October 20th 2010)
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Jim C Started reading WRMD about 2/3 of the way through MD. Can't speak for others, but I'd recommend waiting until at least about 1/2 through MD prior to s…moreStarted reading WRMD about 2/3 of the way through MD. Can't speak for others, but I'd recommend waiting until at least about 1/2 through MD prior to starting WRMD. BTW, WRMD can easily be read in a couple of hours (about short pages in length). (less)

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Riku Sayuj
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
In these essays which attempt to recreate the mystery of the creation of Moby Dick, Philbrick recreates for us the strange magic of reading Melville as well. The book's aim is to convince a reader who has not read to read. I don't think anybody who has not read Moby Dick should read this - too much is laid bare. Instead, the book should be read a year or two after the novel. Then you will see strange visions resurfacing, new meanings in the mist, and a rekindling of love for the characters you l ...more
Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick? serves as an excellent resource companion to Herman Melville's epic novel about the white whale, acting as what was once termed a vade mecom, a handbook or guidebook to travel, in this case literary travel in search of Moby Dick. The brief 125 page book is less a rationale for reading Moby Dick than the reader might expect; it is however a very helpful reference manual to Melville's great novel, explaining the background for the novel & various points of ...more
Clif Hostetler
This book is an impassioned commentary on the multiple layers of meaning found in the novel, Moby-Dick. The author treats the novel with the respect generally given the Bible, and he compares Herman Melville's work favorably with that of Shakespeare as shown in the following quotation.
Reading Shakespeare we know what it is like in any age to be alive. So it is with Moby-Dick, a novel about a whaling voyage to the Pacific that is also about America racing hell bent toward the Civil War and so muc
Oct 12, 2011 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
May 08, 2012 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
Roger Brunyate
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Tyler Jones
Nov 10, 2011 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
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
In this little book, written like a master's thesis from a besotted fan, Nathaniel Philbrick shares all his favorite lines and favorite themes and favorite issues from his beloved book, Moby Dick. Philbrick shows the contemporariness of Moby Dick through the issues Melville interweaves into his story as well as the timelessness of Moby Dick through the themes Melville touches upon. It's a love poem to Moby Dick, and I found myself reading the book while simultaneously marking passages in my Kind ...more
James Murphy
Nov 02, 2011 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
Nov 15, 2015 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
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Excellent musings on the classic Moby Dick. Having just finished that leviathan of a book, I found Philbrick's slim (127pp) book of background info on Melville and interesting comments on certain parts of Moby quite enlightening. Makes for a nice companion to the novel. I'll probably re-read with Moby in hand. ...more
Mikey B.
Dec 26, 2012 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
Jun 03, 2011 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,
W.D. Clarke
May 17, 2016 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
Aug 30, 2013 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
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a fun “quick” book to read (particularly quick, when you've read a 7-week novel of infinite length). This guide can probably help you understand the ginormous novel Moby Dick just a bit better. I know it helped me! There was definitely some elements that I can understand more because of this book. It unlocked some of the layers of Moby Dick. We learn about Melville's life, his friends, and some of his writing projects. We learn about the inspiration behind such a titanic volume about a w ...more
While I had to read quite a few classics in my AP Literature class in high school, Moby-Dick wasn't one of them, much to my father's chagrin. Melville's masterpiece is his favorite book, and I know the fact I have yet to read it is a bit of a disappointment to him. I have, however, read Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, detailing the attack of a sperm whale on the Essex which inspired Melville to write his book.

I live in New England, not far from New Bedfor
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
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!
May 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
Philbrick so loves Moby Dick that he had to tell others in a mass-produced book. Good for me! I read Moby Dick in April because a group I am part of decoded to read this book and as it was on my really-need-to-read list, I read it. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I gave the novel 3☆. Then I read this book. I had to re-review Moby Dick. I will likely be reading the whole thing. All due to this little book of small essays.
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.
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Why Read Moby-Dick?" is a short book of essays that examines why Melville's classic is still relevant to modern readers. To be truthful, Nathaniel Philbrick acknowledges that it is tough sell. Most readers come to the classic as a school assignment at a young age and are not ready for it. This is true of me. I read it first as a junior in high school. I may have turned every page, but I had little to no comprehension of what the book was about. Forty plus years I came to it again, this time as ...more
Mark Schultz
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
Why Read Moby-Dick?, by Nathaniel Philbrick, 2011. This was a short, enjoyable book. I read Moby-Dick 14 years ago, and got a lot out of it. It is truly a great book. So I wasn’t reading Philbrick’s book to be convinced to read Moby-Dick, but to hear a good writer address the question. Overall, I was entertained, and gained some new insights, but I also felt that Philbrick’s somewhat breathless narrative had too much similarity to a baseball fan talking about how good every player on their favor ...more
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was too young the first time I read Moby Dick, still in my teens and driven more by adolescent bragging rights than literary fulfillment, as in, “You read all three books of The Lord of the Rings? How nice. Well, I read Moby Dick, and I’m thinking about starting War and Peace.” (Note, I still haven’t read War and Peace but I did recently get a copy of the new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, so it is working its way up my to-read list.) I actually liked Moby Dick that first time, but it ...more
Apr 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, 2017, nonfiction
This is somewhat of a "good parts" Cliff Notes version, that worries less about recounting the plot point by point so a student can pass a test and worries more about Philbrick recounting some of his favorite jokes, scenes, and themes, and supports those summaries with some really great quotes. Philbrick is basically hoping his enthusiasm is contagious.

Despite the title, I think a better audience for this book might be those who are reading Moby Dick and are struggling or have already given up.
Richard Levine
Mar 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
(3.5 stars)

When I first skim-read this, a few years ago, Philbrick's enthusiasm got me interested in re-reading M-D -- reminding me of a number things I liked, and inspiring me to think that I'd enjoy some others more in a re-read. I then picked it up again while I was reading M-D -- about halfway through, adrift in the slow part of the novel -- and this time I found it a somewhat enlightening companion, but not hugely so. I think the book works best for someone who's read Melville's behemoth a
Laura Leaney
Jan 12, 2014 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
Aug 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
1. i wish more people/authors/thinkers were given permission to engage with texts like this. this is just a fun, honest book about why philbrick loves moby-dick. it's basically entirely subjective and full of conjecture and a pieced-together narrative that isn't particularly well-supported, and i love it, because this is how i interact with my favorite textual objects too, before i have to wrench myself around and translate that personal, emotional interaction into something that's considered su ...more
Kathleen Valentine
Nov 01, 2011 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
Mar 09, 2012 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
Apr 27, 2015 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
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Manchester Distri...: September 2017 Discussion: "Why Read Moby-Dick?" 8 10 Sep 20, 2017 07:12PM  

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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

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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.” 19 likes
“To write timelessly about the here and now, a writer must approach the present indirectly. The story has to be about more than it at first seems. Shakespeare used the historical sources of his plays as a scaffolding on which to construct detailed portraits of his own age. The interstices between the secondhand historical plots and Shakespeare’s startlingly original insights into Elizabethan England are what allow his work to speak to us today. Reading Shakespeare, we know what it is like, in any age, to be alive. So it is with Moby-Dick, a novel about a whaling voyage to the Pacific that is also about America racing hell-bent toward the Civil War and so much more. Contained in the pages of Moby-Dick is nothing less than the genetic code of America: all the promises, problems, conflicts, and ideals that contributed to the outbreak of a revolution in 1775 as well as a civil war in 1861 and continue to drive this country’s ever-contentious march into the future. This means that whenever a new crisis grips this country, Moby-Dick becomes newly important. It is why subsequent generations have seen Ahab as Hitler during World War II or as a profit-crazed deep-drilling oil company in 2010 or as a power-crazed Middle Eastern dictator in 2011.” 4 likes
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