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Ahab's Rolling Sea: A Natural History of "Moby-Dick"

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  41 ratings  ·  12 reviews
Although Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is beloved as one of the most profound and enduring works of American fiction, we rarely consider it a work of nature writing—or even a novel of the sea. Yet Pulitzer Prize–winning author Annie Dillard avers Moby-Dick is the “best book ever written about nature,” and nearly the entirety of the story is set on the waves, with scarcely a ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published November 11th 2019 by University of Chicago Press
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James Murphy
Jun 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ahab's Rolling Sea is a book I'd think interesting and of use to anyone who reads Moby-Dick. It describes how Americans understood the oceans during Melville's lifetime, and it explains what whaling was like during the age of sail. While every aspect of the ocean is discussed--wind, navigation, chemistry--most of the chapters examine the many kinds of life and what the sailors knew about them in that pre-Darwin time. Most detailed, of course, are whales and particularly the sperm whale. The stru ...more
Steve Wiggins
Jun 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’m not shy about admitting Moby Dick to be my favorite novel. Each time I read it I think it will probably be my last. I’ve always been opposed to whaling, and I’m a vegan to boot. Still, when someone gave me Richard J. King’s Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick I knew I was in for an add-on treat. I confess in my blog post about the book (Sects and Violence in the Ancient World) that this gift prompted me to read Moby Dick again. I finished it before I picked this volume up, and ...more
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure, this was written by a professor I had at the Williams-Mystic program (F02), which was probably the semester of school that most influenced my worldview and values around environmentalism, sustainability, and human impact. Not to mention, going to sea just fundamentally changed the way I think about the shape of the earth and how humans use it. Rich was a really enthusiastic, supportive, knowledgeable part of that, and I'm happy to be able to revisit WM academically, in however a ...more
Mike Flannery
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great read! It scratched nearly every itch I had after reading "Moby-Dick." It also led me to other, more foundational, American whaling reads.

After reading Melville's classic, I wanted to know what he got right and what he got wrong when it came to chapters like Ceteology. I also had an underlying feeling much of the meaning of "Moby-Dick" sailed over my head due to my lack of seafaring knowledge. "Ahab's Rolling Sea" taught me what the state of science was during Melville's time, and how to s
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
August 1st is Melville's birthday, and probably should get more notice than it does so when I saw this i thought, wonderful someone is going beyond Ahab and seeing the book as a piece. That idea is strangely supported in the beginning as King argues Moby is a "proto Darwinian decentring of the human and the elevation of the whale." OK, I can buy that. Further, he says it is an "ecological fiction" that shows sympathy for the whale against the impersonal backdrop of the sea. Again, fine.

But then
Daren Girard
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
This is very interesting study of the "natural history" of Moby-Dick. The author reviews the marine science topics that underpin the novel and provides contrasts with the current evidence of understanding of them. It is well researched and thorough. The author talks about nineteenth century maritime navigation, sperm whale behavior, sharks, sea fowl, whaling, wind, storms at sea, among many others. It is fascinating to learn that Melville, himself a whaleman for a few years, really did have a de ...more
Matthew Brady
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book's title is somewhat deceptive, in that while it does look at the natural history element of Moby Dick, it is as much a march through Melville's work from the literature perspective, interspersed with the author's own commentary on environmental and humanity. As such, at many times it seemed to ramble and diverge into curious tangents. It was certainly informative from the biological and natural history perspective, but - based on the book's title - I was expecting it to be more focused ...more
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It may seem odd to review a non-fiction book this way, but the words that came first to mind were: Full. Kind. Generous. I read it while reading Moby Dick and found it extremely helpful in pulling together ideas and themes across that book - of course it's packed full of all kinds of fascinating oceanic and historical information - but also it was a joy to read, and the author's pleasure in his material was evident. ...more
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nautical, naturalist
Closely tracks the voyage of the Pequod and Ishmael's scholarly pursuits, and updates his narrations with modern day marine biology and environmentalism. Fascinating for anyone who loves the sea and its creatures, and of course, whales! ...more
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! In addition to being informative and illuminating, it helped me FINALLY finish Moby-Dick. Really a wonderful armchair guide through marine science and the history of marine science/knowledge in Melville's time. ...more
Mills College Library
813.3 K542a 2019
Kerstin Ivonne  Sy Tieng
I've read Herman Melville 's novel Moby Dick as part of my English subject in 9th grade. I love the thrill of the chase for the whale. This book "Ahab 's Rolling Sea" brought back the memory of my 9th grade years and reading about Moby Dick ...more
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Richard J. King is the author of Ahab's Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick, Lobster, The Devil's Cormorant: A Natural History, and Meeting Tom Brady. King has published widely on maritime topics in scholarly and popular magazines, he edits the website "Searchable Sea Literature," and he writes and illustrates a regular column on animals for the kids' section of Sea History magazine. Read ...more

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