Why Read Moby-Dick?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nathaniel Philbrick tells us why Moby-Dick is one of the greatest American novels. In his National Book Award-winning book, In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick tells the story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex, the real-life incident that inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick. In Why Read Moby-Dick? He looks at the fiction itself, highlighting its humor and characters.


Nathaniel Philbrick

Comments [13]

Ed from Larchmont

If Moby Dick is then an exploration of Catholic theology, it wouldn't have been very popular in Protestant America of 1850.

I didn't find it so funny, but open and hearty humorous in its aspect.

Oct. 31 2011 05:19 PM
davidw from Northeast USA

I have always loved Moby Dick.
I highly recommend the movie directed by John Huston, and starred Gregory Peck and Richard Basart. The musically score is absolutely brilliant. One of the greatest soliloquies of all time was done by Orson Wells.

More importantly, Ray Bradbury who edited the book to the screenplay did a brilliant job of bringing up the most beautiful parts of the narrative.

Compare the books complete sermon by Father Maples, and then what Orson Wells in the film. Absolutely incredible and beautiful.
Ray Bradbury kept all the beauty of the sermon but deleted some of the early 19th century passages.

This book and film is what started me on a journey towards my love of the sea, and now I live full time on a sailboat.

Oct. 17 2011 01:40 PM
Rica from Seattle

I struggled several times over several years to read Moby Dick, and finally was able to read it fully last year. It's now my all-time favorite book. What got me to push through was when I started to listen to an audio version, which got me into the rhythm of the book, including and especially the digressions, which were always what made me put the book down. I would listen to the audio on my walks to work in the morning, but still would be compelled to read the text. The words were so beautifully laid out that each medium seemed good to experience.

Oct. 17 2011 01:12 PM
ckk from NY, NY

Coincidentally, i just started reading Two Years Before the Mast! ... what led me to it is that i'm a long distance swimmer, a kayaker and on the wish list is to get a norseboat ... a swimming acquaintance who knows of my norseboat wish teased about TYBTM by Dana ... and qualified his lampoon by stating that 'every little boy USED to read it' ... the last time i heard a book described as such was about one of my favorites, The Count of Monte Cristo ... [and i have seen that boys indeed do not read that masterpiece any more ... :( .... ], so i figured that the book would be available in a Dover or Wordsworth Classic, but haven't ferreted it out yet. Perhaps a trip to the Strand. i've been apprised that it's in the Harvard Classics (but not sure about 'the Great Books' series), both of which are somewhere on my bookshelves ... i've downloaded a free digital book, but i'm fostering macular degeneration as the book is a facsimile/scan of an early printing of the 1840ish book. ... alas, i'm ~ 20 pages into the book (avec mucho squinting) and put the initiative in abeyance until i can get my hands on a fairly priced version, hopefully paperback, that i can curl up with in bed as i waft off into sleep. May have to go to the Strand and if need be for ~ $1 or so get the tome of the Harvard Classics that houses that caper / tale. /ckk

Oct. 17 2011 01:08 PM
carolita from nyc

PS- anyone else notice the similarities between "Moby Dick"'s Ahab and "True Grit"'s Maddie? I was quite struck by that.

Oct. 17 2011 01:07 PM
carolita from nyc

Read Moby Dick as many times and in as many ways as possible. Skip the "boring" parts the first time around, if necessary. It's a book to read over a lifetime. The reading experience changes as your own life experiences change you.

Oct. 17 2011 01:06 PM
Dan Pincus from Manhattan

When I read the book in college, and finished the Chowder chapter, I went out and bought the ingredients. Making it just as he described it, it was the best I had ever had.

Oct. 17 2011 01:00 PM
Jon from Manhattan

As a nine-year-old boy I was fascinated with all things filled with the sea and adventure and read: Captain's Courageous, Two Years Before the Mast and Moby Dick among others. I started re-reading Meville's novel a few years ago and first thought how I managed that book as a young boy and how much must have just past me by. Regardless, of what one may say about the book, its brilliance shines through.

Oct. 17 2011 12:50 PM

FYI - If you can sit through it the New Beford Whaling Museum holds a yearly marathon reading of Moby Dick. Definitely worth checking out.

Oct. 17 2011 12:48 PM
Edward from Staten Island

I think fans of Moby Dick would enjoy reading this account of how Melville was inspired to create the book.

Oct. 17 2011 12:46 PM
Laura from UWS

I can't give a particular reason for reading Moby Dick but it sure felt good!!! -- I listened to the book on tape, read masterfully by Frank Muller. Another narrator whose readings of Moby Dick are riveting is WBAI's Simon Loekle.

Oct. 17 2011 10:15 AM
Ed from Larchmont

There are many hints that this is Melville's purpose, but one is the name Moby Dick - the same number of letters as Pope Pius, who was the pope at the time, and who established the hierarchy in the U.S. Also this was the time of the first large Catholic immigration into America with the Irish in the 1840s. A modern day Ahab would be Jeffrey Anderson, as an example.

Oct. 17 2011 08:42 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Having recently read Moby-Dick, my impression was that Melville was inspired not only by the whaling incident of the Essex, but by the later Pope Pius IX, who spend a number of years in Chile as a young bishop, where Melville was on ships.

What gives Moby Dick it's power? To me, it's a picture of the pope and his enemies. Moby Dick is the pope - and we only see him at the end, and his enemies are Ahab, of course, and the crew, except for Ishmael, who converts as it were.

And the ussher at the start of the book is the pope in his human nature - the flags of many countries, the grammars of many languages, dusting off old books. But in the spiritual battle the pope is the White Whale, powerful, free, wise, unique at any one time.

To me Moby Dick is Melville's investigation of Catholicism, and how it was and is treated in the U.S.

Oct. 17 2011 08:22 AM

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