Nathaniel Philbrick

American works of enduring power.

Nathaniel Philbrick has long loved the sea. Brown’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, he won the National Book Award in 2000 for his maritime history, In the Heart of the Sea, and his account of the founding of the Plymouth colony, Mayflower, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. His new book, Why Read Moby-Dick?, launches a spirited argument for the necessity of a book that critics once dismissed (and students sometimes approach with dread). When we asked him to recommend three favorites, Philbrick responded with a trio of American classics, including, of course, the masterwork also known as The White Whale.

Books by Nathaniel Philbrick


By Herman Melville

Moby-Dick is the one book I treasure above all others. It may be about a maimed Nantucket whaling captain on a demented quest to kill a white whale, but it’s also about so much more — all delivered with a seemingly boundless poetic energy. For me, it’s the voice of the narrator Ishmael that makes the novel truly indispensable: he’s a quirky, likeable smart alec who comes as close as anyone ever has to explaining the meaning of this unfathomable life.”

Mosses from an Old Manse

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote several important novels, but his short stories are where he really shines. I’d suggest starting with the collection Mosses from an Old Manse — the book that inspired Melville to rewrite Moby-Dick into the masterpiece it is today — but just about every story he ever wrote places the human psyche in an exquisitely observed historical setting.”

Absolom, Absolom!

By William Faulkner

“When it comes to giving history a mythic and yet personal urgency, I will always look to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! as the ultimate novel. He found a way to combine Melville’s cosmic sprawl with Hawthorne’s creepy specificity to create the greatest southern novel ever written.”