Why Read Moby-Dick?

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Overview


A “brilliant and provocative” (The New Yorker) celebration of Melville’s masterpiece—from the bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea

One of the greatest American novels finds its perfect contemporary champion in Why Read Moby-Dick?, Nathaniel Philbrick’s enlightening and entertaining tour through Melville’s classic. As he did in his National Book Award–winning bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick brings a sailor’s eye and an adventurer’s passion to unfolding the...

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Overview


A “brilliant and provocative” (The New Yorker) celebration of Melville’s masterpiece—from the bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea

One of the greatest American novels finds its perfect contemporary champion in Why Read Moby-Dick?, Nathaniel Philbrick’s enlightening and entertaining tour through Melville’s classic. As he did in his National Book Award–winning bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick brings a sailor’s eye and an adventurer’s passion to unfolding the story behind an epic American journey. He skillfully navigates Melville’s world and illuminates the book’s humor and unforgettable characters—finding the thread that binds Ishmael and Ahab to our own time and, indeed, to all times. An ideal match between author and subject, Why Read Moby-Dick? will start conversations, inspire arguments, and make a powerful case that this classic tale waits to be discovered anew.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Is there anyone with better credentials than Nathaniel Philbrick to guide us through the full torrent and thrust of human experience of Moby-Dick? We doubt it. Like Herman Melville, he calls Nantucket his home, and like him too, he is drawn to the sea again and again: Among his books are Sea Glory and the National Book Award-winning In The Heart of the Sea.

Tim Flannigan

Library Journal - Audio
This title is historian Philbrick’s valentine to Herman Melville’s singular masterpiece. In numerous, brief chapters, Philbrick, who also narrates, presents in very simple terms his argument for why Melville’s briny story of obsession and revenge becomes more relevant as history glides forward like the Pequod on its doomed voyage. He scrutinizes the novel’s core characters and ponders the well of Melville’s creativity and melancholy. Beautifully done. (LJ 3/1/12)

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kathryn Harrison
Philbrick…wears his erudition lightly. He broaches the novel in quirky thematic fashion, with gracefully written compact essays on topics like landlessness, chowder and sharks. His voice is that of a beloved professor lecturing with such infectious enthusiasm that one can almost, for a moment, believe in the possibility of a popular renaissance for Melville.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Answering the negative of Philbrick’s titular question is easy: Moby-Dick is intimidatingly large, scientifically rigorous, esoteric, and to some, may seem outdated. While the size of The Whale cannot be debated, Philbrick’s entreaty is as approachable as it is persuasive. In this cogent and passionate polemic for Melville’s masterpiece, Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea) combines a critical eye and a reader’s adoration to make a case for Moby-Dick. The plights of the Pequod, Ishmael and Ahab may seem irrelevant (or worse, quaint) compared to today’s troubles, but Philbrick opines that within the pages of this American classic lie timeless archetypes whose relevance stretches across human history. Upon the loom of Melville’s narrative run numerous threads of insight and argument dealing with subjects as diverse as multiculturalism, homoeroticism, and transcendental experiences of the natural world. Less lit-crit and more readers’ guide, this tome will remind fans why they loved the book in the first place, and whet the appetites of trepid potential readers. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex), a National Book Award winner and resident of Nantucket, has been an ardent lifelong fan of Moby-Dick. In this brief volume, he aims to diminish the twin threats of a work that is both very long and written in a daunting style by writing in an unacademic style himself to support his contention that "Moby-Dick is nothing less than the genetic code of America." Philbrick conveys his own deep enthusiasm for the book and argues that "whenever a new crisis grips the country, Moby-Dick becomes newly important." In thematic chapters, Philbrick observes Moby-Dick through a variety of lenses—historical, philosophical, biographical, literary, and maritime—all demonstrating the book's ongoing fascinations and the ease with which today's readers can enter the novel's world. VERDICT While Philbrick may not persuade all readers who've been avoiding this tome to give it a try, he should succeed in swaying quite a few. There's nothing especially subtle or insightful here for those who've studied the book, but to entice new readers to Melville's work, it surely deserves consideration.—Charles C. Nash, formerly with Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307969675
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/2011
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick, is a leading authority on the history of Nantucket Island. His In the Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award. His latest book is Sea of Glory, about the epic U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842. His other books include Away off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890 (which Russell Baker called "indispensable") and Abram's Eyes: The Native American Legend of Nantucket Island ("a classic of historical truthtelling," according to Stuart Frank, director of the Kendall Whaling Museum). He has written an introduction to a new edition of Joseph Hart's Miriam Coffin, or The Whale Fisherman, a Nantucket novel (first published in 1834) that Melville relied upon for information about the island when writing Moby Dick. Phillbick's Why Read Moby-Dick? was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award.

Philbrick, a champion sailboat racer, has also written extensively about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor (1987) and Second Wind: A Sunfish Sailor's Odyssey. He was editor in chief of the classic Yaahting: A Parody (1984).

In his role as director of the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies, Philbrick, who is also a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association, gives frequent talks about Nantucket and sailing. He has appeared on "NBC Today Weekend", A&E's "Biography" series, and National Public Radio and has served as a consultant for the movie "Moby Dick", shown on the USA Network. He received a bachelor of Arts from Brown University and a Master of Arts in American Literature from Duke. He lives on Natucket with his wife and two children.

Biography

Champion sailboat racer Nathaniel Philbrick is one of the premier authorities on New England's Nantucket Island, and an all around aficionado of maritime activities. Ever since he published his first book, a short, humorous take on sailing titled The Passionate Sailor, Philbrick has been sharing that passion with readers. Whether exploring his beloved Nantucket or tracing tragedies and triumphs on the open sea throughout history, Philbrick is the writer of some of the most illuminating and harrowing histories to come sailing across bookshelves in the past decade.

While Philbrick broke into publishing with the lighthearted The Passionate Sailor, he truly established his role as a chronicler of Nantucket—the one-time whaling capital of the world—with his second book, Away Off Shore. Instead of focusing on the colorfully quaint legends that hardly scrape the surface of Nantucket's rich history, Philbrick chose to take a more sober look at the island and how it rose to success. He brought that same objectivity to subsequent books such as Abram's Eyes, which delves into the vast Native American population of Nantucket, separating folklore from historical evidence, and his breakthrough In the Heart of the Sea. Here, Philbrick takes a fascinating look at the legendary sinking of the Essex, a tale that would form the backbone of Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick. If anything, the true story of a wayward ship's encounter with a giant whale is even more terrifying and gripping than anything in Melville's imagination. In the Heart of the Sea is at its core a tragedy rife with painful ironies, fatal decisions, cannibalism, and a final encounter with a furious sperm whale.

The key to this National Book Award winner is that it is told with all the flair and suspense of any fictional story. "What I really like is narrative-driven non-fiction," Philbrick explained to Barnes & Noble.com. "A story is important for anyone to engage with what happened in the past." Just as Philbrick used this tactic to relate the tragedy of the Essex, he used it to tell of the triumphant U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838 in Sea of Glory. No less engaging than its predecessor, Sea of Glory is almost like the yang to the shadowy yin of In the Heart of the Sea, gloriously recounting a grander ocean expedition than that of Lewis and Clark, a quest to map the entire Pacific Ocean that would lead to the discovery of Antarctica.

Philbrick's next book retells a story with which most American schoolchildren are familiar but only through a filter of benign Thanksgiving pageants. The story of the pilgrim's journey to Plymouth Rock told in Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War is quite a different tale. Philbrick was not exactly burning to revisit this well-traveled chapter in history, saying of the Mayflower's voyage, "what could be more boring?" However, once he peeled away the holiday wrapping, he discovered a dark web of violence, starvation, illness, death, and war to rival the tragedy of In the Heart of the Sea. It is as if the pilgrim and Indian's story, as well as their true nature, is being revealed for the very first time, with provocative depictions of a bloody-thirsty Miles Standish and a duplicitous Squanto.

The Library Journal boldly declared that Mayflower was "clearly one of the year's best books" of 2006, and it is certainly one of the most riveting, a historical work that reads like great fiction written by a master at the peak of his abilities.

Good To Know

When Philbrick was a young boy, his father, a professor of English literature with a focus on Maritime fiction, would tell him about the Essex's tragic sea voyage as a sort of grim bedtime story.

Nathaniel Philbrick served as a consultant on USA television's 1998 adaptation of Moby Dick starring Patrick Stewart.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Nat Philbrick
    2. Hometown:
      Nantucket, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 11, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      B.A., Brown University, 1978; M.A., Duke University
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Great

    This was a great companion to Moby Dick, with infomative and interesting insight. I am going to reread Moby Dick again now.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 27, 2012

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lots of insight & explanati

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lots of insight & explanations which motivated me to read the original Melville novel. Good resource for acquainting the reader with the basic plot, characters and narrative.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012

    Sample

    Seriosuly, if you are going to offer a free sample, it needs to go at least a couple pages beyond the table of contents and copyright pages. Useless.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    Piss

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    VOID VOID VOID VOID

    VOID VOID VOID VOID NOT A POSTING SPOT

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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