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Why Read Moby-Dick?

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of seagoing epics now celebrates an American classic.

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, Nathaniel Philbrick...

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of seagoing epics now celebrates an American classic.

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, Nathaniel Philbrick captivatingly unpacked the story of the wreck of the whaleship Essex, the real-life incident that inspired Melville to write Moby- Dick. Now, he sets his sights on the fiction itself, offering a cabin master's tour of a spellbinding novel rich with adventure and history.

Philbrick 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. A perfect match between author and subject, Why Read Moby-Dick? gives us a renewed appreciation of both Melville and the proud seaman's town of Nantucket that Philbrick himself calls home. Like Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life, this remarkable little book will start conversations, inspire arguments, and, best of all, bring a new wave of readers to a classic tale waiting 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

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
Library Journal
So you liked Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea, which re-created the wreck of the whaleship Essex, inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby-Dick? Then you'll love Philbrick's new book, which vivifies Melville's classic for modern readers. From a wonderful and knowing writer who's also founding director of the Egan Maritime Institute on Nantucket. I really want to read; with a four-city tour.
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670022991
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/20/2011
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 1,030,906
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, the same year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI. After working as an editor at Sailing World magazine, he wrote and edited several books about sailing, including The Passionate Sailor, Second Wind, and Yaahting: A Parody.  
 
In 1986, Philbrick moved to Nantucket with his wife Melissa and their two children. In 1994, he published his first book about the island’s history, Away Off Shore, followed by a study of the Nantucket’s native legacy, Abram’s Eyes. He was the founding director of Nantucket’s Egan Maritime Institute and is still a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association. 

In 2000, Philbrick published the New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book is the basis of the forthcoming Warner Bros. motion picture “Heart of the Sea,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Ben Wishaw, and Tom Holland, which is scheduled for release in March, 2015. The book also inspired a 2001 Dateline special on NBC as well as the 2010 two-hour PBS American Experience film “Into the Deep” by Ric Burns.
 
His next book was Sea of Glory, published in 2003, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society. The New York Times Bestseller Mayflower was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, won the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction, and was named one the ten Best Books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review. Mayflower is currently in development as a limited series on FX.
 
In 2010, he published the New York Times bestseller The Last Stand, which was named a New York Times Notable book, a 2010 Montana Book Award Honor Book, and a 2011 ALA Notable Book. Philbrick was an on-camera consultant to the two-hour PBS American Experience film “Custer’s Last Stand” by Stephen Ives. The book is currently being adapted for a ten-hour, multi-part television series. The audio book for Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011) made the ALA's Listen List in 2012 and was a finalist for the New England Society Book Award.
 
Philbrick’s latest New York Times bestseller, Bunker Hill:  A City, a Siege, a Revolution, was published in 2013 and was awarded both the 2013 New England Book Award for Non-Fiction and the 2014 New England Society Book Award. Bunker Hill won the 2014 book award from the Society of Colonial Wars, and has been optioned by Warner Bros. for feature film adaptation with Ben Affleck attached to direct.
 
Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society, and the Boston History Award from the Bostonian Society. He was named the 2011 Cushing Orator by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and has an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he delivered the commencement address in 2009.
 
Philbrick’s writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. He has appeared on the Today Show, the Morning Show, Dateline, PBS’s American Experience, C-SPAN, and NPR. He and his wife still live on Nantucket.

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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

    2 out of 2 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.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    Piss

    0 out of 3 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 4 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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