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Call me Ishmael. These three famous words begin one of America’s most epic novels, a tale of one obsessed captain, his doomed crew, and an elusive white whale named Moby-Dick. The massive original, however, can be very hard for young readers to navigate. This beautifully abridged and adventure-filled version will thrill children and whet their appetite for the complete work—when they are ready to tackle it.
About the Author
Patrick Benson has illustrated dozens of children's books, including OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell, SQUEAK'S GOOD IDEA by Max Eilenberg, THE SEA-THING CHILD by Russell Hoban, and THE MINPINS by Roald Dahl. The recipient of a Mother Goose Award in 1984, Patrick Benson lives in Hawick, England.
Date of Birth:August 1, 1819
Date of Death:September 28, 1891
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Place of Death:New York, New York
Education:Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15
Read an Excerpt
Call me Ishmael. This resonant opening of Moby-Dick, the greatest novel in American literature, announces the narrator, Herman Melville, as he with a measure of slyness thought of himself. In the Scriptures Ishmael, a wild man sired by the overwhelming patriarch Abraham, was nevertheless the bastard son of a serving girl Hagar. The author himself was the offspring of two distinguished American families, the Melvilles of Boston and the Gansevoorts of Albany.
Melville's father cast something of a blight on the family escutcheon by his tendency to bankruptcy which passed down to his son. Dollars damn me, the son was to say over and over. When he sat down in the green landscape of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to compose Moby-Dick he was in debt, the father of one son, and another to be born a few days after the publication of the novel in England.
Melville had published five novels previous to Moby-Dick; the first two did well, and then with the capriciousness of the public the subsequent novels failed to please. He was a known literary figure with a fading reputation. How he came upon the courage to undertake the challenging creation of the epical battle between a sea creature, a white whale called Moby Dick, and an old captain from Nantucket by the name of Ahab is one of literature's triumphant mysteries. Add to that, as one reads, that he was only thirty-two years old.
Ten years before, in 1841, he had signed up as a common seaman on the whaling vessel Acushnet bound for the South Seas. Young Ishmael was drawn by the lure of the sea and by the wonder of the whale itself, the Leviathan, the monarch of the deep, "one grand hooded phantom,like a snow hill in the air." Until the discovery of petroleum oil in 1859 and Thomas Edison's invention of the incandescent lamp in 1879, whaling was a major commercial occupation in New England. Fortunes were made, grand houses were built, often with a "widow's walk" on the roof that testified to the great dangers of the enterprise. For the crew, service on a whaler was a drastic life of unremitting labor; foul, crowded quarters; bad food in scanty servings; contractual terms for years at miserable wages; brutalized companions picked up from all the ports of the world; tyrannical captains practicing a "sultanism" which Melville abhorred. A ship afloat is after all a prison. Melville was on three whalers in his four years at sea and from each, as we read in Typee and Omoo, the struggle is to escape, as he did when the boats anchored near exotic islands. He wrote about the misery of the whaling life, but not about whaling itself until he came to Moby-Dick. His imaginary whaler, the Pequod, death bound as it is, would be called, for an ordinary seaman, an agreeable berth. Ahab has no interest left beyond his internal struggle with one whale.
Still, there is whaling, the presumption of it. When a whale is sighted small boats are detached from the main vessel and the men engage in a deadly battle to try to match, with flying harpoons, the whale's immense strength and desperation. If the great thing is captured, the deck of the main ship becomes an abattoir of blood and guts. The thick blubber is to be stripped, the huge head to be drained of its oils for soothing ambergris, for candles; the bones of the carcass make their way into corsets and umbrellas and scrimshaw trinkets. Moby-Dick is a history of cetology, an encylopedic telling of the qualities of the fin-back, the right whale, the hyena whale, the sperm whale, the killer whale, classified by size in mock academic form as folio, octavo, and so on.
Information about a vanished world is one thing, but, above all else, this astonishing book is a human tragedy of almost supernatural suspensiveness, written in a rushing flow of imaginative language, poetical intensity, metaphor and adjective of consuming beauty. It begins on the cobbled streets of New Bedford, where Ishmael is to spend a few days before boarding the Pequod in Nantucket. The opening pages have a boyish charm as he is brought to share a bed with a fellow sailor, the harpooner Queequeg, an outrageously tattoed "primitive" who will be his companion throughout the narrative. Great ships under sail gave the old ports a rich heritage of myth, gossip, exaggeration, and rhetorical flights. Ishmael, on a Sunday, visits a whaleman's chapel to hear the incomparable sermon by Father Mapple on Jonah and the whale, a majestic interlude, one of many in this torrential outburst of fictional genius.
As Ishmael and Queequeg proceed to Nantucket, the shadows of the plot begin to fall upon the pages. The recruits are interviewed by two retired sailors who will struggle to express the complicated nature of Captain Ahab. We learn that he has lost a leg, chewed off by a whale, and thus the fated voyage of the Pequod begins. Ahab has lost his leg to a white whale Moby Dick and is consumed with a passion for retribution. He will hunt the singular whale as a private destiny in the manner of ancient kings in a legendary world. However, Ahab is real and in command. The chief mate, Starbuck, understands the folly of the quest, the danger of it, and, as a thoughtful man longing to return to his wife and children, he will speak again and again the language of reason. "Vengeance on a dumb beast that simply smote thee from the blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."
The necessity of Starbuck's human distance from the implacable imperative of Ahab's quest illustrates the brilliant formation of this harrowing tale. But it is Ahab's story, his destiny, and, if on the one hand, he is a shabby, sea-worn sailor long mesmerized by mercurial oceans, he too has a wife at home and a child of his old age. We learn, as the story proceeds, that on a time ashore after his terrible wounding, he had fallen and by way of his whalebone leg been unmanned. He has suffered an incapacity not to be peacefully borne by one who in forty years had spent only three on land. Ahab knows the wild unsuitability of his nature, his remove from the common life.
Table of Contents
|Chapter 2||The Carpet-Bag||22|
|Chapter 3||The Spouter-Inn||26|
|Chapter 4||The Counterpane||41|
|Chapter 6||The Street||47|
|Chapter 7||The Chapel||50|
|Chapter 8||The Pulpit||53|
|Chapter 9||The Sermon||56|
|Chapter 10||A Bosom Friend||65|
|Chapter 16||The Ship||83|
|Chapter 17||The Ramadan||97|
|Chapter 18||His Mark||103|
|Chapter 19||The Prophet||107|
|Chapter 20||All Astir||111|
|Chapter 21||Going Aboard||113|
|Chapter 22||Merry Christmas||117|
|Chapter 23||The Lee Shore||121|
|Chapter 24||The Advocate||122|
|Chapter 26||Knights and Squires||128|
|Chapter 27||Knights and Squires||131|
|Chapter 29||Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb||139|
|Chapter 30||The Pipe||142|
|Chapter 31||Queen Mab||143|
|Chapter 33||The Specksynder||159|
|Chapter 34||The Cabin-Table||162|
|Chapter 35||The Mast-Head||168|
|Chapter 36||The Quarter-Deck, Ahab and All||174|
|Chapter 39||First Night-Watch||185|
|Chapter 40||Midnight, Forecastle||186|
|Chapter 42||The Whiteness of the Whale||203|
|Chapter 44||The Chart||213|
|Chapter 45||The Affidavit||218|
|Chapter 47||The Mat-Maker||230|
|Chapter 48||The First Lowering||233|
|Chapter 49||The Hyena||243|
|Chapter 50||Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah||245|
|Chapter 51||The Spirit-Spout||248|
|Chapter 52||The Albatross||252|
|Chapter 53||The Gam||254|
|Chapter 54||The Town-Ho's Story||259|
|Chapter 55||Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales||279|
|Chapter 56||Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, etc.||284|
|Chapter 57||Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; etc.||288|
|Chapter 60||The Line||296|
|Chapter 61||Stubb Kills a Whale||300|
|Chapter 62||The Dart||305|
|Chapter 63||The Crotch||306|
|Chapter 64||Stubb's Supper||308|
|Chapter 65||The Whale As a Dish||316|
|Chapter 66||The Shark Massacre||318|
|Chapter 67||Cutting In||320|
|Chapter 68||The Blanket||322|
|Chapter 69||The Funeral||325|
|Chapter 70||The Sphynx||327|
|Chapter 71||The Jeroboam's Story||329|
|Chapter 72||The Monkey-Rope||335|
|Chapter 73||Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale, etc.||340|
|Chapter 74||The Sperm Whale's Head-Contrasted View||345|
|Chapter 75||The Right Whale's Head-Contrasted View||350|
|Chapter 76||The Battering-Ram||353|
|Chapter 77||The Great Heidelburgh Tun||355|
|Chapter 78||Cistern and Buckets||357|
|Chapter 79||The Praire||361|
|Chapter 80||The Nut||364|
|Chapter 81||The Pequod Meets the Virgin||366|
|Chapter 82||The Honor and Glory of Whaling||378|
|Chapter 83||Jonah Historically Regarded||381|
|Chapter 85||The Fountain||385|
|Chapter 86||The Tail||391|
|Chapter 87||The Grand Armada||395|
|Chapter 88||Schools and Schoolmasters||408|
|Chapter 89||Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish||411|
|Chapter 90||Heads or Tails||415|
|Chapter 91||The Pequod Meets the Rose-Bud||418|
|Chapter 93||The Castaway||428|
|Chapter 94||A Squeeze of the Hand||432|
|Chapter 95||The Cassock||436|
|Chapter 96||The Try-Works||437|
|Chapter 97||The Lamp||442|
|Chapter 98||Stowing Down and Clearing Up||443|
|Chapter 99||The Doubloon||446|
|Chapter 100||The Pequod Meets the Samuel Enderby of London||452|
|Chapter 101||The Decanter||459|
|Chapter 102||A Bower in the Arsacides||464|
|Chapter 103||Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton||468|
|Chapter 104||The Fossil Whale||471|
|Chapter 105||Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?||475|
|Chapter 106||Ahab's Leg||479|
|Chapter 107||The Carpenter||482|
|Chapter 108||Ahab and the Carpenter||485|
|Chapter 109||Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin||489|
|Chapter 110||Queequeg in His Coffin||492|
|Chapter 111||The Pacific||498|
|Chapter 112||The Blacksmith||499|
|Chapter 113||The Forge||502|
|Chapter 114||The Gilder||505|
|Chapter 115||The Pequod Meets the Bachelor||507|
|Chapter 116||The Dying Whale||510|
|Chapter 117||The Whale Watch||512|
|Chapter 118||The Quadrant||513|
|Chapter 119||The Candles||516|
|Chapter 120||The Deck||523|
|Chapter 121||Midnight-The Forecastle Bulwarks||524|
|Chapter 122||Midnight Aloft||526|
|Chapter 123||The Musket||526|
|Chapter 124||The Needle||530|
|Chapter 125||The Log and Line||533|
|Chapter 126||The Life-Buoy||536|
|Chapter 127||The Deck||540|
|Chapter 128||The Pequod Meets the Rachel||542|
|Chapter 129||The Cabin||546|
|Chapter 130||The Hat||548|
|Chapter 131||The Pequod Meets the Delight||552|
|Chapter 132||The Symphony||554|
|Chapter 133||The Chase-First Day||558|
|Chapter 134||The Chase-Second Day||567|
|Chapter 135||The Chase-Third Day||576|
|Criticism and Context|
|Herman Melville: A Biographical Note||590|
|Moby-Dick and Its Contemporary Reviews||607|
|Moby-Dick and Its Modern Critics||619|
|from Herman Melville||619|
|"The Tragic Meaning of Moby-Dick"||645|
|from "Herman Melville's Moby-Dick"||654|
|"The Fire Symbolism in Moby-Dick"||662|
What People are Saying About This
Responsible to misshapen forces of his age as only men of passionate imagination are, even Melville hardly be aware of how symbolic an American hero he'd fashioned in Captain Ahab...he is the embodiment of his author's most profound response to the problem of the free individual will in extremis.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is the significance of the whale? What do you think Melville intends in developing such a vicious antagonism between Ahab and the whale?
2. How does the presence of Queequeg, particularly his status as a "savage, " inform the novel? How does Melville depict this cultural clash?
3. How does whaling as an industry function metaphorically throughout the novel? Where does man fit in in this scenario?
4. Melville explores the divide between evil and virtue, justice and vengeance throughout the novel. What, ultimately, is his conclusion? What is Ahab's?
5. What do you think of the role, if any, played by religion in the novel? Do you think religious conventions are replaced or subverted in some way? Discuss.
6. Discuss the novel's philosophical subtext. How does this contribute to the basic plot involving Ahab's search for the whale? Is this Ishmael's purpose in the novel?
7. Discuss the role of women in the novel. What does their conspicuous absence mean in the overall context of the novel?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I thought the book was good, for reading it at the age if 28
In reading this book with my son (age 9), I've found the writing to be clear and description. Appropriate for the younger age group to get them familiary with the story.
She got the scent of a mouse.
Barnes and Noble should offer book report/literature unit options for purchasers of their books.