Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick


Nathaniel Philbrick has read the novel Moby-Dick more than a dozen times, so it seems believable that he says he thinks this is the greatest American Novel ever written. Too bad Melville didn’t get this feedback during his lifetime. Melville admired Nathaniel Hawthorne and dedicated the book to him. Hawthorne and other writers of his day did see the book as masterpiece, but it didn’t outsell even his earlier books.

Philbrick’s book seeks to show why Moby-Dick has been so enduring. There is much that resonates with the world when it was written and even still today.

The civil war was yet to break out, but the books crew was so diverse that the respect for racial diversity stands out. Ahab, Pip, and other characters were inspired by a 7-set volume of Shakespeare’s plays that came into Melville’s possession just before he started writing this book.

Philbrick sees, not just ongoing relevance ,but a level of understanding of human relations. Melville is praised for his skill in getting reality to show up on the page. He explanation of how Ahab takes control of his crew and gets them to buy into his own plan has lots of real world comparisons.

Even though there are ample events that have symbolic relevance it is interesting to have this author bluntly tell us that the white whale is not a symbol. He says it is “as real as you and I. He has a crooked jaw, a humped back, and a wiggle-waggle when he is really moving fast”.

I have read Moby Dick twice but wish I had read this book first. 

Quote by Nathanial Philbrick

“Melville's example demonstrates the wisdom of waiting to read the classics. Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference.” 

Why Read Moby-Dick?
By Nathaniel Philbrick