WHY READ MOBY-DICK? by Nathaniel Philbrick | Review

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. {Goodreads}

After reading Herman Melville’s classic novel Herman Melville several years ago, I asked often asked myself the very same question that Nathaniel Philbrick poses in the title of his book, Why Read Moby-Dick?As you can clearly tell from my disappointed review way back in 2014, I was not at all impressed with what I had been told was a must-read classic novel. I as excited to read it after having read the young adult novel Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard, which references this whale tale a great deal. I couldn’t get past how incredibly dull Moby Dick seemed, which surprised me because I’m usually the kind of person who loves classics that people often think are boring. With that being said, I was ready to let Nathanial Philbrick convince me otherwise not that several years had passed since my initial encounter with Ishmael.

Of course, now I must answer the glaring question that awaits us: Has this book convinced me to read Moby Dick again? Perhaps. Whether or not I decide to read it again at some point in the not-so-near future, I will say that Philbrick has given me a much greater appreciation for this classic novel. Philbrick has a knack for uncovering meaning behind scenes, quotations, and even characters that I would otherwise have simply glossed over as rather insignificant. It’s also inspiring and motivating to see someone so enthusiastic about a work of literature, particularly one considered to be a renowned classic. As someone who generally adores reading and discussing classics, it’s refreshing to read something by someone who feels the same way. Philbrick dissects the novel in a manner that makes it so much more interesting than actually reading the book itself:

“To be in the presence of a great leader is to know a blighted soul who has managed to make the darkness work for him. Ishmael says it best: “For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but a disease.” In chapter 36, “The Quarter-Deck,” Melville show us how susceptible we ordinary people are to the seductive power of a great and demented man.”

However, I will say that I’m not sure how enjoyable Why Read Moby-Dick? would actually be if someone hadn’t read Moby Dick before. I think you have to be at least a little interested in the classic to begin with if you’re going to enjoy Nathaniel Philbrick’s book. What you see is what you get: there’s no getting around the fact that it’s literally a book about a book about whaling, so there shouldn’t be many surprises there.

Overall, I really enjoyed listening to the audio book of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby-Dick? and would highly recommend it for anyone interested in Herman Melville’s classic novel.

What are your thoughts on Nathaniel Philbrick’s book or Moby Dick in general? Would you ever read this rather polarizing classic? Let me know in the comments section below!




15 responses to “WHY READ MOBY-DICK? by Nathaniel Philbrick | Review”

  1. I have Moby Dick on my shelf, though I am not planning on reading it any time soon… I may one day though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like this is a novel at the bottom of a lot of people’s TBR lists haha 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My first impression too was not good. I’ve recently concluded it’s a superb short-story padded to book-length with whaling trivia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a pretty accurate description to me! 🙂


  3. Ms Qadri's Tales Avatar
    Ms Qadri’s Tales

    I’d read an abridged version when I was little. Don’t even remember the story much anymore. PS That’s a good review!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s my husband’s favorite novel of all-time, so I HAD to read it. And while I’m glad I read it, never will I read it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I feel like that’s how I lot of people think of Moby Dick– one time is plenty! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Haven’t read Moby Dick yet, but now I’m intrigued,especially by the quote from the ” book about the book:”
    “Melville shows us how susceptible we ordinary people are to the seductive power of a great and demented man.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such an interesting quote! I feel like I can appreciate the novel more when I look at if from a perspective like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I follow a blog called Dysfunctional Literacy, and the blogger is hardcore against this book lol. I myself don’t know if I’ll ever read it (as you say, it’s very polarizing), but I’m glad you walked away with a greater appreciation after this book at the very least; I used to be bored stiff by Shakespeare, but after taking a terrific course in college, I can see why Shakespeare is a must-read. As you say, you need an interest or basic knowledge in the subject to appreciate/analyze its merits. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no! That’s really interesting to hear. This book certainly offers a strong biased opinion, but I think it’s nevertheless an important one to take into consideration when thinking about the enduring literary significance of the novel.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I very much agree with that! Thus, I really do hope that I will find it in myself to pick it up one day! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Feminist Friday feature is probably my favorite thing about her blog, but I’d have to say that her reviews on classic literature are an extremely close second. As an English major, her insight and thoughtfulness are both really […]


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