Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Featured: Why Read Moby Dick? Nathaniel Philbrick [Vol. 4, #26.5]


Another engrossing facet of Philbrick’s thesis is how Melville’s personal life revolved around Moby-Dick. From the pie pieces Philbrick answers his own question about the tone of Moby-Dick, “So where did it come from, this darkness, this witchy voo-doo of the void?” (43). Thanks to Philbrick, I now know the vast details of every and any thing in Melville’s work come from his own adventures on whaling ships. The crazed disaster that is Captain Ahab is a lesson learned from dark minded Nathaniel Hawthorne—a friend with whom Melville was obsessed. And with meticulous habits that caused an almost John Milton blindness, Melville became one of America’s best authors. All this information acted as the salt in an ocean wave. It swept and stuck, giving character to the basic idea of a novel everyone knows and has not, yet, read.

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No reader of literature can take pride in themselves if they have not put the work into tracing at least one idea throughout a book. For Philbrick, he is very happy to relay the thread he has followed throughout the dozen times he has read Moby-Dick. Intermittent in the book’s short 28 chapters, are the details of mid to late 19th century American history. Skillfully, Philbrick relates these vibrant events to happenings in Moby-Dick because, “to write timelessly about the here and now, a writer must approach the present indirectly” (5). The racially diverse culture of whaling in the novel could be Melville appreciating where America was headed before most of the country could. The leader Ishmael, the protagonist, longs for when Ahab is so obviously off task is Abraham Lincoln. “Like America in 1850, Ahab is a man divided’ (33).  These are just a few of the many connections Philbrick makes. As thoughtful as they are, I found myself saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…I want more Melville.” A scholar is not a scholar if he can’t show off his scholarly self. I appreciate Philbrick’s work and for making me think of Melville’s genius on another level. But, personally, the thoughts on poetry are more enticing and non-distracting.

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