Moby Dick

Moby Dick

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This classic story of high adventure, manic obsession, and metaphysical speculation was Herman Melville's masterpiece.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400116010
Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date: 03/29/2010
Series: Tantor Unabridged Classics
Edition description: Unabridged CD
Sales rank: 1,238,022
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.70(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About the Author

Herman Melville (1819-1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet who received wide acclaim for his earliest novels, such as Typee and Redburn, but fell into relative obscurity by the end of his life. Today, Melville is hailed as one of the definitive masters of world literature for novels including Moby Dick and Billy Budd, as well as for enduringly popular short stories such as Bartleby, the Scrivener and The Bell-Tower.

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


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 asnow 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.

What People are Saying About This

S. Mattheson

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?

Customer Reviews

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Moby Dick 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 229 reviews.
Jesop More than 1 year ago
The greatest novel in American literature, Moby Dick is as massive and inscrutable as the White Whale of the title. This is a book with the primal logic of a dream and the timelessness of myth. The characters themselves have become legend; the restless sailor Ishmael, the noble savage Queegueg, stalwart first mate Starbuck, and Captain Ahab, a man of fearful determination and charisma. Ahab stands as one of the great tragic heroes and he is characterized with the emotional grandeur and raw force of Hamlet or Lucifer. I will note that no one says or does anything that remotely resembles what a normal person would do or say. The dialogue and narrative is instead presented in complex, stately, refined, and operatic terms. It is clear that Melville intended this to be an epic. The characters are appropriately larger than life. I will say that this book is not for everyone, and many complain that it is boring and ponderous. Be forewarned that Herman Melville spends half the chapters describing the minutiae of life on a 19th century whaling ship. Yet even these plot-less chapters on such topics as rendering blubber to oil contain philosophical depth and striking grace. Have patience and you will be rewarded. It seems Melville sought to encompass everything in his novel; all of humanity can be found on board the Pequod. We drift through our days and nights on the immense unknowable sea of life, driven forth by those in power, hunting elusive goals for reasons we cannot define, all of us doomed men. It should be noted that this review covers the Modern Library hardcover edition of this book. I cannot praise it enough. It is simply and handsomely presented, sturdy, and contains all of Rockwell Kent's striking and detailed 1930 line drawn illustrations. This book is a fine edition to any personal library.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the previous reader reveiws, I'll be brief and to the point. This book should not be read by eighth graders or other persons who are not at the top of their game with regard to their ability to read dificult text. I am over 50 years old and chose to read it for myself, although I found it very intimidating to start. The importance of the detail is when one considers Moby as God or nature the details are an attempt to understand the whale aka God and it can't be done. Now do you get it? Nobody can understand God and consequently nobody can understand the symbol of God as portrayed in this miraculous novel. I will indeed miss reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We have all heard the story of the infamous encounter between Captain Ahab and his nemesis Moby-Dick. I understood it to be a classic and began to read it even though I already saw the movie. The first few chapters had that ominous feeling (Melvilles' brilliant foreshadowing) and purported to promise better things to come. Well, they didn't. Instead Melville drolls on frivolous topics for countless chapters; he literally fills 3/4 of the book with chapters the reader can skip over and still not lose any of the story plot. It took me months to get through his book and it was not until the last three chapters that I realized why this book was a classic. The ending had such a profound impact on me that I have decided to reread Moby-Dick...though not for a long while.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is perhaps one of the best I have ever read. If for sheer style alone this book is awe inspiring. The narative talent of Melville is like that of Hugo, supurfluous yet strikingly beautiful. An emotionally compelling read there is so much depth to be found within these pages and so much to learn of human nature, and put so eloquently. Melville truely does have a silver pen!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seems silly to comment on a classic, but it's nostalgic to re-read something like this and see how great writing remains great.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I haven't actually ready this particular copy, edition or what have you. It was one I grabbed for the cover for my e-library. I read Moby Dick awhile back in hard cover form from the local library. I never read it in school and always prided myself for getting out of reading book assignments.(so many regrets) Moby Dick is a great book. It is a bit long, and I always joke you could take 200 pages out and still have a good story. It is a famous classic that will live on forever. There are some great quotes in the book. Two of my favorate have even made it into Star Trek shows and movies. Gene Roddenberry was a fan of the book and references to Moby Dick are found thoughout the Star Trek universe. If you've never read it, read it. If you haven't got time or patients read an abridged version. Melville can be a bit wordy but then with out words books would be just blank paper. The characters are good and there has been much discussion about some of the scenes and what if any thing Mevlille was implying.
Anonymous 8 hours ago
Hey Seria its Link. Im sorry I havent been on lately I am going through some family problems right now and wount be on for a while. If you want to get a hold of me you can email me at l i n k t h e k i d . 1 9 6 6 @ g m a i l . c o m
Anonymous 8 hours ago
Hey Seria its Link. Im sorry I havent been on lately I am going through some family problems right now and wount be on for a while. If you want to get a hold of me you can email me at l i n k t h e k i d . 1 9 6 6 @ g m a i l . c o m
Anonymous 4 months ago
She comes over. "No, I'll help you. What can I do?" She asks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She lay on a giant rock on her back her stomach facing the sun. She sighed happily as she sunbathed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this still active?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey all. Im here
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She walks in her dark red locks hanfing around her waist in curls, she wears a black shirt, blue jeans and black converse she looks around with piercing blue eyes. She fiddles with a purple crystal around her neck
Amzzz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was engaged at the start but the many chapters on whaling definitely turned me off!
andy_21 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is about a captain that is coming for revenge named ahab. He goes to the ocean for the search of the great spearm whale named moby dick. One day he went to the ocean and he been attacked by this whale his boat was attacked and the whale bit the captains leg off. So he goes to the ocean with a sailor named Ismael. Ismeal does not know that ahab is going for revenge. Soon they found the big whale and Ismael got the big harpoon ready and he waited for the right moment. Then he had the shot and he did not shoot because he felt guilty so he let her go. Then ahab found out that he came for only that reason and he got mad. I think that this was a great book and I liked this book.
jackichan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You don't read Moby-Dick because you want to read a book. You read Moby-Dick because you want to read Moby-Dick. Enormous in scope, prose, vocabulary and philosophy it is much like taking on a whale. I enjoyed most the actual story and subtle descriptions of the characters and the love for the simplest of things; like chowder. Although it isn't my favorite book, it is one of the few that I know I will be re-reading in the future. One of the most fascinating aspects of Moby-Dick is that though it is fiction, Melville is quite factual in the descriptions of most all things in the book. And a many times I decided to look up a word in the dictionary that I wasn't familiar with thus walking away with many new points of knowledge. And lastly Melville's comparison of Christianity and cannibalism is refreshing and impressive for a work written in 1851.
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this sometime in 1997, probably the fall, but I cannot be certain it was early, or even possibly in the summer. So another memory unrooted in time is formed, and I will have a vague impression of having read the book sometime in my forties, with older kids around.I never realized, before reading Moby Dick, how it is so much about the whale. Long chapters of the history of whaling, of the biology and anatomy of whales, of the behavior of whales. Ahab seems insubstantial by comparison, and he is not exactly central, but seems more to hang over the book menacingly.Long chapters of the history of whaling, of the biology and anatomy of whales, of the behavior of whales. Ahab seems insubstantial by comparison, and he is not exactly central, but seems more to hang over the book menacingly. From the vantage of a year later, I can recall only being thoroughly caught up in the 19th century atmosphere and attitudes of the book, and I was most impressed with the descriptions of whaling and the whales, rather than with the characters. Ishmael and Queegog and Starbuck are the famous actors, but I think Melville reserves his true enthusiam for the whale.
the_unnamable on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Any time I mentioned to someone that I was finally tackling the book of the whale, I would get eye-rolls or declarations of boredom. But I actually got sucked further and further in, as pulled by some leviathan's great wake.Ishmael's tale of Ahab's dark revenge is not a typical narrative. If one's looking for a well-paced action yarn, don't read it. It's a story of character asides and the sea and the secrets of the whale physical and metaphysical. Ishmael concerns himself chiefly with the unfolding sublime (in Burke's sense) rather than the mundane.Images and old-sea phrases will doubtless rattle around in my head for decades to come.
hamredb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are of course so many versions, including illustrated and children's versions. I think it is imperative to read Melville's original classic version. the depth and complexity of the prose makes you feel the heat and smoke of the lard kilns and the spray of seawater on your face. I can't do this all the time, but a novel like this is a wonderful occasional break from some of the modern day more mindless books of entertainment.
kenzie12368 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very challenging book to read, even for a 5th grader like me. I recommend this book to 6th graders, and up, but maybe some 5th graders my age can read it. Even though the language was confusing and there was some minor killing, I have to say the book was awesome.
upsidedown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are plenty of overrated, canonized books. I had been going along assuming this was one of them-- a book as long as Anna Karenina, but written by an American? Guffaw. Unreadable! I had also been under the assumption that this was an Old Man and the Sea kind of overplayed metaphor-- yes, yes, a man wishes to kill a particular whale. This must be about the eternal struggle between, er, man and nature, or man and his other. This must be a boring rumination about the useless of, er, revenge?Instead, I have been astonished by how experimental this "novel" book turned out. The first few chapters are beautifully captivating and narrative-driven. We have an affable narrator as our presumed main character. He finds a dear friend, Queequeg, in a series of blundered misunderstandings. And then we are introduced to his challenge-- to survive his first whaling voyage. Melville must have bored easily of such narrative devices. Our narrator/main character disappears soon after, as easily replaced by an omniscient point of view. The particularity of these characters is equally unimportant. Instead, this is an encyclopedia of whaling, a philosophy on travel, a history of the Eastern US and much else of the world, a commentary on commercialism, and an elegy to hope. What I found so relentless about the narrative was its disjointedness, its inability to stay with the story, as though it too were tossed fitfully in the wake of an enormous whale.
e.pur on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Okay so I didn't finish but despite that fact I can say I thoroughly enjoyed the first half, which is as far as I got. What surprised me about this classic are the funny characters, such as the moody Captain Ahab to the peculiar harpooner Queequeg. I found myself laughing out loud a LOT. Highly recommend this book, even if you have to read it in parts;)