Moby Dick or, The Whale

This classic novel (720 pages) was published in December of 2002 by Penguin Classics. The book takes you to a 19th-century whale hunt. David read Moby Dick and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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Moby Dick

or, The Whale

Herman Melville

You probably think you know the story: This 700-page novel from 1851 is about Ahab’s obsession with the whale. The first line is ‘Call me Ishmael,’ and it’s a book you were supposed to read in high school.

That is all technically true, but Moby Dick is so much more.

Melville’s writing is a time machine that transports us back to the back-breaking, dangerous work of hunting a whale in the 1800s. We have the honor and the privilege of spending time hanging around on the ship, watching men do their work, and getting the feel of what it was like to be asea in the 19th century.

The structure is admittedly strange — a strong narrator, the aforementioned Ishmael, sets the scene. But then there are sea shanties and epic poetry and soliloquies and asides. There’s a sermon. There’s a chunk of what seems to be a history book. It’s unusual and sometimes disorienting, but also an amazing piece of writing that invites you to slow down, and to relish the details of a life with a different pace and priorities.

Melville takes us on a ride, and it is a tough voyage. The work of hunting a whale for the all-important whale oil was dangerous, cold, and lonely. But when you finally turn the last page, you will know how to crew a whaling ship, you will have felt the salt wind on your face and the bracing thrill of the harpoon hunt, and you will never forget this timeless tale of obsession, hubris, and the undeniable call of the sea.

Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses… then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. — Herman Melville

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