Reviews for Why Read Moby-Dick?

Booklist Reviews 2011 September #2
*Starred Review* "What a book Melville has written!" Hawthorne exclaimed upon first reading Moby Dick. More than 150 years later, Philbrick echoes Hawthorne's enthusiasm. Although he repudiates the various interpretations of Melville's White Whale as a symbol of this or that human nemesis, Philbrick sees in Melville's story of the whale a mythically capacious emblem of the nation that incubated it--pulsing with poetic imagination, threatened by grim contradictions, and doomed to a devastating catastrophe. Readers thus come to recognize, for instance, how Melville's portrayal of the Pequod's pious but hard-hearted owners mirrors the bifurcation separating the nation's high-spirited idealism from its real-world addiction to the profits of slavery. And in its harrowing denouement, this prescient novel anticipates the carnage of Cold Harbor and Antietam. To be sure, Philbrick sees in the novel more than a symbol of America's tragically flawed history; he marvels, in fact, at how deeply Melville plumbs mysteries that defy time and geography. By probing the circumstances surrounding Melville's writing of the novel, Philbrick illuminates the intense creative process through which the brooding author melded the darkest elements from the art of Hawthorne and Shakespeare in the crucible of his own fervent agnosticism. Sure to swell the readership of Melville's masterpiece. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2011 December
Smart picks for sophisticated readers

vBooks—especially great ones—beget other books. If you don’t believe it, check out the selections that follow. Providing new perspectives on past works, these critical studies, appreciations and fresh editions prove that classic pieces of literature are inexhaustible. Just right for the writer or devoted reader on your holiday gift list, the books below will make any bibliophile smile.

Few figures inspire more speculation than William Shakespeare. Richard Paul Roe, an accomplished scholar and lawyer, tackles one of the most intriguing Shakespearean what-ifs in his compelling new book The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels. Addressing a controversial question—whether Shakespeare visited the country that provided the backdrop for many of his finest works—Roe tracked the dramatist’s 10 Italian plays back to their geographical roots. The author, who died in 2010, invested 20 years in the project.

Guided by the text of the Italian plays, which include Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and Othello, Roe pinned down settings scene by scene only to discover that—after four centuries—the Bard’s descriptions of Verona, Venice and Padua are uncannily accurate. His conclusion: The playwright almost certainly visited Italy, a verdict that contradicts the accepted view that Shakespeare never traveled outside of England. This controversial conclusion is bound to cause tremors in the academic world, but Roe’s book is more than an inspired piece of literary detection. Beautifully illustrated with paintings, photos and maps, the volume offers an engaging look at life in 16th-century Italy. Roe is a delightful travel guide, and his search for “the secret Italy that lies hidden in the plays of Shakespeare” is fascinating from start to finish.

Answering a question that has crossed the mind of many a reader, Nathaniel Philbrick offers an earnest argument on behalf of a classic in Why Read Moby-Dick?. In his compact critique, Philbrick casts himself as Herman Melville’s champion and sets out to prove that the novel is more than a quaint antique.

Philbrick, whose National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea examined the historical events that inspired Moby-Dick, highlights themes, characters and symbols from the novel that take on new significance as the decades go by. In addition to an in-depth look at the crazed captain Ahab, this brisk volume has chapters on Nantucket, nautical matters and the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne on Melville’s work. Facet by facet, Philbrick reveals what this vibrant novel has to tell us about the contemporary world. In an era when brevity sells books, Melville’s epic style can easily intimidate, but wise readers will heed Philbrick’s advice regarding the tale of the whale: Dive right in.

John Updike’s Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism shows a player at the top of his game. The book was in the works when Updike died in 2009, at the age of 76, and serves as a superb retrospective of his genius.

Drawing on a remarkably broad assortment of sources—from Golf Digest to National Geographic—the pieces in Higher Gossip are a testament to Updike’s astonishing range. He writes with equal expertise about art and sports, analyzing Max Ernst and Vincent van Gogh with the same authority that he brings to discussions of Tiger Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller. In addition to his essays, the volume includes poems, forewords, introductions, letters and book reviews. Best of all, it features Updike’s insights into his own work, with pieces on the novels Gertrude and Claudius, Licks of Love and The Poorhouse Fair. “Gossip of a higher sort” is how Updike once defined a well-written review. As demonstrated in this final collection, he was a pro when it came to sharing inside information, writing in a way that was accessible yet always stylish.

It’s a rare breed, indeed: Maus, Art Spiegelman’s graphic classic from 1986, simply can’t be cornered. A hybrid of historical narrative and illustrated storytelling, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book is based on the experiences of Spiegelman’s father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust to settle in New York City. In an ingenious twist, Spiegelman animalized his characters, casting Nazis as cats and Jews as mice in the maze that was Europe during World War II.

To celebrate the book’s 25th anniversary, Spiegelman has produced MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus, a scrapbook of sorts that explains how the masterpiece came to be. A family-album chapter contains pictures of the main characters (in human form), while an interview with Spiegelman’s father Vladek provides dramatic background. And the author himself answers all the pressing questions—why he took the Holocaust as his topic and the comic book as his medium. Meta­Maus comes with a terrific bonus DVD that features interviews, historical materials and the complete Maus.

In the family tree of Western literature, it’s one of the roots: The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem, is the source of countless symbols, themes and narrative conventions that have stood the test of time. More than 20 years have passed since a new translation of the archetypal work was published in this country. Award-winning author Stephen Mitchell fills the void with his elegant new edition of the epic. Based on M.L. West’s acclaimed 1902 translation of the Greek text, Mitchell’s The Iliad powerful[Fri Aug 22 04:05:55 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. ly communicates the spirit and the spectacle of the classic story through a subtle poetic style that reflects the essence of the original.

Mitchell, who produced much-praised translations of The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and Gilgamesh, brings fresh life to the tale of Achilles, Agamemnon and the Greeks’ sack of Troy, the bloody siege that lasted a decade. Whether you’re reacquainting yourself with the work or coming to it for the first time, you’ll find Mitchell’s interpretation of The Iliad intensely rewarding. Reader, enjoy the spoils.

It’s hard to believe that the story of Peter Pan has been lightening the hearts of readers for a century. Celebrating the birthday of J.M. Barrie’s magical tale in high style, The Annotated Peter Pan: The Centennial Edition contains the complete text of Peter and Wendy, along with informative notes and essays. Assembled by Maria Tatar, chair of Harvard’s folklore program, this volume is a must for those who believe in the power of pixie dust.

Barrie’s mischievous imp made his first appearance in print in The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, written in 1901 for the Llewelyn Davies family, whose puckish children served as sources for Peter’s personality. Only two copies of the book were made. Barrie gave one to the Davies clan, while the other made its way to the Beinecke Library at Yale University, where Tatar discovered it. The Annotated Peter Pan makes it available to readers for the first time, along with other rare Barrie treasures, including his screenplay for a silent movie. Critical commentary regarding the various treatments of Peter on stage and screen provide fresh perspectives on his character, while classic, full-color illustrations bring the text to life.

The Library of America’s gorgeous new boxed set, Harlem Renaissance Novels, pays tribute to a group of writers who left an imprint on the face of a nation through their fearless radicalism, taste for innovation and infectious energy. During the 1920s and ’30s, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance produced some of the country’s most significant literature. In two beautifully designed volumes—Five Novels of the 1920s and Four Novels of the 1930s—the collection brings together narratives from a range of writers whose works merit fresh examination.

Five Novels of the 1920s includes Jean Toomer’s classic Cane, a unique blend of poetry and prose that explores the author’s years as a teacher in Georgia, and Claude McKay’s spirited Jazz Age story, Home to Harlem. Four Novels of the 1930s examines different storytelling modes, from Langston Hughes’ beautifully crafted bildungsroman, Not Without Laughter, to George S. Schuyler’s sci-fi spoof, Black No More. Compiled by African-American studies expert Rafia Zafar, the classics get the lavish treatment they deserve in this impressive collection.

Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 July #2

A slim celebration of the elements of a literary masterpiece—and its moody, obsessive author.

In his 2000 book, In the Heart of the Sea, historian Philbrick (The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn, 2010, etc.) detailed the wreck of the Essex, a whaling ship that would become the model for the Pequod in Herman Melville's 1851 classic, Moby-Dick. Having read the novel more than a dozen times, he's inspired to undertake a brief study of what he feels makes the book so enduring. (However, it took a while to earn classic status, as he points out; a flop when it was first published, the book didn't earn the esteem of critics until after World War I.) The diversity of the crew and Melville's respect for each character anticipates decades of debates about racial tolerance, writes the author, and its interest in matters of religious truth, demagoguery and free enterprise ensure that American readers today can find resonances with contemporary social and political issues. But Philbrick isn't simply hunting for proof of the novel's ongoing "relevance." He praises Melville's acute understanding of "the microclimates of intimate human relations," takes a close look at some of the novel's more powerfully poetic passages and honors the Melville himself, who was plagued with self-doubt while writing the book. Melville's letters to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne—which Philbrick argues are essential to understanding Moby-Dick—reveal the novelist to be struggling with the composition of the novel as well as the spiritual concerns he addressed in it. Philbrick constructs the narrative in brief chapters, often no more than a couple of pages, and his literary analysis is sometimes thin. However, he doesn't want to dwell long on the book's contents, but rather motivate readers to discover the book for themselves.

On that front, mission accomplished: Philbrick is an enthusiastic salesman for a sometimes daunting novel.

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2011 May #2

So you liked Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea, which re-created the wreck of the whaleship Essex, inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby-Dick? Then you'll love Philbrick's new book, which vivifies Melville's classic for modern readers. From a wonderful and knowing writer who's also founding director of the Egan Maritime Institute on Nantucket. I really want to read; with a four-city tour.

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Library Journal Reviews 2011 September #2

Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex), a National Book Award winner and resident of Nantucket, has been an ardent lifelong fan of Moby-Dick. In this brief volume, he aims to diminish the twin threats of a work that is both very long and written in a daunting style by writing in an unacademic style himself to support his contention that "Moby-Dick is nothing less than the genetic code of America." Philbrick conveys his own deep enthusiasm for the book and argues that "whenever a new crisis grips the country, Moby-Dick becomes newly important." In thematic chapters, Philbrick observes Moby-Dick through a variety of lenses--historical, philosophical, biographical, literary, and maritime--all demonstrating the book's ongoing fascinations and the ease with which today's readers can enter the novel's world. VERDICT While Philbrick may not persuade all readers who've been avoiding this tome to give it a try, he should succeed in swaying quite a few. There's nothing especially subtle or insightful here for those who've studied the book, but to entice new readers to Melville's work, it surely deserves consideration.--Charles C. Nash, formerly with Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO

[Page 76]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 August #3

Answering the negative of Philbrick's titular question is easy: Moby-Dick is intimidatingly large, scientifically rigorous, esoteric, and to some, may seem outdated. While the size of The Whale cannot be debated, Philbrick's entreaty is as approachable as it is persuasive. In this cogent and passionate polemic for Melville's masterpiece, Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea) combines a critical eye and a reader's adoration to make a case for Moby-Dick. The plights of the Pequod, Ishmael and Ahab may seem irrelevant (or worse, quaint) compared to today's troubles, but Philbrick opines that within the pages of this American classic lie timeless archetypes whose relevance stretches across human history. Upon the loom of Melville's narrative run numerous threads of insight and argument dealing with subjects as diverse as multiculturalism, homoeroticism, and transcendental experiences of the natural world. Less lit-crit and more readers' guide, this tome will remind fans why they loved the book in the first place, and whet the appetites of trepid potential readers. (Oct.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC