Book Review: Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville

I finally finished it!!! WAHOO!!!! I’ve been reading this book since January, and it seemed to take forever. I ended up liking it, and being thankful that I read it, but I’ll probably never read it again.

IMG_4033Moby-Dick tells the story of Captain Ahab and his relentless pursuit of the White Whale, Moby-Dick, putting the lives of himself and his crew at stake. That’s pretty much the plot, and while the book is long, there isn’t a lot of story here. Most of the book seems to be lengthy discourses in whale education. Which was interesting (some of it), but it dragged on for too long, and I felt like I was reading a textbook.

I read this book primarily on my lunch break at work, so I’d get about 15-20 minutes of reading a day, and it took at least a month for the ominous Captain Ahab to appear. I really had Ahab built up in my mind, and he did not disappoint. He was as crazy and determined as I expected.

In terms of other characters, I really liked the harpooner Queequeg and chief mate Starbuck (yes, the name Starbucks is a reference to his character). The other characters blended together, so I don’t have much to say about them.

The one thing that really surprised me in this book is that it is funny. There is humor throughout, and I did not expect that at all.

There is so much information about whales and whaling in this book that in parts it feels like nonfiction. I was really fascinated with how they dismantled the whale and what they did with all the whale parts. Who was the first person to come up with that??!! I especially was interested by ambergris, a substance secreted by the sperm whale that is used in perfumes. But there were parts where my eyes glazed over and I didn’t really understand what the author was talking about, and I sure didn’t want to re-read and try to figure it out.

What is clear in the book is the respect, the awe of the sperm whale that Herman Melville has. He repeatedly speaks of the sperm whale almost tenderly, and he also touches on the very dangerous job of being a whaler.

All in all, I’m glad that I can say that I have read this, and I totally get why some people would really love this adventure story. There were parts of the book that had me enthralled, and I was desperate to read on. But then those textbook parts would come along and take me out of the narrative. For me, I probably won’t be reading Moby-Dick again, but I will think of Captain Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, and Starbuck on occasion with fondness.

Bottom Line: A bit dry in many places, but worth a read if you’ve never read it before. Captain Ahab is very memorable.

You might like to read:

  • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier: Fascinating historical fiction that tells the story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot and their fossil hunting.

Added to my TBR list:

  • Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund: Captain Ahab’s wife is the focus of this book. It’s been on my shelf for awhile now, time to move it up the list!
  • In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick: A nonfiction account of the tragedy that inspired Moby Dick. Plus, they’ve also just made this into a movie.

And now that I’ve finished with one of my classics to read in 2016, I think I’ll go ahead and jump right in to my next classic, Great Expectations. At this rate, hopefully I can get three or four classics in this year! Any suggestions??



5 thoughts on “Book Review: Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville

  1. I haven’t read this yet I hate to admit and although I love watching whales when in Maui, I don’t know if I would want to read about whaling. Thanks for a thoughtful critique of a classic that we all have heard about, but probably not so many have read. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I have such a greater appreciation for whales now – I must admit I’m now fascinated by them. The whale parts in the book while dry do have their really interesting bits. The writing is just beautiful in places, and Ahab is a fascinating character.


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