by Herman Melville


by Herman Melville


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Herman Melville's classic American novel

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781509826643
Publisher: Macmillan Collector's Library
Publication date: 11/01/2016
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 59,677
Product dimensions: 3.80(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.50(d)
Lexile: 1200L (what's this?)

About the Author

Herman Melville

bHester Blum/b is Professor of English at The Pennsylvania State University. She is the author of The View from the Masthead: Maritime Imagination and Antebellum American Sea Narratives (2008) and The News at the Ends of the Earth: The Print Culture of Polar Exploration (2019), as well as several edited volumes. Blum is past president of the Herman Melville Society, and her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She participated in the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan, the world's last surviving wooden whaleship and the sister ship to the Acushnet, in which Melville sailed.

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.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1Loomings17
Chapter 2The Carpet-Bag22
Chapter 3The Spouter-Inn26
Chapter 4The Counterpane41
Chapter 5Breakfast45
Chapter 6The Street47
Chapter 7The Chapel50
Chapter 8The Pulpit53
Chapter 9The Sermon56
Chapter 10A Bosom Friend65
Chapter 11Nightgown69
Chapter 12Biographical71
Chapter 13Wheelbarrow73
Chapter 14Nantucket78
Chapter 15Chowder80
Chapter 16The Ship83
Chapter 17The Ramadan97
Chapter 18His Mark103
Chapter 19The Prophet107
Chapter 20All Astir111
Chapter 21Going Aboard113
Chapter 22Merry Christmas117
Chapter 23The Lee Shore121
Chapter 24The Advocate122
Chapter 25Postscript127
Chapter 26Knights and Squires128
Chapter 27Knights and Squires131
Chapter 28Ahab136
Chapter 29Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb139
Chapter 30The Pipe142
Chapter 31Queen Mab143
Chapter 32Cetology146
Chapter 33The Specksynder159
Chapter 34The Cabin-Table162
Chapter 35The Mast-Head168
Chapter 36The Quarter-Deck, Ahab and All174
Chapter 37Sunset182
Chapter 38Dusk184
Chapter 39First Night-Watch185
Chapter 40Midnight, Forecastle186
Chapter 41Moby-Dick193
Chapter 42The Whiteness of the Whale203
Chapter 43Hark!212
Chapter 44The Chart213
Chapter 45The Affidavit218
Chapter 46Surmises227
Chapter 47The Mat-Maker230
Chapter 48The First Lowering233
Chapter 49The Hyena243
Chapter 50Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah245
Chapter 51The Spirit-Spout248
Chapter 52The Albatross252
Chapter 53The Gam254
Chapter 54The Town-Ho's Story259
Chapter 55Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales279
Chapter 56Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, etc.284
Chapter 57Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; etc.288
Chapter 58Brit290
Chapter 59Squid293
Chapter 60The Line296
Chapter 61Stubb Kills a Whale300
Chapter 62The Dart305
Chapter 63The Crotch306
Chapter 64Stubb's Supper308
Chapter 65The Whale As a Dish316
Chapter 66The Shark Massacre318
Chapter 67Cutting In320
Chapter 68The Blanket322
Chapter 69The Funeral325
Chapter 70The Sphynx327
Chapter 71The Jeroboam's Story329
Chapter 72The Monkey-Rope335
Chapter 73Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale, etc.340
Chapter 74The Sperm Whale's Head-Contrasted View345
Chapter 75The Right Whale's Head-Contrasted View350
Chapter 76The Battering-Ram353
Chapter 77The Great Heidelburgh Tun355
Chapter 78Cistern and Buckets357
Chapter 79The Praire361
Chapter 80The Nut364
Chapter 81The Pequod Meets the Virgin366
Chapter 82The Honor and Glory of Whaling378
Chapter 83Jonah Historically Regarded381
Chapter 84Pitchpoling383
Chapter 85The Fountain385
Chapter 86The Tail391
Chapter 87The Grand Armada395
Chapter 88Schools and Schoolmasters408
Chapter 89Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish411
Chapter 90Heads or Tails415
Chapter 91The Pequod Meets the Rose-Bud418
Chapter 92Ambergris425
Chapter 93The Castaway428
Chapter 94A Squeeze of the Hand432
Chapter 95The Cassock436
Chapter 96The Try-Works437
Chapter 97The Lamp442
Chapter 98Stowing Down and Clearing Up443
Chapter 99The Doubloon446
Chapter 100The Pequod Meets the Samuel Enderby of London452
Chapter 101The Decanter459
Chapter 102A Bower in the Arsacides464
Chapter 103Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton468
Chapter 104The Fossil Whale471
Chapter 105Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?475
Chapter 106Ahab's Leg479
Chapter 107The Carpenter482
Chapter 108Ahab and the Carpenter485
Chapter 109Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin489
Chapter 110Queequeg in His Coffin492
Chapter 111The Pacific498
Chapter 112The Blacksmith499
Chapter 113The Forge502
Chapter 114The Gilder505
Chapter 115The Pequod Meets the Bachelor507
Chapter 116The Dying Whale510
Chapter 117The Whale Watch512
Chapter 118The Quadrant513
Chapter 119The Candles516
Chapter 120The Deck523
Chapter 121Midnight-The Forecastle Bulwarks524
Chapter 122Midnight Aloft526
Chapter 123The Musket526
Chapter 124The Needle530
Chapter 125The Log and Line533
Chapter 126The Life-Buoy536
Chapter 127The Deck540
Chapter 128The Pequod Meets the Rachel542
Chapter 129The Cabin546
Chapter 130The Hat548
Chapter 131The Pequod Meets the Delight552
Chapter 132The Symphony554
Chapter 133The Chase-First Day558
Chapter 134The Chase-Second Day567
Chapter 135The Chase-Third Day576
Criticism and Context
Herman Melville: A Biographical Note590
Moby-Dick and Its Contemporary Reviews607
Moby-Dick and Its Modern Critics619
from Herman Melville619
"Seven Moby-Dicks"629
"The Tragic Meaning of Moby-Dick"645
from "Herman Melville's Moby-Dick"654
"The Fire Symbolism in Moby-Dick"662
Recommended Reading668

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2012 Fifty Books/Fifty Covers show, organized by Design Observer in association with AIGA and Designers & Books

Praise for Penguin Drop Caps:

“Vibrant, minimalist new typographic covers…. Bonus points for the heartening gender balance of the initial selections.”
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

"The Penguin Drop Caps series is a great example of the power of design. Why buy these particular classics when there are less expensive, even free editions of Great Expectations? Because they’re beautiful objects. Paul Buckley and Jessica Hische’s fresh approach to the literary classics reduces the design down to typography and color. Each cover is foil-stamped with a cleverly illustrated letterform that reveals an element of the story. Jane Austen’s A (Pride and Prejudice) is formed by opulent peacock feathers and Charlotte Bronte’s B (Jane Eyre) is surrounded by flames. The complete set forms a rainbow spectrum prettier than anything else on your bookshelf."
—Rex Bonomelli, The New York Times


"Classic reads in stunning covers—your book club will be dying."

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?

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