Why this book?
Moby-Dick is the granddaddy of all whaling books. It has what one might call a split personality. A huge chunk of the novel offers a vivid in-depth history of cetology and whaling, in which Melville focuses most of his virtuosic descriptive ability on the golden age, taking liberally from his own experience aboard the whaleship Acushnet in the early 1840s. It is here that Melville creates an indelible image of what whaling was in the mid-nineteenth century, and why this industry was so emblematic of pre–Civil War America. Most of the rest of the book is a cautionary tale about Captain Ahab and his hatred of and obsession with the white whale, which in turn destroys him spiritually, emotionally, physically, and existentially. It’s a wild read!