Review #18: Moby-Dick

Never trust an angry whale, or books about them

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Moby-Dick

Moby Dick is a boring book. Someone told me this many years ago, and naturally I believed it. But the book a classic, a must-read. And when you do start reading Herman Melville’s famous work, it appears to be very interesting.

But it’s all a lie. Avast! It’s a boring book! It lulls you into interest from its first line: “Call me Ishmael.” The narrator’s friendship with the cannibal Queequeg in the early chapters is intriguing and promising; the native is a cannibal after all. But nobody gets eaten in this dull book, at least not by a cannibal. And after a few borderline surprising encounters with Ishmael’s new pagan friend, the story slips into an overly-descriptive travelogue.

The reason the book is boring is because nothing happens. The main story takes place aboard Captain Ahab’s whaling ship, the Pequod. Sent out on a three-year whaling journey, Ahab’s true intent is to exact revenge on Moby Dick, the whale that in a prior journey bit off the captain’s leg. It sounds very romantic and exciting, but it’s not.

There is some examination over what revenge does in the heart of a man, as there should be in a book deemed a classic. But the bulk of the book’s 135 chapters and epilogue are consumed with dry descriptions of ship parts and the work of whaling. There’s even an entire chapter devoted to describing books about whales. It’s a book describing books. While it’s all good content for someone doing a report on the whaling industry, it doesn’t move the story along. Even with hundreds of pages at his disposal, the author barely fleshes out the major characters.

It’s not just me who thinks the book is boring; Herman Melville agrees with me. That’s certainly why he plays around with different styles of writing within the book. Chapter 108 tells its part of the story in the form of a theatrical play. But even this can’t save the narrative.

The book does end with an intense battle scene, making for great Hollywood action. But it comes too little, too late. If you want to learn about revenge, try The Count of Monte Cristo instead. If it’s exciting whale battles you seek, skip to the last three or four chapters of Moby-Dick. You won’t miss much by skipping the hundred-plus introductory chapters.

The Well-Read Man Project

For more information about this book, visit its Well-Read Man Project page.

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Tim Patrick is a software architect and developer with more than 30 years of experience in designing and building custom software solutions. He is the author of multiple books on Microsoft technologies, and was selected as a Microsoft MVP for his support to the programming community. Tim earned his degree in computer science from Seattle Pacific University.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Sure, there’s plenty of use arguing with me. Isn’t that part of the point of reading classic books, trying to grapple with the ideas they convey, and arguing with the books and with others about the deeper meanings? Moby-Dick is the 18th book in my project, and to be absolutely honest with you, it impacted me much less than the others that came before it. But it’s likely that I am missing something; it is a classic, after all. If you have something more to say about the book than “You are wrong,” I’m waiting to hear it. Go ahead: convince me.

  2. Totally agree with the review.

    I’m very well read and this is the most boring book I have ever had the misfortune to read in my life. 20+ Chapters before a ship was seen, 47 Chapters before a whale and so far 60+ chapters of drivel. It “may” be well written drivel, but it remains drivel. I’m afraid people who say this is a classic have probably not actually read it or they are so up themselves that they couldn’t possibly tell their dinner party and cocktail guests that they “got a bit bored” with it.

    At least War and Peace had things actually happening in it and not an entire chapter about the colour white, or different types of ropes, or how to (incorrectly) classify whales. I have lost count of the amount of times I’ve almost fallen asleep reading this “classic”.

  3. Thank God! I thought it was just me. I have never in my life read such a totally boring book as Moby Dick!

    I’m only reading it because it’s a classic. I’ve been led to believe that we should all be interested in the classics.

    Well, I am, but this book, about half the size of War and Peace, has taken me about twice as long to read.

    I have only 50 pages left and can’t wait until the torture is over!

  4. I totally agree with you. I’ve been reading it for about two months now and I’ve only read about the half of it. I wanted to read it since it was hailed as a classic and what not, but it’s just rubbish.

  5. I completely agree with you.

    I’m a voracious reader and I also listen to books rather than music when out running, and Moby Dick both in print and in audio format is BORING.

    Yes there are some funnies, crude sexual jokes, and there are funny observances, but overall, big fat bore.

  6. I’m Ultra late to this party, but I totally agree, I’m about 3/4 of the way through and I’m only going to finish out of stubbornness. Zero character or story development, the odd comic flourish does not a classic make.

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