Come to the Sandwich Public Library to hear Dr. Richard King talk about his latest book, Ahab's Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick, on Tuesday evening, November 5 at 6:30 PM. This event is free, but registration is required. Click here to sign up!
Dr. King is a Visiting Associate Professor of Maritime History and Literature at SEA Semester in Woods Hole. His teaching and research focuses on intersections between sea voyage narratives, environmental history, and marine biology. He's the author of Lobster and The Devil's Cormorant: A Natural History. He writes and illustrates a regular column on ocean animals for Sea History magazine, and edits the "Searchable Sea Literature" website.
Although Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is beloved as one of the most profound and enduring works of American fiction, we rarely consider it a work of nature writing—or even a novel of the sea. Yet Pulitzer Prize–winning author Annie Dillard avers Moby-Dick is the “best book ever written about nature,” and nearly the entirety of the story is set on the waves, with scarcely a whiff of land. In fact, Ishmael’s sea yarn is in conversation with the nature writing of Emerson and Thoreau, and Melville himself did much more than live for a year in a cabin beside a pond. He set sail: to the far remote Pacific Ocean, spending more than three years at sea before writing his masterpiece in 1851.
A revelation for Moby-Dick devotees and neophytes alike, Ahab’s Rolling Sea is a chronological journey through the natural history of Melville’s novel. From white whales to whale intelligence, giant squids, barnacles, albatross, and sharks, Richard J. King examines what Melville knew from his own experiences and the sources available to a reader in the mid-1800s, exploring how and why Melville might have twisted what was known to serve his fiction. King then climbs to the crow’s nest, setting Melville in the context of the American perception of the ocean in 1851—at the very start of the Industrial Revolution and just before the publication of On the Origin of Species. King compares Ahab’s and Ishmael’s worldviews to how we see the ocean today: an expanse still immortal and sublime, but also in crisis. And although the concept of stewardship of the sea would have been entirely foreign, if not absurd, to Melville, King argues that Melville’s narrator Ishmael reveals his own tendencies toward what we would now call environmentalism.
Featuring a coffer of illustrations and an array of interviews with contemporary scientists, fishers, and whale watch operators, Ahab’s Rolling Sea offers new insight not only into a cherished masterwork and its author but also into our evolving relationship with the briny deep—from whale hunters to climate refugees.
Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the National Book Award–winning "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" and "Why Read 'Moby-Dick'?"
“Anyone who loves Moby-Dick should read this book.”