Perhaps the most famous American novel that the fewest people have read. In fact, for many people the book itself is the white whale – intimidating to contemplate, woeful to confront. There are certainly a lot of problems with *Moby Dick*, especially for the modern reader. This minimal plot moves at a very slow pace. Melville is excessively long-winded, giving us half a dozen complex metaphors with obscure historical references in one paragraph where one clean comparison might have been more effective.

So what is GOOD about the book? Surprisingly, there is a lot of humor. We tend to think of this classic as a great tragedy but Melville is adept at wry descriptions of his characters and sarcastic comments on human nature. The characters are interesting, especially Queequeg the harpooner. And the philosophy about man’s relationship to the universe is interesting if you take the time to think about it as you go. And finally there is the last 50 pages. Melville’s description of the white whale is stunning in its beauty and power. He tightens up the metaphors and delivers a powerful description of man against nature, with the sea and the whale trying to destroy the humans.

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