Love for a book is a special kind of love. It makes you do odd things, like order personalized license plates for your car, tattoo your body, or devote your entire life to research. It was my love of a book that lead me to this book. No, I don't love Moby Dick—though I do think it is a wonderful story and certainly one to learn from—no, the story I love is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. In researching EoE I learned of the books that Steinbeck considered great influences to his masterpiece; the one that seemed to be most mentioned was Moby Dick. Immediately Melville's book went from the “maybe some day I'll read this” pile to the “soon, very soon” pile. Yet, after I read it I wanted more. I wanted to understand more of the background and significance that perhaps Steinbeck, in his day, knew. This led me to Why Read Moby-Dick?.
Philbrick's exploration of Melville's crowning literary achievement is well-researched and informative. For the most part he tackles the subjects he wished to address as they appear chronologically in the book. With various additional references, there is great insight into Melville's process of thought and life circumstances during the years he penned the novel. Philbrick makes some excellent observations to start, but then he mostly repeats these, reiterating what he's already said. This would be acceptable if that's all Melville was trying to say, but there seem to be so many layers left uncovered or glossed over. Throughout Philbrick's little book he shows the relationship that existed between Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and this was all very interesting.
Overall Why Read Moby-Dick? was good, but I think so much more could have been said. And a little less could have been said elsewhere. If you love Moby Dick this is a must read. Otherwise, just ask someone else who has read it for a summary and read Melville's original instead.