Book explores rich sea life in “Moby-Dick”

Reviewed by JoAnne Fuerst

Tired of binge-watching those mind-numbing programs and movies? During this pandemic, we’ve been warned to exercise regularly and that includes our brain. With extra time for nonessential activities, it’s an opportunity to read a few good books — especially venturing into unfamiliar territory.

Last year, the University of Chicago Press published Richard J. King’s “Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick” (2019, 464 pages). This book is excellent. Even if you haven’t read Melville’s classic of sea literature, you will be amazed at his command of the environmental world that is its setting.

King’s survey is chronological following Meville’s chapters and the whaling ship Pequod’s sea tracks. He fleshes out the characters’ experiences and Melville’s observations with the science of the 19th and 21st centuries. He makes us suddenly realize how Melville on his ocean was as much a “natural philosopher” as Thoreau on his pond.

There are fascinating chapters such as “Gulls, Sea-Ravens and Albatrosses,” “Giant Squid” and “Sharks.” “Phosphorescence,” “Ambergris” and “Coral” are discussed. And, of course, whales of every size and family.

What King says will entertain, inform, amuse and sadden you. The notes aft are themselves interesting and the bibliography and index are welcome.

King is an author, illustrator and educator at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., and is a fellow of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College. He also sails and teaches aboard tall ships.

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