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Why should you read “Moby Dick”? - Sascha Morrell

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A mountain separating two lakes. A room papered floor to ceiling with bridal satins. The lid of an immense snuffbox. These seemingly unrelated images take us on a tour of a sperm whale’s head in Herman Melville’s "Moby Dick." Though the book features pirates, typhoons, high-speed chases, and giant squid, it’s anything but a conventional seafaring adventure. Sascha Morrell digs into the classic novel.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Sascha Morrell
  • Director Martina Meštrović
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt
  • Animator Martina Meštrović
  • Storyboard Artist Martina Meštrović
  • Art Director Martina Meštrović
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is recognized as one of the most important American novels of all time, but why? The book not only offers a wild ocean adventure filled with memorable characters, but also explores the realms of philosophy, science, history and politics with great energy and tragicomic insight. To follow Ahab’s quest to avenge himself on the white whale, readers must navigate some of life’s deepest mysteries.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has links to a variety of excellent resources on the life and work of Herman Melville and whaling history, which can be found here.

The museum partners with the Melville Society Culture Project to host an annual marathon reading of Moby-Dick. You can also hear Moby-Dick read aloud by a range of celebrity readers, from David Attenborough to Tilda Swinton, in The Moby-Dick Big Read.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville’s birth, the New Yorker offered an informative biography and overview of Melville’s career.

The article discusses Arrowhead, Melville’s country estate in the Berkshires, which is now open to the public as a museum. See the Berkshire Historical Society website.

Moby-Dick’s narrator Ishmael is fascinated by science, but cetacean science has come a long way since Melville was writing. For more up to date information on the natural history of the sperm whale, see this page from the International Whaling Commission.

Melville’s science might be out of date, but many commentators have read Moby-Dick as a prophetic text, which anticipates some of the major conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In this Guardian article, Phillip Hoare argues that Moby-Dick is “the novel for our times”:

As Hoare’s article suggests, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is often cited as an example of the “Great American Novel”, a term referring to those novels which achieve artistic greatness while addressing fundamental questions about what it means to be (U.S.) American. For an overview of this concept, see Lawrence Buell’s recent study: Lawrence Buell's The Great American Novel

Moby-Dick is full of vivid descriptions, on the most minute and the grandest scales. A number of brave artists have attempted to illustrate the novel. For an overview of their efforts, see this page.


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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Sascha Morrell
  • Director Martina Meštrović
  • Narrator Adrian Dannatt
  • Animator Martina Meštrović
  • Storyboard Artist Martina Meštrović
  • Art Director Martina Meštrović
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more