Nathaniel Philbrick

American works of enduring power.



Nathaniel Philbrick has long loved the sea. Brown’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978, he won the National Book Award in 2000 for his maritime history, In the Heart of the Sea, and his account of the founding of the Plymouth colony, Mayflower, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. His new book, Why Read Moby-Dick?, launches a spirited argument for the necessity of a book that critics once dismissed (and students sometimes approach with dread). When we asked him to recommend three favorites, Philbrick responded with a trio of American classics, including, of course, the masterwork also known as The White Whale.


Books by Nathaniel Philbrick




By Herman Melville


"Moby-Dick is the one book I treasure above all others. It may be about a maimed Nantucket whaling captain on a demented quest to kill a white whale, but it's also about so much more -- all delivered with a seemingly boundless poetic energy. For me, it's the voice of the narrator Ishmael that makes the novel truly indispensable: he's a quirky, likeable smart alec who comes as close as anyone ever has to explaining the meaning of this unfathomable life."



Mosses from an Old Manse

By Nathaniel Hawthorne


"Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote several important novels, but his short stories are where he really shines. I'd suggest starting with the collection Mosses from an Old Manse -- the book that inspired Melville to rewrite Moby-Dick into the masterpiece it is today -- but just about every story he ever wrote places the human psyche in an exquisitely observed historical setting."



Absolom, Absolom!

By William Faulkner


"When it comes to giving history a mythic and yet personal urgency, I will always look to William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! as the ultimate novel. He found a way to combine Melville's cosmic sprawl with Hawthorne's creepy specificity to create the greatest southern novel ever written."

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.