Richard J. King
Ahab's Rolling Sea:
A Natural History of Moby-Dick
This event includes a book signing
November 21, 2019
7:00 PM ET
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store welcomes acclaimed writer, marine science educator, and literary scholar RICHARD J. KING for a discussion of his latest book, Ahab's Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick. This event is co-sponsored by Mass Humanities.
About Ahab's Rolling Sea
Although Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is beloved as one of the most profound and enduring works of American fiction, we rarely consider it a work of nature writing—or even a novel of the sea. Yet Pulitzer Prize–winning author Annie Dillard avers Moby-Dick is the “best book ever written about nature,” and nearly the entirety of the story is set on the waves, with scarcely a whiff of land. In fact, Ishmael’s sea yarn is in conversation with the nature writing of Emerson and Thoreau, and Melville himself did much more than live for a year in a cabin beside a pond. He set sail: to the far remote Pacific Ocean, spending more than three years at sea before writing his masterpiece in 1851.
A revelation for Moby-Dick devotees and neophytes alike, Ahab’s Rolling Sea is a chronological journey through the natural history of Melville’s novel. From white whales to whale intelligence, giant squids, barnacles, albatross, and sharks, Richard J. King examines what Melville knew from his own experiences and the sources available to a reader in the mid-1800s, exploring how and why Melville might have twisted what was known to serve his fiction. King then climbs to the crow’s nest, setting Melville in the context of the American perception of the ocean in 1851—at the very start of the Industrial Revolution and just before the publication of On the Origin of Species. King compares Ahab’s and Ishmael’s worldviews to how we see the ocean today: an expanse still immortal and sublime, but also in crisis. And although the concept of stewardship of the sea would have been entirely foreign, if not absurd, to Melville, King argues that Melville’s narrator Ishmael reveals his own tendencies toward what we would now call environmentalism.
Featuring a coffer of illustrations and an array of interviews with contemporary scientists, fishers, and whale watch operators, Ahab’s Rolling Sea offers new insight not only into a cherished masterwork and its author but also into our evolving relationship with the briny deep—from whale hunters to climate refugees.
Praise for Ahab's Rolling Sea
“King decisively settles any lingering questions about Moby-Dick, nineteenth-century whales and whaling, and all lore and literature of the sea. More than establishing a factual basis for Ishmael’s fiction-making, King writes passionately on climate change, economic pressures on sea creatures, and the future Melville confronts in his marvelous encounter with the ‘wonder-world’ of whaling. . . . even if you haven’t read Moby-Dick, you will revel in this storehouse of fascinating tales and arcana, from Ambergris to Zeuglodon. A treasure for library, classroom, or bedside table.” —Wyn Kelley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of Melville's City: Literary and Urban Form in Nineteenth-Century New York and Herman Melville: An Introduction
“It took me decades to appreciate that Melville’s messy, uncontainable, surging Moby-Dick is perhaps the greatest book ever written about the sea, and about the human relationship with the living world, and perhaps the only book sufficiently un-jaded by mercantilism and modernity to be worthy of the actual ocean itself in all its raw, uncontrollable, surging majesty. But if you don’t want to wait decades for Melville’s magnificence to be revealed, you can cheat and read King’s book. Ahab’s Rolling Sea is a marvelous guide to the magic and mystery that was Melville’s gift to us.” —Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas
“Ahab’s Rolling Sea is a wide-ranging, highly personal, richly eclectic, and extremely well-researched book whose style and humor, combined with its rigor, suggest the potential for popularity even beyond the fascinations of this self-confessed whalehead. Who could not warm to a chapter titled ‘Gulls, Sea-Ravens, and Albatrosses’ or ‘Sword-Fish and Lively Grounds,’ or be intrigued by ‘Phosphorescence’? There’s a Melvillean romance here, and it sits especially well with King’s love and empathy for human as well as natural history. A contemporary, witty, almost postmodern field guide.” —Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
Unable to attend a Harvard Book Store author event? You can still pre-order a signed book by one of our visiting authors.
While we can't guarantee fulfillment of a signed book pre-order, our authors are almost always able to sign extra books to fulfill such orders.
Ordering a signed book on harvard.com:
- Add the book to your shopping cart and then click Checkout.
- Specify in Order Comments that you want a signed copy of the book.
- Please note: online orders for signed copies must be placed at least one business day before the event. If you are ordering the day of, please call us instead.
Ordering a signed book by phone:
- Call us at (617) 661-1515 and one of our booksellers will take your order. Specify you'd like a signed copy.
- If you are requesting a personalized inscription and/or requesting your book be shipped, we'll need to take down credit card information. If you are planning to pick up the signed book in the store, you can pay on pick-up.
Can I request a personalized inscription?
Unless otherwise noted, we are happy to take requests for the author to sign your book to a specific person, but we can't guarantee it. If you do get a personalized inscription, the book will be non-returnable. We will require credit card information when you place the order.
Do signed books cost more?
There is no extra fee for a signed book!
Do I have to pick it up in the store, or can you deliver my signed book?
As with all web or phone orders, we can hold your book for in-store pickup, or ship it anywhere in the country.
I am planning to attend an author event. Do I need to pre-order a book?
No need. We'll be selling books at the event, and nearly all of our events include a signing at the end of the talk.
More questions? Give us a call!
Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at masshumanities.org.
Featured event books will be for sale at the event. Thank you for supporting this author series with your purchases.
Tote bags and pouches
in a variety of styles,
sizes, and designs, plus mugs, bookmarks, and more!
Shipping & Pickup
We ship anywhere in the U.S. and orders of $75+ ship free via media mail!Learn More »
Noteworthy Signed Books: Join the Club!
Join our Signed First Edition Club (or give a gift subscription) for a signed book of great literary merit, delivered to you monthly.Learn More »