According to Robert Finch in the introduction to The Norton Book of Nature Writing, "no less a nature writer than Annie Dillard has called [Moby-Dick] 'the best book ever written about nature.'" It may seem odd at first to view a book about killing whales as nature writing, but in view of "Cetology," "The Grand Armada," etc., Dillard's claim makes sense.
Indeed, Moby-Dick can be considered "the best book ever written" about a lot of things. Depending on which chapters you turn to, it's:
- A ripping sea story.
- A psychological drama.
- A philosophical novel.
- A meditation on religion.
- A book about ships and the days of sail.
- An in-depth study of an industry.
- An exploration of the life of the working man.
- A travelogue.
There are probably others I'm forgetting.
During the marathon, I sometimes amuse myself by wondering which aspect of Moby-Dick attracts the people around me. There are the aging environmentalists and the emo youths; the culture vultures, subclass bohemian, and the culture vulture, subclass bourgeois. There are haunted souls draped in black, doughy book nuts in sweatpants and untucked shirts, and autodidact laborers whose New England accents you could cut with a knife. And maybe even a Marxist academic faux-laborer in a blue workshirt and steel-toed boots. Nevertheless, we all get along and take pleasure in the mix.