Moby Dick by the Numbers

atkins-bookshelf-literatureTo the Google Generation Moby-Dick might be mistaken for a music artist or some bizarre sex toy, but four hundred years later Melville’s 135-chapter magnum opus is still considered the Great American Novel — a masterful exploration of man’s epic struggle with evil. When it was first published in the fall of 1851, the novel barely made a splash. It took almost a decade for the novel’s profound impact to sink in; Melville scholar Nathaniel Philbrick notes: “[The] majority of writers who encountered this improbable book in the first half of the twentieth century were stunned and deeply influenced his how Melville conveyed the specifics of a past world even as he luxuriated in the flagrant and erratic impulses of his own creative process.” Some of the greatest American writers not only admired Melville, but envied him. Legendary writer, William Faulkner, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, went so far as to claim that Moby-Dick was the one novel he wished that he had written.

Philbrick observes that although Moby-Dick is one of the most famous American classics, alongside The Great Gatsby and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is read with the most reluctance — or worse, not at all, since students would rather read the Cliff Notes online. Like the titular whale, the book is a beast, topping out at 135 chapters and more than 600 pages; Philbrick appropriately concludes: “It is too long and too maddeningly digressive to be properly appreciated by a sleep-deprived adolescent, particularly in this age of digital distractions.”

Enter Bookshelf’s fresh, cursory analysis of Moby-Dick by the numbers, eschewing the penetrating, profound literary, philosophical, and cytological exploration of the Melville’s brilliant literary masterpiece — perfectly suited for sleep-deprived, digitally-distracted, twitter-fed students. Consider it Moby-Dick lite: full of delicious tidbits, but only half the calories. Call me #Ishmael and let’s board the good ship Pequod and begin our numeric journey. 

Number of pages in American Edition: 635
Number of pages in UK Edition: 943 pages (printed in 3 volumes, Vol. 1: 312; Vol. 2: 303; Vol. 3: 328)
Number of words: 209,117

Number of chapters: 135
Shortest chapter: Number 122, 36 words
Longest chapter: Number 54, 7,938 words
Number of words that British censors felt were sacrilegious: 1,200
Time it took Melville to write Moby-Dick: 18 months (1850-1851)
Number of copies in first printing: 2,915
Number of copies of Moby-Dick sold in Melville’s lifetime: 3,215 (U.S.); 500 (U.K.)
Melville’s total earnings for Moby-Dick: $1,259.45
Melville’s widow’s earnings for Moby-Dick: $81 (1898)
Cost of a first edition in 1851: $1.50
Value of a first edition of Moby-Dick: $75,000 (as of August 2021)

Size of sperm whale (according to Ishmael): 90 feet long, 40-foot circumference, weight 90 tons
Amount of food a sperm whale consumes daily: 1 ton
Size of modern-day sperm whale: 60 feet, 40-50 tons
Weight of sperm whale’s brain: 17 pounds
Weight of a sperm whale’s heart: 250 pounds
Average value of sperm whale (meat and oil) in 1850: $300
Value of ambergris (sperm whale poop) today: $180,000 (used in luxury fragrances)
Number of characters named after biblical characters: 3 (Ishmael, Ahab, and Elijah)
Number of crew members aboard The Pequod: 30
Number of nationalities in the crew: 18
Number of whaling ships encounters by Ahab’s ship: 8
Number of ships to sight Ahab’s great white whale: 4
Number of harpooners on the Pequod: 4
Number of whales killed by Ahab’s crew before encounter with Moby-Dick: 5
Number of mates on the Pequod: 3
Number of coffee chain corporations named after the first mate of the Pequod: 1
Amount of royalties that Melville earned from Starbucks coffee chain: $0
Number of crew members named after a Dickens character: 1 (Pip)
Number of Ahab’s crew killed by white whale: 28
Number of limbs consumed by the white whale: 2

Read related posts: Why Read Moby Dick?
Who Are the Greatest Shakespeare Characters?
The Most Influential People Who Never Lived
The Power of Literature
The Most Influential Authors
The Most Influential Characters in Literature

For further reading: Why Read Moby-Dick by Nathaniel Philbrick (2011)
Infographic Guide to Literature by Joanna Eliot (2014)

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