King lays bare the background to Moby-Dick by moving through the voyage of the Pequod, exploring topics in marine biology, oceanography, and the science of navigation as Ishmael raises them in the novel.
... a light-hearted and incredibly enjoyable read that manages somehow, at the right moments, to be both broad and narrow in scope. It should be required reading for anyone attempting Moby-Dick ... No captive of the library, King is an experienced seaman and an open-minded and intrepid guide ... Inevitably, a book about a book will begin to assume the shape of its source material. Even so, King writes ably and in scholarly detail about albatrosses, ambergris, baleen, barnacles, seals, sharks, sperm whale behavior and language, swordfish, typhoons, and all sorts of marine and cetological marginalia ... If there is a gentle criticism to make, it is that King writes so well about the places he visits and the people he meets that I found myself hoping for more of his reportage. He is too talented and clear-eyed a writer to confine himself to literary criticism.
A fascinating, timely exploration of Melville's (and our) watery world ... a reading for our Anthropocenic era, a chance to find symbols appropriate for our current environmental crisis in this 1851 masterpiece ... [King] combines his love of Melville’s novel with a technical background that is rare among literary scholars ... The science in Ahab’s Rolling Sea includes a lively review of Melville’s research. One wonderful aspect of the book is its illustrations, both 19th-century engravings familiar to Melville and contemporary graphics that bring the information up to date ... As in Melville’s novel, the science here is accurate.
What can we learn from Melville’s workup? King recovers lost resonances ... To ‘Moby Dickheads’, Ahab’s Rolling Sea is a treasure trove. King situates Melville as a person of his time, writing amid a quickening pace of discoveries about the natural world but, pre-On the Origin of Species, inclined to couch them as further disclosures of God’s design. Still, Moby-Dick prefigures Darwin ‘by de-centering the human’ ... Less convincing is King’s gloss on the book as a ‘proto-environmentalist’ text, with Ahab as a stand-in for ‘Big Oil’.