Herman Melville was born into a family that in the fledgling republic had lost both money and status. Toughened at sea as a young man, he returned home to chronicle the deepest crises of his time while forever shaping our literature with Moby-Dick, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd.
Delbanco traces Melville’s growth from the bawdy storytelling of Typee through the spiritual preoccupations building up to Moby-Dick, and the profound disillusionment of later works. He uncovers autobiographical traces throughout Melville’s writing, shows the relentless financial pressure and declining critical and popular esteem that plagued his career, and, above all, illuminate the stunning achievements of his oeuvre. Finally we understand how Melville, more than any other American writer, has captured the popular imagination.