Written by the American, Herman Melville (1819-91),
Melville dedicated the book to his friend and neighbour, Nathaniel Hawthorne, pictured
right below, author of The Scarlet
The 1830’s or 1840’s, aboard the whaling ship, the
Its captain, Ahab, is obsessed with killing the great white
- Gregory Peck played Ahab, in the 1956 film.
- Starbucks, the coffee chain, was named after Ahab’s
- Moby-Dick was a favourite book of Steve Jobs,
Apple's legendary boss (pictured right below)
Ahab, the Pequod’s captain.
Ishmael, book’s narrator and senior crew member.
Moby-Dick, great white whale.
Starbuck, Ahab’s deputy.
Queequeg, Starbuck’s skilled harpooner and Ishmael’s best friend.
Ishmael befriends a Polynesian harpooner, Queequeg in Nantucket, Massachusetts. They
decide to work on a whaling ship, the Pequod.
Its egotistic captain is Ahab who lost a leg, battling with the legendary great white
whale, Moby-Dick. He announces to the crew his ruthless determination to pursue and kill it.
His deputy is a kind Quaker, Starbuck, and his other harpooners are:
- Tashtego (Native American).
- Fedallah's harpooning crew (secretly added to the crew by Ahab).
Starbuck’s deputies are:
The Pequod meets another ship, the Samuel Enderby. Its English
captain, Boomer, lost an arm hunting Moby-Dick and can’t understand Ahab’s vengeful
determination to kill it.
Queequeg falls ill and asks the ship’s carpenter to make him a coffin which he keeps.
Two more ships appear, both of which have unsuccessfully tried to kill Moby-Dick.
Ahab is kind to Pip, the African American cabin boy, who goes mad after being left behind in
Starbuck considers killing Ahab to stop his obsession with the whale, which has led to neglect of their cargo
(oil barrels start to leak). But his pacifist Quaker beliefs stop him.
Ahab refuses to help to look for the missing son of the captain of another ship, the
Finally, Moby-Dick is sighted and battle commences. Fedallah and then Ahab are caught in the harpoon rope and
The ship sinks and the only survivor is Ishmael, saved by Queequeg’s coffin and rescued by the
Rachel whose captain is still looking for his son.
Lessons from Ahab’s leadership
1. Objectives must be challenging and clear – but
Ahab has clear objectives (to kill Moby-Dick).
But his paranoid obsession blinds him to his inevitable failure.
Starbuck (Leo Genn, pictured right, in the film) is even forced to consider killing him to stop his
2. Motivation is a must
Ahab (pictured right with his crew in the film):
- communicates his objective to kill Moby-Dick clearly to his men at the start of the
- persuades everyone (except Starbuck) to do it.
To motivate them, he has to rely on:
- the force of his personality.
- the reward of a Spanish gold coin for Moby-Dick’s killer.
3. Look, listen and learn
Ahab (Gregory Peck, pictured right, in the film) refuses to listen to the advice of Captain Boomer and
Starbuck about Moby-Dick’s murderous invincibility.
4. Be honest with yourself
Ahab’s tremendous over-confidence gives him an unrealistic view of his ability.
5. Vengeance is a vice
Physically and psychologically scarred by his previous battle with Moby-Dick, Ahab’s devilish lust for
revenge is disastrous.
6. Adapt your leadership style to the situation
Ahab’s autocratic style is justified, because vital to killing a whale are:
Co-operation between crew members is also essential, and he manages to achieve this
through creating a good team spirit.
For example, he introduces the ritual of everyone drinking from the same flagon.
7. Be tough but kind
Ahab (pictured right) is
- a tough (but fair) disciplinarian.
He cares for Pip and is particularly appreciative of his harpooners
whose skills are so vital to killing Moby-Dick.
He calls them “most honourable gentlemen and noble men” and drinks with them.
8. Pick the right people
- needs the best possible crew.
- smuggles on board his own harpooners (led by Fedallah).
Key quote on
Ignorance is the parent of fear, Ishmael
Key quotes on religion
Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs and even from these clear doubts she gathers her most vital hope,
I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult
any other person, because the other person don’t believe it also, Ishmael
Key quotes on learning and wisdom
A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard,. Ishmael
There is a wisdom that is woe, but there is a woe that is madness, Ishmael
Other key quotes
Call me Ishmael, the book’s famous opening line.
Two literature websites to