Books: Track of the White Whale

THE TRYING-OUT OF MOBY-DICK (400 pp.)—Howard P. Vincent—Houghton Mifflin ($5).

At first, all Herman Melville wanted to do was to write an exciting story. His earlier novels, lively adventure stories of the South Seas, were gobbled up by the public and he was a quick success. In 1850, the cocky young writer set his hand to turning out another brisk and profitable sea tale. But what began as an uncomplicated whaling yarn ended as Moby-Dick, a masterpiece dense with symbolic meanings.

What happened to Melville in 1850? To find out, Professor Howard Vincent has...

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