The Moby Dick Big Read: Celebrities and Everyday Folk Read a Chapter a Day from the Great American Novel

“Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it stands over and above all other works of fiction, since it is barely a work of fiction itself. Rather, it is an explosive exposition of one man’s investigation into the world of the whale, and the way humans have related to it. Yet it is so much more than that.”

That’s how Plymouth University introduces Herman Melville’s classic tale from 1851. And it’s what sets the stage for their web project launched earlier this week. It’s called The Moby Dick Big Read, and it features celebrities and lesser known figures reading all 135 chapters from Moby Dick — chapters that you can start downloading (as free audio files) on a rolling, daily basis. Find them on iTunesSoundcloud, RSS Feed, or the Big Read web site itself.

The project started with the first chapters being read by Tilda Swinton (Chapter 1), Captain R.N. Hone (Chapter 2), Nigel Williams (Chapter 3), Caleb Crain (Chapter 4), Musa Okwonga (Chapter 5), and Mary Norris (Chapter 6). John Waters, Stephen Fry, Simon Callow and even Prime Minister David Cameron will read future chapters, which often find themselves accompanied by contemporary artwork inspired by the novel.

If you want to read the novel as you go along, find the text in our collection of Free eBooks. We also have versions read by one narrator in our Free Audio Books collection. Tilda Swinton’s narration of Chapter 1 appears right below:


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  1. RWordplay says . . . | September 21, 2012 / 9:03 am

    What an inspired choice to have Tilda Swinton open the book.

    A wonderful project.

  2. Patricia Wiltshire says . . . | February 6, 2013 / 3:46 am

    I have listened to two chapters so far and I can’t imagine a better reader than Tilda Swinton for this opening chapter. Her voice had just the right quality to introduce us to Ishmael when he is about to set out to sea and remote places as a ‘simple sailor’ on that ‘ungraspable phantom of life’ – the sea! I would like to know more about all the readers beyond just their names. The second chapter continues to be read by a quite different voice that nevertheless continues the story seamlessly and seems entirely suitable to express the search for ‘cheap lodgings’ and such expressions as ‘the tepid tears of orphans’. Forget TV. I can’t wait for the next chapters.

  3. John Ranta says . . . | October 19, 2014 / 5:19 am

    Maybe I should give Moby Dick another go. When I read it in high school, I found it not so much magnificent as painful, dreary and bloated. I read voraciously, but could not develop a taste for Melville’s convoluted prose and tortured protagonist. Give me Hemingway, Steinbeck or Kesey, for great American novelists,

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