Image of Moby Dick by David Austen.
Three years ago, Plymouth University kicked off Moby Dick The Big Read, promising a full audio book of Herman Melville’s influential novel, with famous (and not so famous) voices taking on a chapter each. When we first wrote about it here, only six chapters had been unveiled, but boasted actors like Tilda Swinton (reading chapter one below), author Nigel Williams, and poet and journalist Musa Okwonga.
We’re glad to say the project, created out of a 2011 conference by artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare, has reached its successful conclusion. And they’ve certainly called on an impressive roster of celebrity readers: Stephen Fry, Neil Tennant, Fiona Shaw, Will Self, Benedict Cumberbatch, China Miéville, Tony Kushner, John Waters, Simon Callow, Sir David Attenborough, even Prime Minister David Cameron. Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver finishes off the whole project, reading the Epilogue.
All 135 chapters are available to be listened to in your browser, downloaded on iTunes, streamed on SoundCloud, or even heard as a podcast. However, do check them out online, as each chapter comes with a work of art each created by 135 contemporary artists such as Matthew Barney, Oliver Clegg, and Matthew Benedict. (See David Austen’s work above.) The project is a mammoth undertaking befitting such a monumental book, and if you’ve never read it this just might be the way to go.
Copies of Moby Dick can be found in our collection of Free eBooks. Meanwhile, this big reading will be added to our collection of Free Audio Books.
If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.
If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!
An Illustration of Every Page of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick
How Ray Bradbury Wrote the Script for John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956)
Orson Welles Reads From Moby-Dick: The Great American Director Takes on the Great American Novel
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.
There are so many alternatives leading to conditional LIMITED offers it actually takes soon long.
Some of the chapters had awful recordings, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s reading was one of the best.
Too bad Gilbert Godfried was busy …..
John Waters reads the whale penis chapter. As it should be.
Excellent idea for a project. I recently reread Moby Dick. Considering how racially pointed and honoerotic the book is I am disappointed that so few non-white readers were utilized.
Total running time?
I am wondering which edition was used in this reading.
Inspired by the work of Philip Hoare and Angela Cokayne, in October 2015 The Special Relationship teamed up with the Southbank Centre to stage a live reading of the entire, unabridged text, to celebrate the book and to kick off the 2015 London Literature Festival. The show featured readings from novelists, poets, actors and over 100 members of the public.
In addition to reading aloud the complete text (we used the Northwestern-Newberry edition), the show also featured new artworks commissioned for the event, including illustrations, sculpture, live dance performances, animation, an acapella choir performing the hymn in chapter 9, and fresh clam chowder served under the stars.
Our website is http://mobydick.london, and free audio recordings of every chapter’s reading are available through the Southbank Centre’s Soundcloud account here: https://soundcloud.com/southbankcentre/sets/moby-dick-unabridged
It is probably a good idea to leave all politicians out of the mix as their sleaziness, as a class, corrupts everything.
I just got finished with the entire great read and want to thank you. This was powerful and fun in ways I could not have imagined. With unexpected surprises like having David Attenborough’s voice read chapter 105 (*Such a smart choice*) And the beautiful sad voice of Cerys Mattews reading the symphony. This effort and product was truly epic – and I’m grateful.
I’m really enjoying listening to MD. I think all the readers so far are really good: each has their own personal way of interpreting their chapter. I love the different voices, accents and pronunciations. Well done – a great idea. The text seems to have been written to be recited like this. Thanks
I don’t know why Audible ($$) was mentioned and Librivox (free/voluntaryvdonation) was not. I find Librivox to haveca far better selection and better readers, many books giving you a choice from two or three different readers. If you’re not into celebrity readers for some chapters, consider Librivox.
Mayor of Casterbridge is smashing.
My 8th grade English teacher “taught” Moby Dick by having a class of 20+ young adolescents take turns reading the book aloud. We never knew who would be called upon next to read, so everybody had to keep track of where we were in the text. This was perhaps the most excruciating educational experience of my life, so I think that I’ll pass on listening to another read-aloud. I own the book, however, so maybe I’ll read it again, silently, and with an adult’s appreciation of the historical context :-)
British actors reading Moby Dick?