Hear Moby Dick Read in Its Entirety by Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, John Waters, Stephen Fry & More

moby dick big read

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 brows­erdown­loaded 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. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

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.

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Comments (15)
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  • Ignas Bednarczyk. says:

    There are so many alter­na­tives lead­ing to con­di­tion­al LIMITED offers it actu­al­ly takes soon long.

  • Adie says:

    Some of the chap­ters had awful record­ings, but Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch’s read­ing was one of the best.

  • mark winslade says:

    Too bad Gilbert God­fried was busy .….

  • Andrea says:

    John Waters reads the whale penis chap­ter. As it should be.

  • Gregory J Ford says:

    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.

  • Arch says:

    Total run­ning time?

  • Esses says:

    I am won­der­ing which edi­tion was used in this read­ing.

  • Sam says:

    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

  • stephen laudig says:

    It is prob­a­bly a good idea to leave all politi­cians out of the mix as their sleazi­ness, as a class, cor­rupts every­thing.

  • Heidi Perryman says:

    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.

  • Mollymers says:

    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

  • karen marie says:

    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.


  • mern says:

    The Best.

  • Ann Benjamin says:

    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 :-)

  • Javier Diaz says:

    British actors read­ing Moby Dick?

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