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Nathaniel Philbrick

Dear Subscriber,

After a very busy 2011 which saw the release of The Last Stand in paperback, an updated Penguin re-issue of Nat’s first book of history Away Off Shore, and Nat’s work of literary appreciation Why Read Moby-Dick?, Nat is spending 2012 in what he calls “bunker mode.” He has been writing and researching his next book on Boston and the American Revolution, which Viking will publish next year.

Nat has managed to come up for air a few times recently. Here are some highlights from what he has been up to since our last newsletter in the fall.

On January 17th, PBS premiered the American Experience documentary “Custer’s Last Stand.” Nat was honored to serve as a consultant on the project, which was written and directed by Stephen Ives. You can watch the film and purchase DVD copies online here.

“I think Steve did a great job of distilling the story into an informative, fast-moving two-hour film.  It was fun to actually see and hear many of the scholars who I only knew through their writings.” 

On January 21st, Nat participated Nantucket’s first Moby-Dick Marathon Reading hosted by the Nantucket Atheneum. It lasted about 25 hours, with Nantucketers of all varieties volunteering to read from the novel. When it ended around midday on Sunday, readers and listeners enjoyed local quahog chowder. Nat read his favorite chapter of the classic novel: Chapter 14: Nantucket.

“The best part for me was that I got to read a whole lot more than Chapter 14.  By that point in the marathon the readers were running so far ahead of schedule that the reader who was to take over after me hadn’t shown up when it was time for Chapter 15.  This meant that I was able to keep reading—working my way through all those terrific chapters about Ishmael and Queequeg’s adventures on Nantucket.  It was great fun.”

Why Read Moby-Dick? marked the first time in Nat’s career as an author that he was tasked with reading his own work for the audiobook edition.

“Given that Why Read Moby-Dick? is both a more personal book and a much shorter book than I usually write, I thought this was a good one to try reading myself.   With the help of producer John McElroy and the engineering expertise of Nick and Vic  Ferrantella of Garden Rock Studio here on Nantucket, we were able to polish off the whole book in a single day.   After lunch my stomach started to rumble with such wild abandon that I was forced to muffle all the gastric commotion with a pillow.  Not the most dignified way to read a book, but hey, whatever works!” 

Happily, Why Read Moby-Dick? audiobook was named as a “top pick in audio” in BookPage magazine and earned a place on the 2012 Listen List for Outstanding Audiobook Narration from the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.

April 15, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. In 2005, Holt released a 50th anniversary trade paperback edition Walter Lord’s seminal book A Night to Remember to which Nat had the honor of contributing an Introduction.

“I’ve talked to a lot of nonfiction writers who look to Lord’s book as a true classic of historical story-telling.  The book is incredibly researched and yet wears all that learning very lightly.  Any young writer who wants to learn the craft of nonfiction writing should study A Night to Remember.” 

In recognition of Titanic’s centennial year, A Night to Remember was finally made available in e-book format and received a much-deserved round of critical attention all over again, including this remarkable article by Daniel Mendelsohn in the April 16th issue of The New Yorker called “Unsinkable: Why we can’t let go of the Titanic.

Nat took a recent research trip to Arlington, MA where he went to the historic Jason Russell House, the site of the bloodiest fighting during the first day of the Revolutionary War, April 19, 1775. Today it and the adjoining Smith Museum hold collections of the Arlington Historical Society.

“Arlington was known as Menotomy (rhymes with lobotomy) in the eighteenth century, and the Jason Russell House is not your average historic house—in places it’s literally riddled with musket balls.  The Arlington Historical Society staff could not have been more helpful and enthusiastic, and lucky for me, just down the street is the Blue Ribbon Barbeque—home of some of the best pulled pork in the Boston area.”

Nat’s father, the retired English professor and James Fenimore Cooper expert Thomas Philbrick just completed a new tender for Nat’s beloved yawl Phebe (old-style spelling of Phoebe).  The new 8-foot dinghy is called Little Hawk in honor of Nat’s favorite character in The Last Stand

Nat Philbrick's Dad and the Phebe

(Thomas Philbrick and the Little Hawk.)

Nat has also written a foreword for the soon-to-be released Island Practice by New York Times writer Pam Belluck. Island Practice is about Dr. Tim Lepore, a legendary figure on Nantucket who is Nat’s personal physician.  Besides being a general practitioner and a surgeon who always seems to be on call, Tim is a small arms expert who provided Nat with the chance to fire replicas of the weapons used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

On the evening of Friday, June 15th, Nat will be one of the featured speakers at the opening night event at the Nantucket Book Festival along with Pam Belluck and Nantucket novelist Elin Hilderbrand, and writer-photographer Mary Haft.

“The festival promises to be a great time,” says Nat. “If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come out and support our local booksellers.”

For more information about the festival, visit:

In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to the Events & Appearances page on Nat’s website for future dates, and please keep in touch with Nat via his blog, Facebook, Twitter, and this newsletter.

Thank you all for your support.

Kind regards,

Meghan Walker, Editor