The book was dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, in "admiration for his genius." The two authors had met only recently and instantly formed a friendship. The night he received his book, Melville visited Hawthorne (who was then living nearby in the town of Lenox). Though he was in the midst of packing in preparation for his move back to Concord, Hawthorne did not hesitate to read Moby-Dick. Only two days later, he wrote a letter of appreciation to Melville (now lost). Melville was pleased that Hawthorne "understood the book." As he wrote, "I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as a lamb."
The book itself follows now-iconic characters like the exotic Queequeg, the mates Starbuck and Flask, and, of course, the vengeful Captain Ahab and his obsessive quest for the white whale named Moby-Dick. It has also become the bane of students of American literature who find the detailed chapters on whaling tedious. Among its memorable scenes are the first meeting between Ishmael and Queequeg (who share a bed that night) and the fiery and foreboding sermon by Father Mapple. My personal favorite is the scene where Ahab nails a valuable doubloon to the mast to tempt his crewmen:
"I see nothing here, but a round thing made of gold, and whoever raises a certain whale, this round thing belongs to him. So, what's all this staring been about? It is worth sixteen dollars, that's true; and at two cents the cigar, that's nine hundred and sixty cigars. I won't smoke dirty pipes like Stubb, but I like cigars, and here's nine hundred and sixty of them; so here goes Flask aloft to spy 'em out."