The grandson of revolutionary war heroes, Herman Melville was born into a family that in the fledgling republic had lost both money and status. Toughened at sea as a young man and quintessentially American - half New Yorker, half New Englander - he returned home to chronicle the deepest crises of his time while forever shaping our literature with "Moby Dick", "Bartleby the Scrivener", "Benito Cereno" and "Billy Budd". "Delbanco" traces Melville's growth from the bawdy storytelling type, through the spiritual preoccupations building up to "Moby Dick", and the profound disillusionment of later works, even as he charts a life that left little evidence in its wake and was, long before Melville's death, consigned to obscurity. He uncovers autobiographical traces throughout Melville's writing, shows the relentless financial pressure and declining critical and popular esteem that plagued his career, and, above all, illuminates the stunning achievements of his oeuvre. Finally, we understand how Melville, more than any other American writer, has captured the popular imagination, and how "Ahab and the White Whale" have become resounding symbols not only in America but around the world.