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Underworld [Paperback]

Don DeLillo
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Dec 1999
Opens at the Shea Stadium at the World Series Game of 1951, where the ball is caught by a young, black man in the crowd, and continues to change hands throughout the book. The various recipients of the ball tell the story of post-war US history giving a panorama of America from the 50s to the 90s.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 827 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (13 Dec 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330369954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330369954
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 248,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the Cold War and American culture, compelling that "swerve from evenness" in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls "super-omniscience" the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union's second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It's an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca's pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter--the "shot heard around the world"--and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra's shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.

"It's all falling indelibly into the past," writes DeLillo, a past that he carefully recalls and reconstructs with acute grace. Jump from Giants Stadium to the Nevada desert in 1992, where Nick Shay, who now owns the baseball, reunites with the artist Kara Sax. They had been brief and unlikely lovers 40 years before, and it is largely through the events, spinoffs, and coincidental encounters of their pasts that DeLillo filters the Cold War experience. He believes that "global events may alter how we live in the smallest ways," and as the book steps back in time to 1951, over the following 800-odd pages, we see just how those events alter lives. This reverse narrative allows the author to strip away the detritus of history and pop culture until we get to the story's pure elements: the bomb, the baseball and the Bronx. In an epilogue as breathless and stunning as the prologue, DeLillo fast-forwards to a near future in which ruthless capitalism, the Internet, and a new, hushed faith have replaced the Cold War's blend of dread and euphoria.

Through fragments and interlaced stories--including those of highway killers, artists, celebrities, conspiracists, gangsters, nuns, and sundry others--DeLillo creates a fragile web of connected experience, a communal Zeitgeist that encompasses the messy whole of five decades of American life, wonderfully distilled. --Amazon.com

Review

‘This book is an aria and a wolf whistle of our half-century’ -- Michael Ondaatje

‘Underworld is a magnificent book by an American master’ -- Salman Rushdie

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It took a big effort to read this - carrying around that extra weight to and from work and in planes, and having to search for the concentration to draw together the myriad threads of the storylines in the midst of the rest of my life. But I have to say that it was well worth the effort.
It is not just the length that daunts. This is not a "page-turner" in the normal sense. Whilst some sections draw you through, the majority of the text, for me, cried out to be read lovingly and for meaning - which meant that I had to slow right down to make sense of it all.
If you have the time, and energy, (and are prepared to read something almost wholly American) you should read this book. It is surely of the highest quality.
True - there were the odd fifty pages here or there which I struggled with. But that was counterbalanced with some moments of such emotion (the argument over which brother should look after the aging mother; the description of flying through the blast; the scenes of infidelity; the scene with the shotgun to name only a few) to make up for this many times over.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bravura opening fades away 9 April 2006
By Mr B
Format:Paperback
My advice: pick up this tome at your local bookshop and read the wonderfully evocative first 50-60 pages which describe a mythical baseball game at a pivotal moment in American history. Watch the game slowly unfold through the eyes of the youngster who vaults the turnstiles. Savour the descriptions of the stands going wild, the papers and programmes spiralling through the air and wonder on the fate of that coveted home run ball. And then replace your copy. For after this almighty beginning, Underworld's joys are but fleeting epiphanies. For me, De Lillo reads as if he is just trying too hard at times, and nowhere more so than in his constant reference to GenX assembly parts like linoleum and styrofoam in his descriptions. And it's such a shame because the set pieces are so huge in scale and ambition that you'd go with them, if the characters and situations didn't seem so studied, so plotted out. All the right tunes, but sadly minus the soul.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful, Brave and Beautiful. 31 Oct 2011
By Pierre
Format:Kindle Edition
This is undoubtedly one of the truly great novels. Not just of the second half of the twentieth century, but of all time.

It is not perfect. It perhaps a little too long. One or two of the characters, such as Klara, aren't completely resolved, and perhaps he doesn't make the art scene matter to us quite enough either. And yes, there were times when I wasn't sure who I was reading about.

But despite this, I'm not aware of much in life or in art that comes closer to perfection than this. Where it succeeds, it does so magnificently. Its exquisite language, its artistic imagination, its breadth of character, its ability to summon up not only events but the entire sense of experience, its exploration of other people's identities, all these things are so beautifully and grippingly executed.

Masterful, brave, beautiful. I can't praise it highly enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great American Novel 29 July 2011
Format:Paperback
Thoroughly deserves its place amongst novels classified as the "Great American Novel" ,such as Moby Dick. Awesome and poetic at the same time, It achieves that perfect mixture of the personal with the epic. I can't really adequately begin to describe what its really about or what makes it so special - loosely it's a history of the US through the Cold War-era, told in a sort of reverse order flashback - but that description does it no justice. If you have the patience, try this. P.S. the name is perhaps a little misleading - it's not a 'gangster' novel, "Underworld" being more of a metaphor for the interconnectedness of things and those connections being obscure and hidden.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
In Underworld Delillo finally offers characters whose engagement with a devastated millenial landscape includes an emotional reckoning that exalts them to a more humane status. While it's easy to understand the point made by creating hollowed out characters in a universe of normalized paranoia, it's more effective for the author to plant real human beings into his environment, a point demonstrated over and over again by such great apocalyptic urban philosophical writers as Juan Carlos Onetti, and even recently by Rick Harsch, author of the remarkable and unfortunately overlooked The Driftless Zone. It seems that Delillo has finally brought all his talents to bear in this latest novel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard work required! 22 April 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whoever said that a great novel had to be easy to digest? Sometimes it is rewarding to work hard at reading a novel, taking the time to absorb the beauty of the language- paying close attention to the actual words upon the page. This is no page turner, but it is incredibly rewarding if you are prepared to give it the time.

The book isn't about plot, morality, resolution or sentimentaliy- apsects of American literature that I so often find repellent- Delillo depicts humanity not emotional cliche. It goes way beyond cliche, painting an incredible and beautiful picture of the United States during the second half of the 20th Century. The interconnected nature of everything on our planet is demonstrated so effectively as to be overwhelming- it is not only what Delillo depicts that is overwhelming, but also the sheer ambition of the writer in attempting to encapsulate so many nuances of American culture in one novel.

I imagine those who have posted such dispariging reviews were expecting such a highly praised novel to a bit more of the work for them. It took a long time to get through and it's rarely easy going, but if you come to it with an open mind and can suspend your assumptions about what a novel is supposed to be, then you may find Underworld to be extrmely valuable and satisfying.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Underworld - overrated.
I, like many who came to this book under their own steam, was attracted to it by the sheer amount of critical acclaim it had received. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Time To Waste
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written but........zzzzzzzzzzzz
The sublime writing and ambitious non-linear structure is to be admired but ultimately this book just bored my balls off.
Published 3 months ago by Donkbettilidie
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is very very very dull.
I hated this very turgid , portentous, pretentious, dreary book a great deal. I brought it on holiday and so was compelled to soldier on to the bitter end. Read more
Published 7 months ago by JosephB
2.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming and Overwritten
If DeLillo was trying to write the `Great American Novel' then he surely must have known that brevity has always been the prima facia characteristic of such works. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mark Sean Tynan
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
The envelope was unfit to contain this book, entirely open.
It is disappointing because it would suffice common sense and care to deliver a
book properly.
Published 21 months ago by Valentinuz Matteo
5.0 out of 5 stars Massive and amazing
Don DeLillo's Underworld opens with a baseball game at the Polo Grounds in the 1950s. The Dodgers are playing the Giants and we're introduced to the stadium through a black kid... Read more
Published on 14 Feb 2012 by rhysthomashello
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
I brought Underworld after reading White Noise which I also think is superb. Once again I was astounded by DeLillo's beautiful style & language creating such detailed scenes which... Read more
Published on 25 May 2011 by Charlie C
3.0 out of 5 stars James confirmed
One dares hardly praise Delillo's beautiful writing (unworthy), but while I loved his repetitiveness he seems to confirm James's warning as to the loseness of the first person... Read more
Published on 24 July 2010 by Jens
1.0 out of 5 stars Sterile, modern American drivel
I know nothing of literary culture but Don DeLillo is a meathead. This book is boring and pretentious. Read more
Published on 4 July 2010 by Mr. M. Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars A dizzying journey through Cold War paranoia
Don Dellilo's monumental opus sweeps over you in a tidal wave of dark and unsettling detail in a fragmented odyssey through the underbelly of America during the Cold War years. Read more
Published on 4 Nov 2009 by Trevor Coote
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