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4.4 out of 5 stars26
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on 29 April 2012
Maybe not "the best war novel ever," which is what has been said of this work, but undeniably up there with the greats. Mailer is educated, perceptive and articulate: he has something to say and does not pull his punches. The book may have been superseded in its portrayal of war as a very nasty business, but in this respect it was a pioneering work, and otherwise it very much stands the test of time. Part of its originality, and of its value today, lies in the evocation of the political, social and economic atmosphere of the 30's and 40's, using biographical vignettes of the principal characters; part of it is comprised in the detailing of the day-to-day management of war. The worldview of General Cummings evokes that of certain elements of the time, and counterpoints Lt Hearn's existential querulousness. Mailer manages with similar skill to convey the more elemental thinking and preoccupations of enlisted men, but here - for me at least - he errs in two respects: an apparent preoccupation with Jewishness (even if partly 'balanced' by Catholic references); and an unadulterated cynicism regarding human nature, verging on the nihilistic. These are however minor criticisms: indeed the first may be excused as echoing one of the key themes of the epoch, and the second may also mark time and place. There is much more one could say, especially about the ending, but that might spoil things - suffice to say that it is preceded by masterful piece of sustained writing which kept me up until the wee hours. The overall result remains one of the great American reads - especially if you like war stories. Enjoy.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 June 2012
At over 700 pages in length Norman Mailer's 1949 novel can rightly be categorised as something of an epic tale, which charts the experiences of a group of American army soldiers fighting the Japanese during the Second World War on the Pacific island of Anopopei. Mailer uses his expansive narrative brilliantly in mixing a number of suspense-filled episodes of conflict between the warring parties, together with the more reflective, but equally engaging, passages during which the author introduces us to the fifteen or so main characters in the army platoon, under the command of the senior officers, General Cummings, Lieutenant Hearne and (perhaps the most brilliantly written character) Sergeant Croft.

Whilst Mailer is well-known for his anti-war views (having been jailed for his part in the anti-Vietnam war protests in 1967), his approach in this first novel, written when he was (amazingly) only in his mid-20s, is actually very even-handed. It is via the progression of his compellingly realistic narrative, featuring the series of personal (and petty) vendettas between individual soldiers (leading in a number of cases to tragic consequences) and the generally much confused views of the troops as to the ultimate objectives of the conflict on which their lives depend, that lead the reader inexorably to a conclusion which homes in on the futility of war. Along the way, Mailer is (for me) at his most brilliant during the passages involving the senior officers, particularly those between General Cummings and Lieutenant Hearne, and then those between Hearne and Sergeant Croft (as the latter two embark on Cummings' hare-brained scheme of patrolling behind Japanese lines). It is during these parts of the novel, which focus on how such (largely personal) relationships can, in effect, determine life and death, that The Naked And The Dead takes on the aura of Joseph Heller's classic satirical novel Catch-22 (in effect, without the laughs). Mailer is also at pains to repeatedly refer to the inter-racial tensions which prevail within the US soldiers, particularly relating to those of Jewish, Hispanic and Italian backgrounds.

Whilst the ultimate conclusion (last 20 pages or so) of the novel could be regarded as somewhat anti-climactic, this is a brilliant, and insightful, account of men enduring the harsh reality of war.
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on 9 July 2009
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer's war novel of highest repute, charts a short campaign on a Japanese island in WW II. This novel is less about war itself, and more about the personal impact it has on the group of characters in the novel.

The novel unfolds character by character, each dealing with his immediate hardship in parallel with his own personal demons, as reflected in his thoughts and memories. Each copes with the war in his own way, having his own agenda or anxieties relating to his own foibles and in turn overlaid onto his immediate relationships with military companions.

From this microcultural perspective, Mailer telescopes out to the wider campaign suggesting parallels between the meaninglessness of individual anxieties and the meaninglessness of greater strategy, and ultimately to the worthlessness of human life.

Mailer's depth of character development, interweaving into the complex intricacy of their inter-relationships adds a fantastic backdrop to this tale. His commentary on such relationships, and through this, his commentary on the war itself and driving forces behind it provide much food for thought.

This is a great book in every aspect I can think of and I would recommend to all. It fulfils, and for me surpasses its formidable reputation, and is one of the few books I will read again, and no doubt will gain yet more from it in the future.
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VINE VOICEon 5 September 2000
Not only is this a classic piece of war fiction it delves deeply into the psyche of men under intolerable pressure.The result is not pretty and Mailer makes no apologies for his unforgiving portrayal of the base and primitive side of men at war.It is as fresh today as it was when first written shortly after the end of World War 11 and still is deeply relevant.This is a powerhouse of a novel with stunning charecterisations of men from the weak General Cummings to the more down to earth but nevertheless phiposophical Sergeant Croft.It is a classic novel by any standards.
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on 30 July 2003
Although superficially a war novel the predominent themes of this book are escapism and the disappointment of unfulfilled desires. Each chapter ends with a potted biography of each protagonist and the life they have left behind in the US, academic failure, an unfulfilling job or a loveless marriage and effectively juxtaposes these incidents against the grind, boredom and sheer physical trauma of war. In these cases these men have escaped an imagined hell for a real one. Although in the main this book is downbeat it remains rivetting, in particular a 300 page passage covering the platoons mission through the jungle which demands to be read at one sitting and ends with a bizarre piece of Catch 22 style black humour.
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on 8 June 2013
Being one of the most widely documented subjects in literature, it can be difficult to find a war story that makes an impact; and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead is definitely ranked among the most resonant of war stories. It's comprehensive, well-written, and, refreshingly, there are no heroes. The characters in TNATD are either cowards or sociopaths. They run from combat, freeze in fear, or kill indiscriminately and without feeling. It was these flaws in the characters I found most gripping. The War Hero is a sacred cow that Mailer has thankfully slain.
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on 28 January 2003
I though this a classic novel of World War II, set in the Pacific (U. S. American) theatre. What Mailer does so well is to describe an average group of American Joes, who are not always very likeable, and, taking them through the war, make it all so believable and compelling. The battle descriptions are sometimes horrific, but it is Mailer's willingness to describe the tedium and routine, indeed the pettiness, of war, that is ultimately the book's enduring strength - sometimes war is not heroic or even bloody, but just mundane and squalid.
My only (minor) complaint is that Mailer, who was trained as an engineer at Harvard, tries too hard to make everything connect, when perhaps, in dealing with human affairs, and wartime especially, the point is that life doesn't always connect. Thus I felt at times the book went on too long, a few hundred pages too long, though I want to say it was still a great reading experience, one I recommend to anyone even remotely interested.
And don't stop there! If you like this one, try Gore Vidal's World War II novel, Williwaw, set in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska (a "Williwaw" is a freak storm up there that whips down from the mountains causing freak seas and havoc to shipping - one such storm features in the book.) Williwaw has a cool style and controlled prose that reminds me of Joseph Conrad. Also consider John Horne Burns' WW II novel, The Gallery, set in Naples at the end of the war. This is a lyrical, almost Tennessee Williams' style-novel, about a hick/yob North American soldier coming into contact for the first time with the older, softer culture of the Mediterranean and falling for it, in the form of a decent and beautiful Neapolitan woman down on her luck in collapsed-economy Naples.
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on 20 December 2015
Great book though for people to say this is the best book ever written on war is a stretch.
Focuses mostly on one American army patrol as part of a campaign against Japanese forces on an island in the Pacific.
I liked how the main characters' back stories were told.
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on 25 October 2007
There's nothing much to say really: together with James Jones' "The thin red line" this is the best account of WW II combat that I know of. An extremely powerful, shocking & violent book, I had to read this as a university assignment years ago and (exceptionally so) I am still grateful to that particular teacher. The battle scenes are impressive, but the power of the book derives at least as much from the moving descriptions of the pre-war lives of the soldiers involved: all of them ordinary men, suddenly finding themselves caught up in a nightmare.
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on 23 June 2005
I picked up this book at random and have been hooked on Mailer ever since.
Quite simply the best WWII book I have ever read.
By getting into the minds of his characters and switching between them, Mailer creates a tension and unease that is sustained from cover to cover. With this comes a real insight into war being about individuals rather than a homogenous group with a common cause or aim.
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