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4.6 out of 5 stars
Johnny Got His Gun (Penguin Modern Classics)
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 1999
There are few books which I can honestly say have altered my outlook on life, whose covers I have closed a different person. "Johnny got his gun" is one of them, though I fear I lack the eloquence to persuade you to read it.
It tells the story of a World War One soldier, horrifically wounded in battle to the point where he is totally cut off from the outside world. With only his memories for company, he attempts to make sense of his situation, and make the most of his world, such as it is. After a long time (having no way to measure time at first, he can be no more precise than this), he eventually manages to communicate with the staff attending him in hospital, and then with his army commanders.
Trumbo's masterstroke is, to my mind, quite subtle: he hardly uses any punctuation at all, save for full stops. This relates very effectively the disordered stream of the soldier's thoughts, and at times, makes the prose all the more disturbing.
His protests to the outside world, first unheard and later ignored, are extremely powerful and moving, and make the book as a whole demand repeat readings.
Everyone should me made to read this book at sometime or another.
(In case you were wondering, the other life-altering books were "One flew over the cuckoo's nest", "Slaughterhouse five", "Farenheit 351" and "1984" - read them all.)
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2002
Next time you watch a "smart-bomb" create a puff of smoke on a green screen, or, you see the clouds of dust settling on a hill in Afghanistan or Iraq you might be forgiven for thinking that war really is now "clinical", "painless" and "humane".
This book illustrates what war looks like up-close and personal, from an author black-listed for "un-American" behaviour. Every time you see a bomb exploding you never see the real casualties. These are too graphic to appear on TV and therefore we are safely insulated from seeing what we are responsible for. But the pictures themselves show only half the truth.
This book lays bare the reality of suffering and the stark reality that war, for whatever reason, is not glorious. It is not honourable. It is not heroic.
It illustrates how the with the best intentions and through being caught up in patriotic or nationalistic ferver your life can be taken and never returned. All the while, those who choose to start war never, ever have to put their lives on the line.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2011
I'm not sure how the majority of people who read this book heard about it but for me it was through the song 'One' by Metallica. After watching the music video i was intrigued and fascinated by the lyrics and how harrowing the video was, and did a bit of research about the song. I found that both James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich (members of metallica) had read the book and found it powerful enough to write a song on the book alone, this furthered my intrigue. So after finding the book on Amazon i decided to buy it, and im glad i did ! The book followes the life of a young chap in the army who after a horrific accident looses his arms, legs, nose, mouth, eyes and all he has left are his thoughts. The book is a brilliant bit of writing from the author, and also is a very powerful anti-war document. The book has definately changed my opinion on war as it rises a point that i had never thought of before. It can be a challenging read at times as it changes from the soldiers conscious to un-conscious thoughts, the book also inspired me to buy the film which for me helped put face's to the name's in the book. Definately worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Dalton Trumbo was too young to be a soldier in the First World War, and he never suffered any injuries such as Joe Bonham does in this book, so what he achieved is pure brilliance. Although this is an anti-war novel it is a lot more, and really should be read by people whatever their own views on war are. In places this also can be seen as semi-autobiographical, as Trumbo used some of his own background and experiences to create the background of Joe.

As this novel opens we are reading about Joe and his life, and then it is revealed that Joe is now deaf. As we continue reading about Joe and his life before the war we keep having more of his injuries revealed to us, which creates a jarring contrast from past to present, and also makes you sit up and take note. Thus slowly we read about Joe's previous life and then come to grips with his present state. In truth the injuries are horrific and will definitely make you think. We also get Joe's thoughts as he drifts in and out of consciousness, and also the effect of drugs on his cognition.

Of course this is very strongly anti-war but there are a few other things that make you think when you read this book. The First World War was really an anomaly, it used old fashioned tactics but with newer and deadlier weapons, leaving soldiers being either stuck in trenches, or charging straight at the enemy, under fire that was unlike before, especially when aerial warfare took off as well. Medicine and surgery had also advanced, and whereas someone such as Joe Bonham would have previously died, he is now able to survive.

This was written at a time when conscription was still used in many countries, and this is I feel where the anti-war 'propaganda' is. Signing up freely to be in the forces is one thing, but it is different for those who suddenly get a letter in the post one morning telling them to report at wherever, as they are now required to be a soldier. Remember also the First World War was supposed to be the 'war that ended wars' and that it 'would all be over by Christmas', and you can understand quite easily Trumbo's personal feelings with regards to war. Between the wars things weren't easy, and you could start to feel the unrest and things stirring, as if war hadn't come to a conclusion. All of this you can feel in the power of Trumbo's writing. But Trumbo also reminds us through Joe that those who instigate war on the modern arena don't actually fight themselves, they sit at home telling people to be patriotic, of course they are the politicians.

This book does have some dark comedy in it, and it also does make you think of people who have been in horrific accidents and how they must feel afterwards, as they try and rebuild their lives. Joe Bonham is just a thinking piece of meat as such, but he still lives, he still wants to get a message across, and in that respect this book can also be seen as life affirming.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2001
After all the "throw-away" fiction I've read recently this was a book that made me think.
One of the previous reviewers suggested that the idea was not relevant to today but I feel I must disagree, war is war and there will be casualties similar to "Joe" in any conflict (OK, not as extreme).
I'm much impressed with Trumbo's ability to imagine himself in the position of someone so badly injured and write from that point of view.
There is also a touch of humour in there (Lazarus) and Trumbo's diatribes, written without punctuation, particularly at the end of the book, are stunning.
I wish I'd have discovered this book sooner.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2001
I first heard about this book 10 years ago when I found out the Metallica song "One" was based on it, so i rushed out to my local library and managed to borrow a rather dog-eared copy.
This book scared the life out of me and reading it again 10 years later it still does.
Having said that though you HAVE to read it and put yourself in Johhny's position, it is impossible to imagine what he was going through laying there day after day.
Now if only the movie could be re-released in the UK.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2001
Previous reviews suggested that this would be a thought provoking book, but believe me they cannot prepare you for the effect this book will have. It not only provides a disturbing insight into the horrors faced by one man, but makes you question the very foundations upon which western society is based. You could struggle for a lifetime with the issues raised by this book and never find answers. Trumbo's dialogues are a moving and powerful expression of one man's hell. The book is beautifully written and the lack of punctuation only makes the text more compelling.
Do not be mislead or detered by the title, this is not a war story in the traditional sense; it is so much more. I cannot recommend this book highly enough but if you only read one book in your entire lifetime it should be this one!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Taking an extreme position and imagining what life would be like, Dalton Trumbo inhabits a living corpse and recollects life without limb, eyesight, smell or taste. Tubes go into the piece of meat on the table and tubes take away the produce.

Within the carcass lies a disfigured man who gradually awakes to realise his entrapment within a torso. The power of the book arises from both his reaction and adaptation to the external world and his search for a meaning inside his memories.

A more powerful depiction of trauma and the impact upon mind and body has never been written. Akin to Throbbing Gristles "Hamburger Lady" this is a gut wrenching exploration of disability, hope and futility as we are led backwards through the shimmering memories to childhood hopes and dreams totally at odds with the corpse lying on the bed.

One of the great American books of the 20th Century, when so many were written this tops the pinnacle.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2004
Well what can i say? At first, once hearing the synopsis, i was quite skeptical. Most war novels, in my opinion, lack the narrative initiative to keep my attention sustained. Too much political jargon and what not. That was before i read Trumbo's raw masterpeice. What struck me particularly about this book was its sense of nostalgia, there is a lot of reminiscing, as the injured soldier (Joe Bonham) spends his time with all senses and abilities lost, waiting for time to past with only his thoughts. We relate to Joe, not only because of his regretful stance in actually fighting in the war, but the key events which happened in his life before his injury. Especially key events such as the new Porto Rican worker at the bakery, and the time where Joe goes fishing with his father. These are portrayed with great delicacy and poignancy. I imagine times in out lives where we have met these kinds of characters, been in these situations. Trumbo speaks with refined catharsism, and i often wonder how much these events actually occurred to Trumbo himself. As a peice of literacy, its certainly lacks the technique or dexterity of most books, but is inversely juxtaposed with such warmth and belonging than any other book that i have read.
Johnny Got His Gun explores the horrors of war, its political message is angst at times. Whether or not you agree with Joe's Liberaltarian view about the war is beside the point. Trumbo speaks from the opinion of one man among millions. he captures the essence and beauty of life, and what makes it worth living.
War is humanities greatest enemy. Embrace truth, Feel empathy, obey Love.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 July 2001
I have to disagree with jism1000@hotmail.com who reviewed the book and said that it's message has no meaning in todays world. The message of this book is more relevant in todays world where everybody is de-sensitised by seeing so much violence on tv. War is war, it will never change, the only difference is that technology makes it possible for bombs to have a longer reach than in WW1. There will always be the un-named/un-known lying in hospital beds who cant see, hear, speak etc. left without the use of their arms or legs. There will always be "Joe's" and this book is about all of them: the past, present and future Joe's. You could substitute WW1 for Desert Storm, the Falklands, or any of the current conflicts and it still would have a strong meaning. Everyone in the world should be made read this book, especially politicians and heads-of-state so people can realise the effects of war on human life.
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