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on 12 July 2001
I wish I could write as well as Buchheim can. His vivid descriptions embroil you in the emotions of the Boat every page of the way. And the ending - well, I won't give it away but if you don't find yourself wishing it had happened differently - there's something wrong with you.
The Boat covers a single wartime patrol of U-A in 1941, operating in the Atlantic Ocean. The story (a true one) is told through the eyes of a naval correspondant, Buchheim, and is typical of it's time. Repeatedly depth-charged and bombed, it vividly paints the picture of survival against the odds (on both sides), the frustrations, the fears and the outright terrors of war.
As other reviewers have noted, there is almost certainly something lost in the translation to English. British readers should note that this is an American translation, and the occasional "Americanism" (buddy, ass, that sort of thing) does crop up and intrude some how. If you can find the "British English" translation, it is easier to read.
Despite that minor criticism, I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who is interested in War, Naval matters, or history. Forget the 2-hour film and the 2.5hr "directors cut" - they both lose too much of the story. Read the book. It's impossible to do in one sitting, but you will try.
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on 23 September 2002
Set in the late part of 1941, the U Boats no longer enjoys mastery of the Atlantic. The author, as an official Naval correspondant, joins the crew of UA a Type VII-C boat(the stable horse of the U Boat fleet) to write of life at sea.
It would be wrong to give away too much detail, as this book certainly deserves the reputation it has as one of the best war stories ever written. Those who have an interest in Naval battles or those who are interested in World War 2 will find this a truly amazing story. The author does well to describe the key characters; 'The Old Man', The Chief and the 1st and 2nd Watch Officers. Also we meet Johann, the Chief Mechanic, and a number of other crew members, all who have a key role to play onboard the submarine.
You can hear the diesel motors hammering, experience the claustrophobia, lack of personal space, frustration and boredom, sense the combined fear, excitement and exhileration during an attack, and picture the helpless situation of the crew during a depth charge run.
It is quite a long story at just over 550 pages, but has an addictive quality which makes it very hard to put down. The men do not seem to think that they are in any way brave, they just know they have to obey orders and carry out their duty. From start to finish this is compulsive reading.
The film starring Jurgen Prochnow as 'The Old Man' should also be watched, as this is a rare occasion where the film is as good as the book. If you enjoy Das Boot, consider also reading 'Iron Coffins' by Herbert Werner(one of the few surviving U Boat Captains) and also Hirschfeld's 'The secret diary of a U Boat' written by a serving radio operator.
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on 3 September 2001
I read this because I am a great fan of Wolfgang Petersen's original six one-hour episode film version (sadly not the woeful 1.5 hour version with dubbed voices made for the US market). It's no wonder the film was so good. The imagery of life as a WW2 German submariner, the sordid shore-leaves, the squalor of life on board and the sheer terror of being under attack is so powerful that the lives of the characters seem to be carrying on even on the occassions when you are able to put the book down.
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on 28 December 2009
I returned to 'Das Boot' after a 20 year absence and it proved as compelling a read as I remembered it. The story, seen through the eyes of a journalist on board to write a propaganda article, follows a German U-Boat on a single patrol in the Atlantic at a time in late 1941 when the convey system and Allied technological advances were beginning to turn the tide of battle. The book is thinly autobiographical - the author did actually sail in such a journalistic capacity on a U-boat in that period - although I suspect that the exploits described are an amalgam of the experiences of several U-boats. Certainly the dramatic and poignant ending is culled from an incident with a different boat later in the war.

Despite the success of the film adaptation this is not an all action Hollywood blood and thunder story. Indeed at 560 pages the pace can at times be a little slow. Unless you have a particularly technical or nautical mind the lengthy descriptions of the mechanical workings of the boat, especially in the early chapters, can drag. But its worth sticking with it because the length is also the book's strength. It serves well to build and emphasise the boredom, routine, claustrophobia and tension experienced by the crew. You get the impression that this is a deeply authentic picture of a WW2 submariners life, right down to the graphic and earthy descriptions of every day life and conversations on board. There are no heroes and no villains. Just scared but stoical men attempting to do their duty with all the moral ambiguities that sometimes implied. The characters are one dimensional, little or nothing is known about their private lives but this too is, I am sure, consistent with the reality of serving men reluctant to let slip their brittle protective facemask of nonchalent bravado.

Politics rarely intrudes into the narrative. This is a book about universal human emotion, duty and endurance in wartime which just happens to have been written from a German perspective, not about ideology or nationality. Few of the crew appear to have any Nazi sympathies and its easy for the reader to identify with them and their plight despite the nature of the regime their efforts were supporting.

The translation into American English is a minor irritant at times (some of it is rather lazy - a penalty, for instance, is not a 'goal kick'!) but this remains one of the most apparently authentic Second World War novels I have read.
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on 20 July 2016
This must be read, but its not a 5-star. The writing is elegant and poetic, but there are PAGES of descriptions about clouds and water; and this is quite illustrative of the novel as a whole. Tense, thrilling scenes are interspersed with long periods of boredom - it serves a purpose because it portrays life on board a sub. For that reason it is a great novel. But it's hard going.
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on 30 May 2014
I'd like to start by correcting another reviewer. This book is a work of fiction, based on real life events.

For the price I paid for this paperback copy I should have no complaints and I enjoyed the book as much as the film. If I have one criticism it is the translation and I'm not referring to the fact that this book has a decidedly American English emphasis. I'm more concerned that some passages just don't make any sense at all in English. Although this occurs frequently in my opinion it didn't suppress my enjoyment of a narrative which is both accurate and interesting - even exciting at times.
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on 1 September 2012
I simply love DAS BOOT.I have the full length original DVD,and others,and now i have the audio CD in my collection,this audio CD is fantastic,it is read by WOLF KAHLER.who gives the audio CD authenticity,being a German himself, He plays the part of the young War Correspondent,and narrates the story through his eyes,The recording is clear, and very collectable, your's sincerly R. Thorne.
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on 17 November 2013
It's an amalgam of true or trui-ish stories all compressed into one patrol. I don't know if the writer was using hindsight, but I was struck by the difference between the crew's professional morale and their personal morale; they do their jobs, but they don't appear to really believe in anything
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on 8 November 2009
This is a unique piece of writing from it's drink sodden start to it's terrible, wrenching finish. It's long at over 500 pages but, after the first chapter, impossible to put down. It could have been edited down into a shadow of itself by the wrong editor and still have been a taut thriller, but if it had it would never have done what it did to me, and I'm sure, many other readers. You can tell the author was there with a small role, yet close to the action. Every nuance of the key characters is delivered straight to you as if you too are in the control room, watching everything unfold like an intense play with a small central cast and a motley bunch of bit players. Even though you know someone survives to tell this tale you're completely caught up in the boats survival, the boat itself being as big a character as anyone else aboard it. Spirit and mind are worn thin by the stress of danger brought on by the power of a prolonged, furious and chaotic sea, as well as by the terror of sitting in a stricken boat at the bottom of the sea being hunted by single minded destroyers looking to land the death blow, not to mention the challenge of inactivity and subsequent boredom.

I was surprised by how engaged I was by descriptions of weather but they always sat beside the routine of the ship and the introspection and observations of the narrator who clearly soaked up everything he saw and felt, as well as theorising about everything everyone else saw and felt, in particular the Commander, 'The Old Man'. This is done especially well. Much of it comes from just describing his facial expressions, his gait and his habits as they are constantly moulded by sea and war and how the whole boat depends upon them emotionally.

This book also shows the strange depths a mind goes to when it looks for strength and, at other times in the narrators journey, stimulation and distraction. Memories are brought back for re-assessment and sustenance, relationships are examined for their faultlines. Ultimately the men only have themselves and each other and, of course, The Old Man, leading the way out of every impossible situation, always looking for survival and the next kill.
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on 23 October 2000
this is the sort of book that is hard to put down. The story differs from the film in a few ways, but that adds to the suspense if the story is familiar. The tension of life on the boat is almost tangible as we get involved with the characters and situations. The writer evens manages to make us feel that we are the 'baddies' as the British use dirty tatics like a plane mounted radar. Being stuck on the ocean floor was a scene that gripped on the film, but in the book the tension is close to unbearable. I would not want to go on a submarine now, even in peacetime.
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