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4.7 out of 5 stars209
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 13 January 2000
When I first came across "HMS Ulysses", I read it from cover to cover without putting it down - three times in a row. The story about the captain and crew of the HMS Ulysses, the story about men driven to the limit and far beyond by terror, cold and hunger, who somehow kept going because of their love and devotion to one extraordinary man, was one of the saddest, most capturing and most compelling stories I've ever read. I could almost feel the crew's desperation, feel the piercing cold, hear - and be tormented by - the captain's ripping cough. Not many books have the power to capture me that way.
I know "HMS Ulysses" almost by heart by now - but whenever I read it, I still do it from cover to cover, without putting it down. Once I begin, I just can't let it go until it's all over.
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on 9 July 2004
As many reviewers before I can just concur: This is the best Alister Maclean, by far, and one of the best naval stories, ever. Nicolas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea (available on DVD!) is similar in many ways, but this is much more hard-hitting and gut-wrenching.
And for me, it is the only Maclean that has stood up to rereading, over and over again.
Let's hope it will be filmed one day!
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on 6 January 2000
This is the most upsetting, compelling, the saddest and the best book I have ever read. I first read it in 1987 when I was 14 and since then I have lost count of how many times I have read it - around 15. I am still upset when I finish it. I am still wound up like a tightrope coming into the last few chapters. Thinking if only... It is also the most powerful anti-war book that I have read. It highlights the heroism and folly that comes of war. This is not to be missed. Although a work of fiction, the book was drawn from the authors own experiences of convoy duty during WW2. It is set on a cruiser escorting a large convoy to Murmansk in Russia. The convoy, which has a large fleet shadowing it, is part of a trap set to sink the German ship Tirpitz. To say much more would destroy the plot but I can say that there are submarines, planes and enemy ships aplenty. It is a must read.
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on 14 January 2006
Alistair Maclean is author of some of the best war fiction in the world – notably the Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare – but in this book he has surpassed the rest.
Seeing as I loathe spoilers in reviews, I shall keep them to a minimum! This book centres around the eponymous HMS Ulysses, a frigate in World War II. This ship is used on the arctic convoy runs to Murmansk, a vital part of the allied war effort sadly largley igonred by the Soviet government after the war. These convoy runs were the worst of the war, featuring not only the Kriegsmarine’s U-Boats, but also sub-zero temperatures, blizzards, and twenty-hour days. Combine all these and you have a good a picture of hell as it is possible to get. The men of the Ulysses think so too, and have mutinied. As the book starts, an Admiral is discussing the failed mutiny and what should be done with the Ulysses. It is decided that, to atone, she should escort one last convoy – FR77 – to Murmansk, then she will be sent to the Mediterranean theatre. The voyage that follows is truly appalling in every sense of the word. In particular, the pathos engendered by Maclean’s descriptions of men having to endure such agony is unspeakable. For me, the most poignant character is Ralston, the torpedo gunner. Without giving away too much, he does something no-one should have to do, and Vallery, the father-figure of the captain, suffers so much in making him do it and then realsiing what he has done to Ralston. It must be read to be fully experinced in all its emotional intensity.
The only comparable book to this is, in my opinion, All Quiet on the Western Front, though HMS Ulysses is far more bitter and gritty. There is a rawness exuded by the book, a sense of despair and loss permeating every line. However, the ending is surprisingly upbeat, yet so sad as to be beyond words. As I read the last two pages, I had tears running down my face, a testament to the power of Maclean’s writing. Maybe upbeat is the wrong word for the ending, yet I felt that there was a certain glory in it. All the suffering, all the pain, it’s all justified in the last chapter.
It’s not a long book, so those of you who are dispirited by hefty tombstone-size books have no excuse! But what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in sheer force. Each page is littered with the anti-war message of the book. Like Saving Private Ryan, it is just not possible to come away with anything other than the idea that war is hell, and not something to be undertaken lightly.
22 comments46 of 47 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 28 February 2010
I had read Alistair MacLean as a teenager and enjoyed his writing very much. But I had to wait until now at the age of 57 to pick up HMS Ulysses. How could I have allowed this treasure to elude me for so long? This book starkly portrays the horrors of war at sea where the savage elements, the unbelievable cold and the implacable enemy combine to strip away all hope. But that is only half of the whole, for HMS Ulysses is full of compassion, human warmth and wonderful characters so beautifully portrayed that it was so easy to identify with them and their trials and imagine that this great ship and her extraordinary crew really existed. Such was the power of the writing that I was left with a feeling of loss when I reached the end of the final page, and yet somehow uplifted by the whole experience. Other contributers have confessed to being reduced to tears on occasion. Was I? God, yes and unashamedly so. HMS Ulysses is a masterpiece and a beautiful story that you must read, and if there were a way of awarding it more than 5 stars, I would gladly do so. Don't wait more than 40 years like I did. Buy it now and don't loan it to anybody. Let them buy their own copy. They'll want to anyway.
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on 13 July 2005
This, Alistair MacLean's first novel, is an incredible mixture of bravery, tragedy, suspense, pathos, and heart-stopping action.
Very much an anti-war story, it tells of the grim voyage of the Arctic convoy FR77, and in particular one of its escort vessels, the light cruiser of the title, HMS Ulysses.
As a thriller, the book is without equal, but its other main strength is the great variety of its characters, virtually all of which are amazingly true to life.
The ending is satisfyingly tragic, and will bring a tear to even the most cynical reader's eye.
Highly recommended.
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on 29 November 2003
I loved reading the other reviews on this page. MacLean is my all time favorite author, and HMS Ulysses is his best book by far. It's the only book that has ever led me to tears. I would love to see a movie made today with it's story, though that is unlikely. I just hope as many people as possible will read this book.
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on 16 December 2010
I first read HMS Ulysses just after I left school. It was somewhat easier to get into than Nicholas Monsarrat's `The Cruel Sea' (itself an excellent story and on the school book list at the time - though I found it too much like hard workthen and returned to it later in life) whilst sharing similar subject matter. The characterisations in MacLean's book are excellent and so are the descriptions of the harsh environment and the vesssels within which the action takes place. Sometimes the pace of the story feels a little too fast and the enemy actions can feel a bit contrived - though I'm mindful that Alistair MacLean was in the Navy and has a far better idea than I will ever have of the battles fought. The book captures the feelings of its characters well though and, by the speed with which it progresses to its inevitable conclusion, makes you feel part of their suffering. I highly recommend this ebook with the proviso that some basic words in the earlier passages have accidentally been altered in the Kindle translation process and sit incongruously within the sentence - they're obvious misprints and do not affect the enjoyment of the story. It was an absolute joy to re-read this book after so many years!
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on 11 November 2008
They say everyone has a book in them.This must be the best first book written by anyone.Some books are so full of research it shows but this one you feel Maclaine knows what he wants to write.
The story begins in port and then just gathers pace right the way through,the story flows with Maclaine obviously using his own experience of the sea and the navy to keep you gripped and turning page after page.
I first read this book in the seventies and it grips me everytime I read it.
The BEST Maclaine book by far.

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on 19 November 2003
I have sporadically read MacLean novels in the past. Was the favourite author of my father, and to me they have always been a guaranty of high entertainment value.
MHS Ulysses changed this.... I have just finished reading it - and I am not ashamed to say that tears ran down my face more than once.
I am a true product of modern cynicalism, but this book just got to me.... Written in 1955 - I can almost not believe that it can have such an impact on a 30+ rather life experienced female.
I can only encourage you to read it
0Comment15 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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