Mash: A Novel About Three Army Doctors
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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2001
Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H is quite a diverse book. It is part dramatic documentary on Korean War combat surgery and the remarkable achievements of the surgeons in spite of their lack of field training, the indequate medical facilities with which they had to work, and the sub-human conditions under which they had to perform miracles.
It is also an extremely broad farce. The human sacrifice of Shakin' Sammy and the Jesus Christ personal appearance tour (actually a beer-swilling, half-naked, bearded Trapper John lashed to a crucifix) are a couple of examples of the exaggerated comic stylings.
This interspersing of drama and comedy makes this an interesting if somewhat unsual read and also makes it a perfect subject for dramatization. When it is in comedy zone, it is way out there. When it is in drama zone, it is quite serious. According to Hooker's forward, the surgeons in a MASH were exposed to many extremes. With his writing style, Hooker has exposed us to extremes as well.
It is one of my favorite books and I highly recommend it to fans of either the movie or the TV series. The film captures more of the book's bawdy, ribald spirit. The TV show captures more of the sentiment.
I also recommend "MASH: An Army Surgeon In Korea" by Otto F. Apel if you want the real story of what life in a MASH was. If you are a fan of the film/book/series and think you have an understanding of how rough it was back then, read this. It was a lot worse. An excellent read.
Add both of these books to your collection and then thank your lucky stars this isn't 1951 and you are draft eligible.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2001
Like the characters within the covers, Richard Hooker's "MASH", is not so much a work of art, but a piece of work and as dear Hawkeye is so fond of saying,"the finest kind". This book proves the theory that "the book is better than the movie", despite the fact that both the film and tv show were, perhaps, the best in their respective mediums. Put away your images from both and let Mr.Hooker take you to Korea. His prose is not the mystical, lyrical verse of some writers, but it is indeed a story, told masterfully. The characters are full of life, with enough kick to jump start your car, yet their wit is dry as the Sahara, just like the martinis served by the main characters, and prefered by the author himself. An easy read, if not an enjoyable one, that will make you laugh out loud and then, with a simple sentence, fill your mind's eye with the violence and destruction of war on the often forgotten participants. You will never regret the time spent reading this novel, nor will youever forget what it is about.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2004
Richard Hooker's story about three army doctors who deal with the stresses of meatball surgery in Korea is a great book. Never mind that it served as the basis for a movie and one of the most popular TV shows ever; if you think you know the story, you probably don't.

The movie and the TV show loom so large in popular culture that it is almost impossible to write a review without some mention of the video version's of Hooker's work. What we find of the familiar names is that the doctors in the book are neither the anarchists of the movie nor the peaceniks of the series, but simply a few Type A personalities who don't have a lot of respect for authority and are stuck in a tough job without much to occupy their spare time. This is really a study in the difficulty of life performing meatball surgery mere miles from the front line, and the methods men use to cope with the stress of dealing with life and death situations on an hourly basis.

I think the most compelling part of this book is the daily wait for the six o'clock helicopter. I won't disclose the plot details, but this little portion of the story breaks the life of the MASH down into its most basic elements.

I have to say I enjoyed this book immensely. As is almost always the case with the book form of a story, the characters are so much fuller than they can be on screen. Hooker has a dry, witty sense of humor that is on display throughout the story, but he never fully allows the reader to forget the stress and the pall of death and destruction that hangs over the camp. Hooker establishes a fine line between humor and horror, and writes about three doctors who couldn't survive the latter without the former.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Having seen the movie by Altman and the TV show by Alda, et al, I thought that MASH the book would just be a refresher course. I was not only incorrect but also surprised at the difference between the mediums. The book contains some pretty funny scenes that weren't included in the movie, of course (Where can you find a hooker with epilepsy?). And the telling of the football game was still hilarious. Overall, the material is still fresh after all of these years and incarnations.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2005
If you're a fan of the film or the TV show, MASH, you'll enjoy reading the original novel.

I thought the movie was brilliant (I actually think it's better than the book) and I liked the TV show at first, until cast members started bailing out and were replaced by whining, "enlightened" characters who enabled Alan Alda to whine about the US Army and "War is Hell." It would be akin to the Delta House from ANIMAL HOUSE organizing a peace rally or marching for civil rights. You get the idea.

You'll see just how far off track the final seasons of the show went by watching the film and reading the original novel. MASH isn't as well written or satirical as CATCH-22 (good book, disastrous film), but it stays funny and interesting and doesn't overstay its welcome.

Actually, the more buffoonish (Henry Blake) and clownish (Frank Burns, "Hot Lips" Houlihan) characters come off as more real in the novel. I know the film and definitely the show tried to avoid references to the Korean War (because they wanted the war to represent any war, like Vietnam at the time of the film), but I appreciated the short references to the Korean battles and such in the novel.

If you're a fan, check it out.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2002
Richard Hooker's primary aim in writing MASH was to vividly capture the essence of what being a MASH surgeon was really all about. The book provides a lot of information about how these guys came to be MASH doctors, how the ARMY supported them-and how the ARMY failed to support them, and what the experience was like from the doctors perspective as a surgeon as well as a man, not part of the "regular army" but [pushed] into it involuntarily.
Is this an antiwar book? Yes, in a way.
It is an antiwar book to the extent that, through it's depictions of the results of modern warfare, it conveys true disgust with both war in general and the way the military handles its troops and soldiers. The antiwar message is more subtle than explicit.
Is it a mad-cap comedy? Yes, in a way.
The fact is that hooker uses comedy as one of many tools to convey the extreme conditions-of climate, of workload, of inexperience, of loneliness, of sheer terror-that affected the MASH surgeons experience during the Korean War as well as their responses to those conditions. Thrust, usually against their will, into situations often beyond their ken, in an organizational structure they neither respect or truly understand, the behavior of many was, at best, aberrant as opposed to their true natures. This perforce leads to inherently comic situations. Add that to the normal Army SNAFU culture (Situation Normal-All Fouled UP), and the recipe for comedy is auspicious...
The book remains a very viable stand alone experience.
If you are a fan of either or both the movie and TV series, I seriously recommend reading the book, It elevates the whole MASH experience to a new and more holistically satisfying level.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The 1968 novel MASH was eleven years in the writing and promoting to a string of publishers all but one of whom rejected it. Novel's author H. Richard Hornberger, M.D. (1924 - 1997) gave himself the nom de plume of Richard Hooker. He had been a surgeon in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War (1950 - 1953). In his Foreword to MASH, author Hornberger/Hooker explained what the novel was trying to do:

"The surgeons in the MASH hospitals were exposed to extremes of hard work, leisure, tension, boredom, heat, cold, satisfaction and frustration that most of them had never faced before. Their reaction ... was to cope with situation and get the job done. ... A few flipped their lids, but most of them just raised hell, in a variety of ways and degrees. This is a story of some of the ways and degrees. It's also a story of some of the work."

To be fair, the author delivers what he promised. He focuses on the lives of three MASH surgeons, all drafted U.S. Army captains who spend 18 months in country 1951 - 1953, two of them, Captains "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Duke" Forrest, putting in 15 months close to front lines 45 miles north of Seoul in the 4077th MASH. When they return to civilian life in 1953, they leave behind a third tent mate Captain "Trapper John" McIntyre, a chest surgeon. Trapper John has another six months to serve. Without his two soul-mates, he will probably have a gloomy time of it.

The three friends, called Swampmen after "the Swamp," the name for their bachelor officers' tent, preserve their sanity (sort of) under horrible working conditions, but their self-preserving eccentric, zany often anti-social behavior was apparently not typical of most of the suprisingly abundant medical personnnel attached to the 4077th MASH.

The novel is a string of short stories and episodes of Swampmen pranks, usually humorous, interspersed among didactic descriptions of treatment of a variety of battlefield wounds usually caused by pieces of exploded enemy metal distributed in every imaginable part of the human anatomy.

Characters are two dimensional at best. Arguably the worst feature of MASH are pedestrian conversations among the surgeons and other medical staff. Here is an early, typical, sample:

"'My name's Duke Forrest. Who are y'all?'

'Hawkeye Pierce.'

'Hawkeye Pierce?' Captain Forrest said. 'What the hell kind of a name is that?'

'The only book my old man ever read was THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, Captain Pierce explained.'

'Oh,' Captain Forrest said.'" (Ch. 1)

Had MASH the novel not begotten a better 1970 film (directed by legendary Robert Altman) and an enduring eleven season (1972 - 1983) television series, it might be forgotten by now. Its writing rarely rises above average. Its depiction of character struggles to reach the second of two human dimensions.

-OOO-
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2009
Richard Hooker's novel, MASH, was a wonderfully entertaining and simple read. I found it very hard to put this great book down. It was very funny in many parts, but also very serious and heavy in other parts. The chapters in this book are very similar to single television episodes. Each chapter deals with a separate mini-story, and they are all wonderful. Unlike the T.V. show, there is a third major character, Captain Duke Forrest. I wish that the T.V. show had included this great character, he was very important in the book. Frank Burns is only in one chapter, unlike the television show. It can be considered a good ting that this book is not exactly like the show, because then it would not be so original and special.

For parents, I would not recomend this book to children, like the movie and T.V show, it has some rather vulgar scenes, but nothing to severe. The writing style is very simple. There are few great descriptions or epic dialogues. However, because of the simple writing, this book is very easy to read and enjoy. All fans of MASH should read this wonderful book. You will never regretting discovering this wonderful addition to the 4077th. If you do not know much about MASH, this can still be a very enjoyable book. It is a simple and wonderfully entertaining read that any one will enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2004
The novel is strikingly different in many ways from the film and the TV series which followed it. Some of the charcters are entirely different from the way they were portrayed in the move and Tv series. For instance, Colonel Blake and Father mulchahey are both much tougher characters than they are portrayed as being in the later vehicles. Major Houlihan doesn't play nearly such an important role in the book as she does in the film or series. Trapper and Hawkeye are like and yet not like their later versions. The book is very funny however and is well worth reading, and it is very interesting to compare it with the later and quite different versions. I don't know how Richard Hooker felt about the changes made to his characters in the later versions, but certainly this, the original book that started it all, should be read by any fan of the other versions.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
...and the early tv episodes with Rogers as Trapper captured the true chemistry as originally designed by Hooker. In fact, the Altman movie follows the 1st MASH novel quite well, down to the addition of the Spearchuker as a ringer in the football game and "Suicide is Painless". If you are a true MASH fan, go back and read this. You will love it. If you are not much of a MASH fan, find it and read it anyway. It will make you a convert....
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