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On the Beach Mass Market Paperback – September 12, 1983

4.2 out of 5 stars 460 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“The most haunting evocation we have of a world dying of radiation after an atomic war.” —The New York Times 
“The most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off.”  —San Francisco Chronicle

“A novelist of intelligent and engaging quality, deservedly popular. . . . Nevil Shute was, in brief, the sort of novelist who genuinely touches the imagination and feeling.” —The Times (London)

From the Trade Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

8 1-hour cassettes --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (September 12, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345311485
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345311481
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (460 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nevil Shute Norway was born in 1899 in Ealing, London. He studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. Following his childhood passion, he entered the fledgling aircraft industry as an aeronautical engineer working to develop airships and, later, airplanes. In his spare time he began writing and he published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926, using the name Nevil Shute to protect his engineering career. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they had two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death in 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), A Town Like Alice (1950), and On the Beach (1957).

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
I think most people here have already summed up this book, and there is little I can add to what they've said. I'll try anyway.
On the Beach tells the story of the aftermath of an all-out nuclear war. The setting is Australia, one of the few places in the world to escape not only the bombs, put the deadly clouds of radioactive fallout from the war. But they'll only survive for a little while, because the global wind currents are slowly pushing the deadly fallout down to Antarctica. The Aussies only have a short time before they all come down with radiation sickness and die. The whole book is an emotional rollercoaster as the dreaded day of death looms ever closer, with absolutely nothing to prevent doom. Most people are resigned to their fate, and try and stay busy with various daily rituals in an effort to keep their sanity.
The two main characters of the book are Dwight Towers, a U.S. submarine commander who has survived the war and is in refuge in Australia, and Moira Davidson, a young Australian girl who is bitter about her fate and seeks consolation with Dwight. Other characters are introduced, such as a young couple with a baby and a scientist who likes racing cars. The reader is quickly drawn into these people's lives, and really comes to care about what happens to them. Needless to say, the ending isn't warm and cheery. I had to stop reading the book several times and take a little break to get rid of the huge lump in my throat. It is a VERY tough read at the end. If you don't get emotional, you just might be dead.
There are several small points to make about the book. The author, Nevil Shute, isn't exactly the best writer in terms of grammar. There are awkward sentences and errors, and it sometimes detracts from the story.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
"On the Beach" is one of those books that you read for the concept and the story, but not for the quality of the writing. The plot centers around the lives of a few remaining survivors of a nuclear war who live in Australia. Since the was has taken place in the northern hemisphere, Australia has largely escaped unscathed--for the moment. But as prevailing winds approach Australia, they carry lethal doses of radiation with them. The implication of this is that all of the characters in the book--in fact everyone in the world--will inevitably be extinguished.
"On the Beach" has a profound psychological impact because it is devoid of the intense action that usually accompanies nuclear apocolypse films. The destruction has already occurred elsewhere and the citizens of Australia are largely going about their business knowing they will soon die. The fact that their infrastructure has not been destroyed and that all of their social aparatus is still intact makes their fate all the more sad and earie.
Although this book is set in the Cold War it's outcome is still relevant and feasible today. The nuclear warheads generated by the arms race haven't gone away. The former Soviet Union is a desparate, chaotic place, and as several reviewers pointed out, more small countries are joining the nuclear club. One could say that Nuclear madness has merely transformed itself, but its danger certainly hasn't disappeared.
I think everyone should read this book to be reminded of the possible future we all face.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
After a nuclear war, radiation slowly drifts southwards, gradually killing off humanity there as it has already been killed off in the Northern Hemisphere. The end is less than a year away, yet Australians, and a few American naval refugees seek to maintain their daily lives in the face of doom, and even send an exploratory submarine northwards.
The fascination of the book is watching how people react to the inevitable doom. Many just go on plegmatically, a few pretend it will never happen. Most interesting is Moira Dawson, an Australian girl who had dreamed of visiting London and Paris, and now never will, and who seeks to live what little life is left to the fullest. She learns a lesson from a stillborn romance with Dwight Towers, the submarine commander who acts as if his wife and children are alive in Connecticut.
Perhaps the limitation of this book is that most of the characters simply accept their doom, presumably having come to terms with it before the start of the book. But more of a range of viewpoints might be welcome. Could you imagine the anger and frustration of teenagers under these circumstances, in the throes of adolescence without the promise of adulthood, knowing they will never have their independence.
As in most of Shute's later works, there are no villians. That is welcome when so many books have paper villains for us to vicariously hate.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
As radiation from a nuclear war that destroyed all life in the northern half of the earth gradually spreads southward to deliver its poison to all who live there, a number of Australians and a handful of Americans who reside among them attempt to continue some facet of normal life, even when the time for all things is nearly done. We learn going into this foreboding novel that at most one year remains to even the most fortunate of those yet alive. We read along as the last of humankind pathetically (or is it with dignity?) plant gardens, play with their children, reform from their alcoholism, fall in love, race cars...the list could go on and on. What must it be like to dwell under these horrible circumstances? What must it do, for instance, to the mind of a devout theist when she sees the deity to whom she has maintained lifelong faith is not going to arrive deus ex machina to save her and make everything right again? What must utter and complete moral hopelessness be like? How horrible must it be to be young and rise each morning knowing the despair that would come with so many hopes lying before you, now impossible to ever fulfill? And what must it be like to be a parent and understand that the children you bought into a terrible world reeling in extremis, will die in a matter of weeks?

On The Beach is not about exploding cities and geo-political confrontations. The war and the nations who fought it are distant, quiet memories, barely of significance. On The Beach is about people, and how those people carry on in the face of a doom they neither created nor can elude. It is one of the darkest works of fiction ever produced, and also one of the finest. If it impacts a jaded modern reader so startlingly, what must it have been like to read this fifty years ago when the very concept of global extinction after nuclear conflict, was new?

A universal, eternal classic of the Cold War era.
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