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114 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, sad and very lonely
Earlier this year I decided to improve the quality of the books I was reading - or, at least, to mix more "good" books in with the easy reading. The Naked and the Dead was the first of these - and what a good choice it was.
Norman Mailer writes with a clarity that is often missing from other good novelists. He develops very strong characters and focusses closely on...
Published on August 8, 2003 by Amazon Customer

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48 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
After marching through 721 pages of Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" I feel compelled to comment. First, the Good. I agree with many reviews that marveled at Mailer's descriptive detail, complex world view and fully dimensional characters (though they are distasteful characterizations). Now, the bad. I waded and waded (and waded) through page after...
Published on December 2, 2001 by maxiepop


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114 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, sad and very lonely, August 8, 2003
By 
Amazon Customer (Arlington, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
Earlier this year I decided to improve the quality of the books I was reading - or, at least, to mix more "good" books in with the easy reading. The Naked and the Dead was the first of these - and what a good choice it was.
Norman Mailer writes with a clarity that is often missing from other good novelists. He develops very strong characters and focusses closely on the interactions between them and their environment. Don't expect an action-packed story: The tales here are the soldier's lives and the lack of action is part of war which seems to be very realistically reconstructed.
The story, for what it's worth, follows a band of recon soldiers on an island in the Pacific during World War II. The book opens with the initial assault on the Japanese-held island; it finishes with the quick and anti-climatic (deliberately so) mopping up of the last troups. In between we follow the soldiers' progress through the jungle, go with them on a desperate recon. mission, and learn about their lives through a series of personal flashbacks.
We also see a full range of characters - at all levels in the army - and see their private and semi-private battles with authority. Often the authority in question is an over-demanding or idiotic superior; just as often it is an insolant, stubborn inferior. It is this interplay between the ranks that makes this novel stand out.
The book seems long, but it really is a page turner up with the best of them. At the end of it, you'll be able to say you really enjoyed a work of great fiction.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It only feels like it goes on forever., August 7, 2001
By 
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
There must have been a glut of war novels published in the wake of World War II, so it's indicative of the high quality of Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" that its popularity and acclaim have survived when so many others have been forgotten. What makes it so powerful is its uncompromising depiction of brutal front-line combat in scenes so well written that it's easy to forgive the book for its occasionally banal dialogue.
The setting is a fictitious South Pacific island called Anopopei which is held by the Japanese. The U.S. Army has launched a campaign to take command of the island by landing six thousand troops there to confront the defensive line established by the opposing Japanese General Toyaku. Because this is fictional, I assume that the island is supposed to be a desirable strategic position because the purpose of the mission in relation to the real war is never clearly explained. In charge of the invasion is a Machiavellian General named Cummings who thinks soldiers are motivated best by fear. To defeat Toyaku's line, Cummings devises a plan tailored to the island's particular geography and assigns a reconnaissance squad to the dangerous mission, putting his rebellious and idealistic aide, Lieutenant Hearn, in charge. What the men find out is that the island's natural environment is a more formidable enemy than the Japanese could ever be.
The story focuses mainly on the dozen or so men in the reconnaissance squad. Their personal backgrounds vary greatly, although their personalities don't differ so much that it's easy to tell them apart except by name. The two that stand out the most are Roth and Goldstein, two Jewish soldiers who are made to feel like outcasts due to casual anti-semitism in the squad. Short sections entitled "The Time Machine" provide glimpses of each soldier's personal history -- how they came to be what they are. They are, for the most part, normal men with understandable fears of things like being wounded or killed and the possibility of their wives' infidelity while they are gone.
Reading this novel is like descending into a hellish abyss. It is very long and goes into extensive detail about all aspects of wartime life on the island: marching through the jungle in its greenhouse-like heat, hauling heavy equipment through muddy trails and over mountainous terrain, listening to the sporadic bursts of machine gun fire. The squad's treacherous reconnaissance mission is an almost Sisyphean task in which there is no honor or glory to be reaped from their efforts, just tired muscles and broken bodies. And yet they must continue onward, commanded by a cold and distant master plan that is concerned more with the gain of land than the loss of people. This is more than just a suspenseful war story; it is an eye-opening allegory about the apparent purposelessness of mankind's labor and suffering throughout history.
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100 of 113 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Origin of a Species, October 29, 2002
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
I bought the book based on size and reputation. I read nothing from Mailer prior to this book, and I needed something to occupy several hours of travel in Europe. Over 800 pages of prose would do the trick.
I ended up reading the book in the hotel, four hours at a stretch. I was fascinated by it, particularly in seeing so many familiar literary devices originate with this novel. The backstories of the characters were excellent, and I found it to be a compact way of developing the characters and explaining their motivations.
What I particularly liked was the writing style, and the Lieutenant-General struggle was perhaps the real soul of the book. The self-awareness of each competitor, and the misconception of what each was trying to accomplish, was a microcosm of each struggle throughout the book. Every point of conflict was sharply defined through a misunderstanding, a lack of communication, a little misstep here or there, compounding to some surprising and gut wrenching conclusions.
Because the ending was frustrating to me, I found it completely believable and realistic. I can see someone stumbling into a victory; I can see our hero dying due to betrayal; and I can see the flawed, vaguely malignant leader emerge largely unscathed from the chaos.
...I can understand the reservations of some reviewers, but only in an abstract, "right to your opinion" sort of way. For me, this was a 4.5 on a 5-star scale. The only reservation was the self-censoring of certain words and phrases to pass editorial review, something I feel should not be an author's consideration when writing. I can forgive this weakness in a 25 year old Norman Mailer, however. He's certainly earned it.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Norman's Land, December 7, 2005
By 
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
While the title of this book may be The Naked And The Dead, there's very little nudity yet a substantial amount of death. This is to be expected, however, as the book takes place in a war zone during World War II. The story, by Norman Mailer, tells of a group of American soldiers invading the Japanese island of Anopopei. Rather than single out a certain character as a protagonist, the story shifts perspectives between a vast array of characters to give the reader a view from many aspects of the war. Tellingly, with so many characters to remember, this is not a book you want to spend long intervals away from between readings.

Mailer's is a simple and direct, yet powerful writing style. His precise attention to detail gives The Naked And The Dead the feel of a sort of literary documentary. Such is the reason Mailer is often heralded as one of the pioneers of "journalistic fiction", a highly realistic account of fictional happenings, almost as if reported by a journalist who was present. It's doubtful you can remember the last time you were substantially involved emotionally with a documentary, but there's no need to fear in this instance as Mailer imbues his characters with a very empathetic human quality. However, in order to come across these traits in the characters, one must venture deeply into the novel. You can define "deeply" however you'd like, as the novel weighs in at a sizable 721 pages.

One device Mailer uses to help readers get to understand his characters better is to intersperse "time machines" throughout the story. The time machines show things that happened to the men before they were sent to war and gives insight as to what shaped the characters into who they are now. If not for the flashbacks, the book would come dangerously close to lapsing into the sort of soulless informative prose that a novelization of a documentary would suggest. Whether showing the intense rush a soldier feels while in the midst of gunfire, the guilt of capturing an enemy only to find out he's a human being much like everyone else, to the alienation a lower-class troop feels amongst his peers when the general shows favoritism towards him, Mailer never loses sight of what's most important to a reader: feeling what the characters feel and having a sense of being right there with them, bullets whirring past your head or hungering for battle in the still tension of the night. I would actually give this book 4.5 stars, if Amazon would let me do such a thing.
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48 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, December 2, 2001
By 
"maxiepop" (Santa Clarita, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
After marching through 721 pages of Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" I feel compelled to comment. First, the Good. I agree with many reviews that marveled at Mailer's descriptive detail, complex world view and fully dimensional characters (though they are distasteful characterizations). Now, the bad. I waded and waded (and waded) through page after page of highly detailed marching and moaning hoping for an amazing payoff to the story. Sorry soldiers, this march leads to nowhere. I read a review that referred to this novel as having been written in a reporter's style. Through most of my reading I completely disagreed. The facts only reporter's style didn't jibe with the complex portraits Mailer conceived. Nevertheless, at the end I understood the "reporter" comment. Journalism not being a dramatic form doesn't rely on compelling plotting. So too is the case with this novel. "The Naked and the Dead" has a lot of marching, character development but ultimately DISSAPPOINTING PLOTTING. Finally the ugly. The 50th Anniversary edition boasts a new introduction by Norman Mailer himself. At less than two pages the introduction comes off as merely tossed off if not written by somebody clearly irritated by the task.
One other note. Although Mailer's characters were fully dimensional, I found them to be a pretty distasteful bunch. In fact, I was hoping that most, if not all, of them would be killed by the end. I kept thinking that the Japanese had to be less dispicable than this lot. Mailer clearly has a low opinion of men and mankind in general. I don't buy it. I'm sure our army in WWII had some bad eggs but not the whole carton.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mailer is a natural, October 18, 1999
Writing must come naturally to Norman Mailer. While this is his very first book, it suffers from none of the usual rookie mistakes and stands up to the very best works in Mailer's oeuvre. I dare say that very few 20th century novelists would not trade in the sum total of their work to have written this one masterpiece.
"The Naked and the Dead" delves deep into the heart of war as it exists in modern times, sparing us the sentimentalism and glorification that plagues most books of the war genre. I would be belittling this book's significance by even assigning it to a specific genre. True, this is a story of war, of the implications of war, the causes of war, and the impact that war has on various types of individuals, from the generals down to a platoon of privates. But first and foremost this is a story about human nature, and how human beings react when pushed to the very edge of their physical and emotional endurance.
While I could go on indefinately listing this book's many favorable attributes, I will spare you my opinions and let you decide for yourself. But do read this book. Do not be put-off by its length, for anything shorter would have done a great injustice to the subject matter.
Norman Mailer, may you live to be 1,000 years old.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The first classic novel of WW II, October 25, 2002
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
This is the novel that made Norman Mailer an overnight literary sensation, and was perhaps the first famous literary work dealing with events in WW II. Unlike some of the other great WW II classics like CATCH-22 and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, it was written immediately following the war.
From the comments I read from other reviewers, I seem to like this novel a bit less than others. While it is unquestionably a novel of great scope and seriousness, I found much of it to be stiff and somewhat dated. Many of the characters seemed to me to be stock characters, and almost all of the conversation struck me as stiff and artificial. I should add, however, that I have heard Mailer interviewed on several occasions, and interestingly I find his own conversational style to be somewhat stiff and artificial. So, it might be that the style in THE NAKED AND THE DEAD follows his own inner voice.
Nonetheless, even for a relative nonfan of the book, there is much to admire in this book. One scene describing a battle at night possessed a great deal of power. And while I found the conversations awkward, over the course of time you get a sense of the dynamics and personalities of the various platoon members. What especially surprised me about the book was how cynical and disillusioned the novel felt. It was, after all, published in 1948, and the flush and pride of victory already feels stale and faded. This is not the John Wayne in THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA.
One disconcerting aspect of the book was the extensive use of pseudo-profanity. Obviously, in 1948 Mailer or his editors either felt or knew that the novel would face censorship charges if the F-word were used. Instead, the word "fug" is substituted liberally throughout, and the effect for modern reader is jarring and unpleasant, almost as if the men were speaking a different dialect. It may have been one of the factors that made the prose seem somewhat artificial to me. After more than 50 years, it would be nice to see Mailer authorize a new edition with more explicit speech. This makes the novel sound more dated than it ought.
While I found this somewhat disappointing and less moving than I had anticipated, this is nonetheless well worth reading. From a literary standpoint it features one of the most full-blooded tales of combat in WW II and from a historical standpoint it was the first great English-language fictional account of the conflict. Either of those reasons would suffice to make this a worthy read.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Japanese Theater, November 12, 2001
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is the way that Norman Mailer handles the narration. Instead of having a first person perspective, or a third person perspective with one main character, Mailer focuses on a sort of group consciousness. That is, he switches back a forth between different characters within the US combat force throughout the invasion. Thus, you might be following the I and R platoon on a patrol at one moment, and then be whisked back to the general at headquarters. The reader is given a panoramic view of the invasion of Anopopei. Given the wrong writer, this method could have been a complete mess. However, Mailer handled it brilliantly, giving all of the characters personality, and depth. The book unfolds very slowly, as a the reader is introduced to all the members of an invading platoon (the Intellegence and recon platoon). At the end of many of the chapters are little subsections titled "Time Machine." These sections serve as a sort of flashback to each individual soldier's personal history (each person only gets one time machine section). These subsections help to humanize these characters, as well as to show the forces that have shaped them (economics, class, education, etc.). The scenes also let the reader view the negative and possitve sides of each person: racism, sexism, cowardice, bravery, empathy, and compassion. The members of the platoon become rounded (flawed) people. This initial process of introducing the reader to these characters is extraordinarily important at the end of the novel.
Another interesting aspect of this book is the way that it shows the internal structures that hold these people together. It examines the idea of hiearchy that the military survives on. That is, it looks at the relationship of men of different ranks to each other (officers to enlisted men, general to lieutenant, etc.). How does having control over a man's destiny effect you? How does it effect the man you control? In all, it seems that these internal struggles are among the most important of battle. In order to keep an army together, you must be able to control it. In fact, for me, one of the most interesting interactions/conflicts in the novel is between Lieutenant Hearn and General Cummings.
In all, the story is very interesting. I would recomend it to anybody who has an interest in World War Two, or simply war stories in general. However, I would caution that this is not a shoot 'em up, action adventure fest. It's a sort of study on how war effects those who have to fight it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Grandpa's War Story, August 8, 2007
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
Or maybe it is your grandpa's war story; I wouldn't know because my grandpa was in the navy. Anyway, those looking for a rollicking action adventure about WWII in the Pacific had better look elsewhere. It's not a John Wayne movie or even "Saving Private Ryan." This is a psychological study of men grappling with the elements and themselves in a hellish environment. (Substitute the jungle for sand dunes and tropical humidity for 130-degree heat and Japanese soldiers for Arab terrorists and it would fit perfectly into modern times.)

This is a fictional account of the taking of an island in the Pacific by American forces. The story focuses primarily on a recon platoon lead by the abusive tyrant Sergeant Croft. There are about a dozen men in the platoon at the beginning including the Mexican sergeant Martinez, the former hobo Red, the Jew trying to fit in Goldstein, the intellectual Jew/platoon runt Roth, a couple good ol' boys Wilson and Ridges, gangster wanna-be Polack, brownnoser corporal Stanley, and seemingly All-American boy Brown. There's also General Cummings and his surly Ivy League aide Hearn, who have a very conflicted and adversarial relationship.

This relationship ends with Hearn being assigned to the recon platoon for a quixotic mission to explore behind the Japanese lines. This patrol leads to three men dying, two quickly and one very slowly.

But again this isn't a book about the war. There's really only one real battle and a couple of skirmishes. The real war for the soldiers is with the jungle and themselves--physically and mentally. A lot of the book details the platoon's fatigue as they tramp through the jungle or work on constructing a road to resupply the front.

None of these guys come off as your stereotypical characters from a war movie and Mailer's greatest strength is delving beneath the tough guy surfaces to show the fragile individuals underneath. Several sections of the book are referred to as the "time machine" and detail the platoon members before they went to war. None of them are heroes, but just ordinary guys who don't care about causes and flags, only about getting back home to their families and friends.

There's no glory to be had anywhere in this very long, very detailed narrative. If you're looking for action and excitement, look elsewhere--maybe ask your grandpa to tell one of his stories. If you want a realistic portrait of war, then look no further.

That is all.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helprin meets Hemingway, But Better [51][80], March 6, 2008
By 
This review is from: The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paperback)
At 25, Mailer's insightful yarn about a World War II battleground shows how precocious and mature his writing skills were at that young age. After having personally lived two years in that same war, maybe Mailer - like many of the characters in the book - arrived as a boy and left as a man. But, unlike his characters, we know he was extremely literate and given a gift to write.

In college, Mailer claims to have written a lot - over 250,000 words. And, all before the age of computers, easy editing, and electric typewriters. This book, approximately 210,000 words, was amazingly completed with ribbons, manual returns and hand corrections in a period of 15 months.

Painstaking detail to the accounts of the 10-person unit enables the reader to feel the anguish and boredom often entailed among enlisted men. We enter their torpid minds sodden by the Japanese rains and febrile from the metallic heat, and learn why these drones constantly reject the authority of the commissioned as well noncommissioned officers who outrank them. The dichotomy existing in the military ranks is obvious. But, everyone puts one pant leg on at a time, we're all flesh and blood, we all are nothing special in the larger realm, or as one character (Red) says, "There damn sure ain't nothing special about a man if he can smell as bad as he does when he's dead."

In addition,behind closed doors, we witness the private life of the general overseeing all of them. His self hatred swells so greatly that he actually seeks defilade in war from his oppressive wife and home life.

Contrasted to the extremely thorough prose about the few weeks on the Japanese island, Mailer gives each main character a brief 9-12 page "life's story" - but not as a rendition, but instead laid out as a weave of few life-changing events, or discussions or both. These mini-biographies are all amazingly detailed in such cleverly simple delivery - very similar to Hemingway's best.

But, the greatest aspect of his book is the creation of the main characters' dialogue. Unlike other great writers, whose dialogue uses spellings and juxtaposed grammar to catch the accent and flavor of the region's "patois", Mailer has a vast number of accents to work from and deliver. Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, prep school, Chicago, Brooklyn, Mexican and others are all brilliantly depicted dialogues in this book. To be capable of creating such diverse accents is amazing. To deliver such amazing diverse dialogues at 25 is almost incomprehensible.

By the end, like any war story, we learn to love those who die and learn to hate some who live. Boys will be boys and some will never "do the right thing." And, sometimes it is the "good who die young." And, luckily, sometimes the good writers live, come home, rethink what horrors they just lived through, apply their God-given writing skills to such memories and deliver a book which will justly last for generations.
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The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition
The Naked and the Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition by Norman Mailer (Paperback - August 5, 2000)
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