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Underworld: A Novel Paperback – July 9, 1998

405 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684848150 ISBN-10: 0684848155 Edition: Reprint

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Editorial Reviews Review

While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the cold war and American culture, compelling that "swerve from evenness" in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls "super-omniscience" the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union's second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It's an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca's pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter--the "shot heard around the world"--and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra's shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.

"It's all falling indelibly into the past," writes DeLillo, a past that he carefully recalls and reconstructs with acute grace. Jump from Giants Stadium to the Nevada desert in 1992, where Nick Shay, who now owns the baseball, reunites with the artist Kara Sax. They had been brief and unlikely lovers 40 years before, and it is largely through the events, spinoffs, and coincidental encounters of their pasts that DeLillo filters the Cold War experience. He believes that "global events may alter how we live in the smallest ways," and as the book steps back in time to 1951, over the following 800-odd pages, we see just how those events alter lives. This reverse narrative allows the author to strip away the detritus of history and pop culture until we get to the story's pure elements: the bomb, the baseball, and the Bronx. In an epilogue as breathless and stunning as the prologue, DeLillo fast-forwards to a near future in which ruthless capitalism, the Internet, and a new, hushed faith have replaced the Cold War's blend of dread and euphoria.

Through fragments and interlaced stories--including those of highway killers, artists, celebrities, conspiracists, gangsters, nuns, and sundry others--DeLillo creates a fragile web of connected experience, a communal Zeitgeist that encompasses the messy whole of five decades of American life, wonderfully distilled. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Dennis Boutsakaris reads skillfully from DeLillo's carefully abridged opus (LJ 9/1/97), which begins with an extended prolog describing a memorable 1951 World Series game. The baseball hit in the game's climactic home run becomes a focal point for the sprawling novel. The ball's various owners are meticulously profiled as 40 years of American history and culture are sketched. The resulting panorama of the modern age is reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow's splendid Ragtime, yet ultimately the audio fails to move or engage the listener. DeLillo's powers of description are acute, and the intricate structure he has devised for his story is a marvel, but these overpowering virtues seem wearyingly mechanical. The lengthy parade of characters is collectively forgettable. The underlying theme of garbage provides an air of quiet desperation to the grim litany of current events and interwoven plot lines. Not recommended.?John Owen, Advanced Micro Devices Lib., Santa Clara, Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684848155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684848150
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (405 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Don DeLillo is the author of fourteen novels, including Falling Man, Libra and White Noise, and three plays. He has won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Jerusalem Prize. In 2006, Underworld was named one of the three best novels of the last twenty-five years by The New York Times Book Review, and in 2000 it won the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction of the past five years.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

324 of 341 people found the following review helpful By Daniel M. Conley on April 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
... Don DeLillo is an acquired taste. He loves repetition,which drives many readers mad. He has a powerful worldview, centeredon conspiracies and secret meanings. Political conservatives often despise him.
If you are new to DeLillo, you may very well enjoy his books. But please, do NOT start your DeLillo reading with this book. Start with a small, funny book like End Zone. Ease into White Noise, Mao II or Libra ... then take a crack at Underworld.
For those in touch with DeLillo's dry humor and in love with those picture perfect sentences that seem to appear out of thin air, Underworld is the ultimate feast. It is a culmination of his themes about modern America ... but it's also a miraculous collection of vignettes.
What other writer would dare imagine a series of Lenny Bruce monologues during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or conjure up a forgotten Eisenstein film? Or rediscover the bizarre coincidence of Frank Sinatra, Toots Shoor, Jackie Gleason and J. Edgar Hoover all attending the Giants-Dodgers playoff game?
I'm in awe of DeLillo. His universe may be cold and spare, but I believe that's because he sees our world more clearly than most. He gets under the emotions and styles of the day ... he finds the secret histories. END
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65 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Matthew A. Goodin on June 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Don Delillo does not traffic in plot-driven novels. Delillo specializes not in creating "stories", but in creating vignettes, in creating moments full of weight, intensity and the impact of history. In Underworld, Delillo has brought this specialty to a stunning apotheosis. As a result, attempting any meaningful summary of the plot is not only nearly impossible, it is entirely beside the point.
The opening 100 or so pages - impressionistically describing the final game of the 1951 pennant race between the Dodgers and the Giants as attended by J. Edgar Hoover, Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra - is an absolute tour de force: quite possibly the best 100 pages of any book in the last ten years. The omniscient narrative flows effortlessly back and forth between Hoover et al. to Cotter, the man who catches the "shot heard 'round the world." From there, the book jumps forward to the present day (or thereabouts) and flows backward through time, loosely following the caught baseball as it passes hands over the years.
All of this, however, is simply the armature which Delillo uses to explore his central theme: what living with the bomb for the last 40-50 years has done to us as a country, as a culture, and as a society. Using the Bronx as his guide (although one gets the feeling that the Bronx guides Delillo as well), Delillo suggests that the Cold War has created irreparable rifts in our society, has diminished our sense of "connectedness" to each other, has destroyed our sense of community. In his evocative epilogue, Delillo clearly hints that the Internet may create or exacerbate similar ill-effects in the future (I emphatically agree, as I sit here and type out a review that will only be seen over the Internet).
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109 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
It took me almost two months to finish this book. It's long, 827 pages, and complex.
It starts on October 4, 1951 when Bobby Thompson hit the home run in the last of the ninth inning, thereby winning the pennant for the Giants against the Dodgers. The same day, by coincidence, the Russians exploded their first nuclear bomb.
These two themes, baseball and nuclear war, run throughout the book. There are dozens of characters and hundreds of incidents and it all seems like a very loose jigsaw puzzle that doesn't quite fit together. It's art the way a surreal painting is art, the tone set by the author's mastery of language and unique detail.
The main character is Nick Shay, a man raised in the Bronx and now a nuclear waste expert living in Arizona. All the other characters had smaller roles. There's an artist who leaves her family, a chess player who loses games, a serial killer who randomly kills people on the highway, a fanatic collector of baseball memorabilia. There's also Lenny Bruce. They're all were part of the total form, though, which was, in reality, only peripherally about it's characters. The book was about America from 1951 until the present day and how the threat of nuclear war effected our lives.
Having lived through this time, I remember the classroom drills. We would all crouch under our desks when the teacher said "take cover," and I remember being issued a dog tag to wear. I must admit that during those years, however, I never was seriously afraid of nuclear war.
Some of the most chilling parts of the book are the descriptions of a clinic in the Soviet Union where victims of living downwind from the blasts are treated. This is in sharp contrast to the description of the blandness of American life.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Sirin on October 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
Just as the Bush Administration has been accused of being a Cold War administration in search of an enemy, Delillo might be a Cold War novelist in search of a subject. Underworld takes as its main theme the Cold War. Not, as other novelists might attempt it, about characters and their mirco stories as they were shaped by the period, but about the Cold War itself, as an epic, ideological phenomenon, and how all human lives were bundled under its steely umbrella.

Delillo is a big canvas novellist, and this is his biggest. He uses big social scapes to play out his scenes - baseball, the graffiti in the Bronx, the B2 Bombers laden with missiles on the North Atlantic run, waste, childhood fear. Underworld is a sprawling epic that achieves its effect by fusing a plethora of characters and scenes together in a tough, boiler plated, jazzy style. It clearly aspires to great American novel status, and at times achieves it. The opening shot-heard-around-the-world scene at the baseball game is justly acclaimed in its panoramic stylish detail and multi layered intellectual and artistic weight. From then on the narrative swells and roils through time, character and space through the ensuing half century as characters search for meaning, survival and love in a menacing period.

850 or so pages is mighty big for a novel. Too big I reckon. The book doesn't quite sustain the weight and there is a much pointed out sag in the middle where the pace and heft of the stories and ideas flatline for a few hundred pages.

Still, Underworld is an epic novel, by one of America's finest living novelists, and contains much that commands our attention.
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