208 of 214 people found the following review helpful
I was reluctant to read The Lords of Discipline as I'm not much interested in books with military themes. But I finally decided to read it as I love Pat Conroy and it takes place in my favorite of all cities, Charleston, SC. Wow! Not only was I blown away, but I also have a new book for my top ten list.
Aspiring novelist and basketball player, Will McLean, finds himself a college student at the Carolina Military Institute (The Citadel--thinly disguised). Will was not interested in the military, but he promises his dying father that he will attend his alma mater. Will doesn't exactly excel in military studies, but he's a decent student, an athlete, and his professors and peers recognize him for his integrity and his sense of fairness. Still, this is not an easy time to be a student in a military academy--especially in the South. The Viet Nam War was raging, the military was unpopular and desegregation was knocking on the doors of Southern schools. The Fourth Class system is brutal at best, and most cadets will look on their freshman year and Hell Night as living nightmares. There are also rumors of a powerful and clandestine group of Institute students and alumni called The Ten. While nothing has come forward to prove their existence, the possibility of such a group casts a cloud over the Corps of Cadets.
Will and his roommates have survived the trials and tribulations of their underclassmen years. But circumstances change very rapidly. The first black student enrolls at the Institute and Will is asked to be a secret mentor to Cadet Tom Pearce. It quickly becomes apparent that a group of cadets is trying to run Pearce out of the Institute. Will steps in to intervene, and he discovers a truth so horrendous that this knowledge can bring down the Institute. It also makes Will and his roommates targets. Not only is their graduation now in jeopardy, but their lives are also in danger.
Conroy is a master wordsmith, and I find myself reading his sentences over and over again. It's comparable to taking a bite of a decadent dessert, and rolling it around on your tongue to savor every forkful. His descriptions are priceless, his characters well fleshed out, and the plot will have you marathon reading to finish this 498-page book. I especially loved his observations about Charleston and the low country. Conroy also deals with timeless and universal issues. They include the struggles of a young boy growing into manhood and how difficult it is to stand up for your beliefs. Also, how those that love you can cause the worst hurt, and how those you think are loyal friends can betray you in a heartbeat. Conroy dwells on how it is possible to love and hate something at the same time (in this case, the Institute), and how the righteous don't always prevail. And while things might turn out in the end, they might not turn out the way you envision them.
The one bad thing about Pat Conroy is that he is not one of those "serial" bestsellers who produce a book every year-whether they have anything to say or not. While we often have to wait years between books, Conroy's works are definitely worth the wait. Also, after reading The Lords of Discipline, I suggest picking up his nonfiction work, My Losing Season. Detailing his senior year playing basketball for The Citadel, Conroy will reveal how much of The Lords of Discipline is autographical.
93 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2009
Just a few days after I was admitted to attend The Citadel, over a decade ago, my mother picked up this book and read it cover to cover in no time at all. A couple days later she handed it to me, wishing that I would read it... and decide to attend college elsewhere. I read the book cover to cover, enthralled and fascinated the whole way through, and when I finished the last page my resolve to attend the school that had inspired this book had only grown stronger.
The Fourth Class System Pat Conroy describes in this book is entirely accurate, as he went through it himself and thus knew it first-hand. Much has changed since Conroy was there, but I can personally attest to the fact that the brotherhood he depicts in this story between the protagonist, Will, and his roommates is a perfect an example of the type of relationships that still evolve between cadets who share that same experience to this very day.
Conroy describes the difficulties the South Carolina Military Institute had in acclimating to racial integration in this novel. I can tell you that I attended The Citadel shortly after gender integration had been mandated by the federal district courts, and many of the same emotions that Conroy describes in this story were running through the Corps of Cadets during my tenure at the military college of South Carolina. The struggles of the school during my time there were not so much rooted in some terrible dislike of females, or even a gender bias as to the abilities of male versus female, but more a resistance to change of any sort... just like what Conroy depicts in The Lords of Discipline as the first black student attended college there amidst a tremendous backlash from within the Corps of Cadets (not to mention from many Alumni as well). Of course there are always going to be some racists and chauvinists at any college or university in the United States, this isn't something exclusive to a Southern military school, but Conroy really does a good job of demonstrating how so much of the resistance against these historic changes came not from hatred but rather from a desperate attempt to hold onto a tradition and a way of life ingrained in the South Carolinian culture of antiquity and state pride.
Conroy also beautifully depicts the emotional travails of the cadets at SCMI, as they struggle with popular backlash against the Viet Nam War... all while contemplating what their lives have in store for both those who take their commissioning into the United States armed forces, as well as for those who opt to remain civilians upon graduating. Conroy so genuinely conveys the true sentiment of the young men who really faced this tough decision through his characters in this novel. I only know how accurate his depiction is since I was a Cadet at the Citadel on 9/11/2001, and I graduated at a time when the War in Iraq was only just a year underway.
Pat Conroy exposes the psyche of a living institution along South Carolina's Ashley River in The Lords of Discipline. This is an excellent novel with more non-fiction to it than meets the eye. Who will represent the school's standard of the complete man (or "complete person" these days) - the citizen/soldier who wears the ring with deserving pride; who will fall short of expectations and bring shame upon the school; and who "should" never have the opportunity to enter the school's gates in the first place? Pat Conroy captures the true essence of this Southern military school in The Lords of Discipline - not simply for the way it was 40 years ago, but for the way it has always been, intrinsically and inescapably - forever and always.
64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 1997
This is one of my alltime favorite books and I think Will is one of the most amazing, soulful and best developed characters I have ever come across in any novel. I read this book in college a few years ago after a close male friend of mine showed me a particular excerpt from it which described a professor of Will's at The Citadel. He was the passionate professor whom Conroy began describing by writing "he was the most brilliant scholar I had ever known. . . " Anyway, at that time a mentor of mine, my favorite professor (an English Prof) and good friend, had just been diagnosed with cancer and was told he had only a few weeks to live. I was devastated and wanted to express to him how much he meant to me and I wanted him to know what an amazing and inspiring professor he had been but I couldn't seem to find words that would do justice to how incredible he was.
Well, my friend Richard showed me a passage from Lords of Discipline which simply blew me away - it was exactly what I felt about Dr. Stirling and Conroy just put it so beautifully. I was immediately struck by his eloquence and his mastery of imagery and I borrowed the book and read it from cover to cover without stopping. After he died, Dr. Stirling's wife later told me that the letter I sent him with the Conroy quotation had touched him deeply and to this day The Lords of Discipline will always hold a special place in my heart. I met Pat Conroy at a book signing in Atlanta and was able to thank him personally for his words of inspiration. He was a lovely man and I would recommend any of his books (The Water is Wide is my second favorite). If I had only read the summary of what The Lords of Discipline is about I would not have bothered to read it - I am a female and I have never been one to enjoy military type novels but this was a big surprise. This book is about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, love, and coming of age in a confusing society. It was not what I expected at all and now I never pass by a book simply because it doesn't "look" like one I would enjoy. Reading The Lords of Discipline changed my view on that. Obviously, I simply can not say enough about this book - please read it - you won't be disappointed!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2000
Pat conroy is frighteningly truthful in this must read novel about a boys experience in a tough-life military school and his transition from boyhood to being a man. Will Mclean is the narator and hero of this novel. He expresses all the horrid details, all the touching revelations, all the tear-wrenching loyalties involved in this literary work of art. The book is filled with mystery and feeling as Will Mclean, a cadet at Carolina Military Institute, overcomes challenge after challenge and watches his fellow classmen fall out of the ranks of the school. His survival is based on his instincts, his dedication, his friendship. But all of these come under jeapardy as he is torn between friends, the institute, his dreams of love, and his commitment towards the destruction of a malevolent secret force known as The Ten. One of Pat Conroy's best works. You simply cannot put this down after you open it.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2009
I am a sophomore in high school, and this was the required honors book to read over the summer. So, I went to the book store, picked it up and it sat on my nightstand for two months. When I finally decided I couldn't procrastinate any longer, I begrudgingly picked it up and started reading it. It took me about three days to get through the entire book. It is, bar none, the best book I have ever read in my life. I really felt like I was able to relate to the characters and what they were going through. I laughed, I cried, and I loved. I loved this book, despite my original first judgments. Do not let the length, the cover, or the things written on the back of the book discourage you from picking it up. If you have not read this book, no matter what age you are, you need to go to the bookstore right now and buy it, and immediately start reading it. It is the best written book, and even if you don't usually like things about the military, you will love this book. Perfect for all ages.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2013
There were parts of this book that I loved! There were times that I was reading it and I couldn't put it down! Then, I would come upon a part where the author would take me away from the characters that I was caring about and invested in and expound upon South Carolina and Charleston in such minute detail that it would completely pull me out of the "place" I was in. I would then put the book down and not pick it up for days. I am satisfied with the three stars as I really did enjoy this book and even picked up another Pat Conroy book right after, I was just disappointed from where he went from time to time into his reverie of Charleston. I get his point about making the surroundings a character in the book because of its substance and influence on the actual characters, I just thought it pulled me away too much from the people I wanted to know more about.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2002
It was right after reading "My Losing Season" that I decided it was time to pick up this book. I had thought about reading it several times before, but I as I stated in my review of the nonfiction work "My Losing Season", I was trying to space out Pat Conroy's books because I knew that I'd only get to read them once for the first time.
It was very interesting reading this book because even though it is a fictional story it is based on some true events (which are chronicled in "My Losing Season") as well being based on the realities of many that went through the rigors and trials of a military academy. Conroy interviewed students that graduated as well as students that didn't make it at various military schools (Citadel, VMI, Air Force Academy, etc.) to use their shared experiences to make this work ring true even though it was a fictional story much like many of the Law and Order television episodes are based on real crimes.
I kept wondering how much of this story was totally made up and how much was based on real events. In "My Losing Season" Conroy tells the real story of his relationship with a girl that appears in the fictional work here. He changed a lot of the details, but the core truth of how badly she hurt him rings true in both the fictional story here and the actual account of the real events. It made me wonder what other stuff was nearly real in this fictional book...
Mr. Conroy talks about how his alma mater wouldn't let him back on campus for many years after this book was published. It hit a cord which reverberated for a long time and I'll take that as a clue that this work, much like "The Prince of Tides" and "Beach Music" were thinly veiled truths, pieces of art that are much to mirror like for comfort.
One downside to reading Conroy in general is the depression that always seems to hit me. I must fight my own demons that get stirred up as I turn the pages reading about his. But despite the scabs that get picked and the wounds that hurt over again, I like reading what he has to say because it's real. Real and true are funny ways to describe fiction but when must of us go day to day hiding and playing games perhaps it is enlightening to go ahead and pretend that what is real, is not, and what is not; is.
If you have not yet read Pat Conroy, this is as good a place to start as any. This work is not as heavy duty as "Prince of Tides" and "Beach Music" and I'd imagine would probably appeal to a wider audience. Once you've read this I'd wager that you'll be anxious to get your hands on "My Losing Season". Enjoy.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 1997
The Lords of Discipline is an excellent book of friendship, love, pride, betrayal, redemption, and honor. It comes at you from all angels.
No matter what genre you normally read, this book is for you. So well written and so touching, it will make you laugh at the humor of the situations , cry out of loss, feel pride when triumphs occur, and feel anger along with the cadets.
Superbly written by an author who makes everything come alive. The characters seem to be real and so close that you could've known them yourself. The setting is so well established you can actually see what is going on.
This is the type of book that draws you in and keeps you on your toes. Just when you think you know what is going to happen next, the plot line makes a sudden change and makes you want to know more. This book will make you want to read it again and again , and you probably will.
If you enjoy any type of literature, The Lords Of Discipline is a must read. You'll never forget the characters, you'll wish you could forget the things they go through. As this is a semi-autobiographical book, you'll read the events of the Plebe year and tell yourself it doesn't happen, but it does. You'll see the world through the eyes of Carolina Institute Cadet Will McLean. You'll see the Viatnam war for what it was and you'll see the injustices of the world as he saw them.
You won't regret having read this book
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2000
I say that it never fails, and it never has. I've offered large sums of money to anyone who can put this book down and just stop reading in the last one hundred pages. So far, my bank account has never dwindled, and no one has been able to leave the final, crucial events. I've even heard amazing stories of how some folks have gone to extremes to keep themselves awake at 4AM- not willing to miss the concluding moments for the mortal needs of sleep for any reason. Would you like to read the ultimate book on friendship, laughter, caring, love, hardship, honor, concern, betrayal, emotional stability, and death? The Lords of Discipline has it for you. It's set in the times when racial bigotry was much more prevalent, and in a small southern military college where four roommates get a chance to battle the odds and explore the relationships between themselves and with others. It is NOT simply a book about four guys who go to a military college. It IS a book about what it feels like to be a part of a group who counts on his friends for his daily needs, as well as for his ultimate survival. No controversial issue is ommitted, and no emotional response is forgotten. If you've never left home and you've never become dependent on others for your survival, then this is a wake-up call. It's as real as it gets.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2000
I was required to read this novel for an elective English class. Little did I know that it would become one of my favorite books ever.After finishing the first chapter, I was drawn into the story and imediately a fan of Pat Conroy's. He has a style of writing where he, just as most passionate writers, get caught in the moment and lyrically write from the heart. McLean's experience through military school is something that everyone should read. Even if you are not the least bit interested in the military or it's politics, one can still learn something from this novel morally based on honor, entrapment, betrayal, friendship, and life change. I reccomend this book to both men and women who want to be moved by a page turning, eye watering, and heart opening novel.Thank you,Pat Conroy for giving me the knowledge of how brutal life can be, and thank you for an experience I was able to learn about. You are a brave soul.