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The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History Paperback – January 1, 1995

3.8 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Norman Mailer (1923 2007) was one of the 20th century s greatest and most influential writers, as well as one of America s most renowned and controversial literary figures. The best-selling author of a dozen novels and 20 works of nonfiction, he also wrote stage plays, screenplays, television miniseries, hundreds of essays, two books of poetry, and a collection of short stories. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, he lived in Brooklyn, New York, and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Reprint edition (January 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452272793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452272798
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #276,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Those of you who are already familiar with the work of Norman Mailer don't need much of an introduction to the man who could perhaps be the most transcendant egoist of the century. For those of you who haven't read Mailer, know this: he writes unlike anyone of his peers, he can turn a phrase as well as Fitzgerald, he is a profound and unusual thinker, and has a great sense of humor.
In this, the book that won him his first Pulitzer Prize, Mailer gives us what he likes to think of as two books. First comes "History As A Novel," in which Mailer describes his experience (in the third person) participating in the largest anti-Vietnam War rally to have occured by 1967 when this book was published. In traditional fashion, a somewhat besotted Mailer makes rousing and unsettling remarks at a theater based event, lends his support to draft-card burners (actually, the group of protesters were to turn in their cards, rather than burn them), and walk in the historically significant march on the Pentagon. At the Pentagon, Mailer manages to get himself arrested (a goal he had previously set for himself), and spends the weekend in jail. He describes all of this with such wit and insight that Mailer himself becomes as much the subject matter as the march itself.
In the second book, "The Novel As History," Mailer gives us a historical perspective on the march and describes its genesis, reason for existance, movers and shakers, and then describes the march as it might have been seen by an unbiased reporter (although Mailer admits that no unbiased reports of this event could ever be given).
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Format: Paperback
Forty years ago, Norman Mailer and I attended a major demonstration against the Vietnam War at the Pentagon. Our situations were very different. Mailer was then forty-four, an established author and celebrity, and a founder of the "Village Voice." He attended the demonstration in the company of the poet Robert Lowell (a conscientious objector jailed during World War II) and Dwight McDonald, a leftist contributor to the "New Yorker" and the "New York Review of Books." Mailer was the subject of a BBC documentary and was accompanied to the demonstration by a film crew. He was arrested early in the day for crossing a police line, spent a night in jail, and was released the following day after extensive efforts by his lawyers.

I was twenty-one, a penniless student in my third year at Antioch College. I was a comparative newcomer to mass demonstrations. Although I did not consider myself a pacifist, I was opposed on principle to military service, and I was opposed specifically to the Vietnam War. If drafted, I expected to go to prison. I did not go to the Pentagon to be disruptive, and I did not go to join the hippie "levitation/exorcism" exercise, which I considered juvenile. I attended with a Quaker who had been a conscientious objector in World War II, and a fellow classmate, who would become a conscientious objector. We felt it was important to make our opposition to Selective Service and the war visible. We had heard that some pacifists intended to commit civil disobedience (blocking doors or entering off-limits areas), and we went to support their action. I had neither the courage nor the self-discipline to commit civil disobediance myself at that point, and either arrest or injury would have been catastrophic for me.
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Format: Paperback
I'm not going to try to answer my own question. I will say that this is an interesting look at the 67 march from Mailer's perspective. The section on the development of the march itself and the organizers was very informative, as was the section entitled "Why are we in Vietnam?" (a clear reference to Mailer's previous novel, which was criticized for not answering the question clearly enough.

The analysis of the changing liberalism in the US is also quite good. Overall, there is no plot. And Mailer's attempts to avoid even the most minor suffering are laughable especially when held against the suffering of the Vietnamese and the US soldiers enlisted to fight a meandering war.

Reading the book in 2005, however, gives the book great significance. It's clear that liberals write books and conservatives work in politics. And unfortunately, neither side listens to the other very closely.

Mailer's style in this book is very fast and pulled me through the first section quickly. Things slow down in the second section, but not because the subject matter is slower. Mailer clearly wanted to switch styles (and even talks about how he prides himself on changing styles with every work).

Anyway. Enjoy it for the connections to 2005 America, but remember that Mailer is...Mailer. And he loves to talk about himself and how important he is to everyone around him.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The original review of Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night was posted just prior to the 2007 anti- Iraq War demonstration noted below. I have recently reread his book (May 2008) and have revised and expanded that review but have let that 2007 preface stand.

On March 17, 2007 various anti-Iraq War forces will converge on the Pentagon to oppose that war and to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the original protest of that symbol of American imperialism during the Vietnam War (and `levitation' of the building according to some sources then, such as the late Abbie Hoffman). Whether such a celebration is called for under the circumstances of the Iraq anti-war movement's continuing failure to stop this war is a separate question to be left to another day. Today it is nevertheless fitting that Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, about those several days forty years ago, should be reviewed with this upcoming event in mind.

In this novel as history (or history as novel depending what part you are reading at a given time) Norman Mailer tries, successfully for the most part, to use this literary trope as a means for closely investigating the action that he is witnessing (and taking part in). As I have mentioned elsewhere in other reviews of Mailer's books he will be eventually known in the literary pantheon for his journalism and musings on his life and his times. But not merely as a journalist in the conventional sense, those are basically a dime a dozen and eminently forgettable, but as an exemplar of the then `new' journalism. That concept got its greatest expansion in the later work of Doctor Hunter Thompson (`gonzo' journalism) but Mailer, and to a lesser extent, Tom Wolfe gave it legitimacy.
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