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The Thin Red Line: A Novel Paperback – February 9, 1998

4.1 out of 5 stars 233 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"When compared to the fact that he might very well be dead by this time tomorrow, whether he was courageous or not today was pointless, empty. When compared to the fact that he might be dead tomorrow, everything was pointless. Life was pointless. Whether he looked at a tree or not was pointless. It just didn't make any difference. It was pointless to the tree, it was pointless to every man in his outfit, pointless to everybody in the whole world. Who cared? It was not pointless only to him; and when he was dead, when he ceased to exist, it would be pointless to him too. More important: Not only would it be pointless, it would have been pointless, all along."

Such is the ultimate significance of war in The Thin Red Line (1962), James Jones's fictional account of the battle between American and Japanese troops on the island of Guadalcanal. The narrative shifts effortlessly among multiple viewpoints within C-for-Charlie Company, from commanding officer Capt. James Stein, his psychotic first sergeant Eddie Welsh, and the young privates they send into battle. The descriptions of combat conditions--and the mental states it induces--are unflinchingly realistic, including the dialog (in which a certain word Norman Mailer rendered as "fug" 15 years earlier in The Naked and the Dead appears properly spelled on numerous occasions). This is more than a classic of combat fiction; it is one of the most significant explorations of male identity in American literature, establishing Jones as a novelist of the caliber of Herman Melville and Stephen Crane.

From Library Journal

Jones's 1962 novel follows the men of Charlie Company as they fight on Guadalcanal. Though LJ's reviewer was less than knocked out by it, a forthcoming feature film starring John Travolta, George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gary Oldman, and many others should generate heavy interest.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 510 pages
  • Publisher: Delta Books; Reprint edition (February 9, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385324081
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385324083
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have always liked the James Jones trilogy of the war era army--
"From Here to Eternity"
"The Thin Red Line"
"From Here to Eternity" details in unmatched accuracy what the pre-Pearl Harbor
professional army was like for the enlisted man.
"The Thin Red Line" carries that army and those men into combat in the Solomons
with the same honesty and intensity.
"Whistle" takes men wounded in combat home via hospital ship and stateside
rehabilitation center.
Most people have heard of "From Here to Eternity" and "The Thin Red Line" because
they have been made into movies.
"Whistle," the concluding, and in many ways the most important volume of the
trilogy, is less known.
Jones has always dwelt in the shadow of the more famous Norman Mailer. But I
have always thought of Mailer as poseur who wrote what he wrote in order to be
accepted into literary society and become famous. Jones has always seemed to
me the real deal. He enlisted in the army in 1939, was at Pearl Harbor when
the Japs attacked, fought in the Solomons, receiving the Bronze Star with V for
Valor and the Purple Heart.
With the money he made from "From Here to Eternity," Jones founded a writer's
colony and paid the hospital bills of the great and tragic poet Delmore
Schwartz, who clearly influenced Jones' writing. See especially the poem "For
the One Who Would Take Man's Life in His Hands" from the collection "Summer
Knowledge" published in 1938.
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By J R Zullo on October 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's difficult to write a book about soldiers at war. There are always many characters, the ranks are confusing, the description of the battles must be very accurate otherwise the reader will be lost. If it's fiction, the author must be very careful not to, unwillingly, transform his book in a re-telling of other, more commonly known battle events. James Webb managed to write a very good book about soldiers at war, "Fields of fire". Cornelius Ryan wrote a series of excellent non-fiction books about the second World War in its European Theatre.

"The thin red line" is about the battle of Guadalcanal, an island of the Solomons chain and an important base in the south Pacific Ocean, between the american and the japanese troops.

"The thin red line", by author and ex-combatent James Jones, was brought under the spotlights once again more recently after cult director Terrence Mallik transposed it to the big screen, for the second time, in 1998 (the first time was in 1964). The movie is visually beautiful, long, and insightful, with extraordinary development of its main characters. The book does not have visual resources, but Jones' fast prose, moving from character to character, from battle scenes to the long nights spent in the open, all this makes the reader "watch" what is happening with his or her mind, just like it was a movie.

Jones knows what he is writing about. He was there, he did that. And he is intelligent. War battles are not much different, one from another (except if you are actually there, of course). So, Jones technic is to write unusually long chapters, to make the reader feel involved with the environment, with the people of C-for-Charlie Company.
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In a word - incredible. Terrence Malick's sketchy, loooong, underdeveloped movie does not do this classic justice. If you care about the WW II soldier, what this generation did for ours, and what it was like to fight on an infernal island thousands of miles from home, witnessing savagery and experiencing traumas that you could never fully recover from, you simply must read this one.
James Jones masterfully goes from one character to another, introducing the reader to the character's internal thoughts, while keeping the novel moving, marching through the jungle, to a conclusion that is exactly how it was for the soldier - this battle over, on to the next, what for, who cares - you didn't die, but you probably will on the next island.
How does one manage these thoughts, as a sane, rational human being? Jones' does an amazing job of bringing out these subleties in each character, how each one deals with it, how each one thinks about it. You can almost feel yourself there on the island, having made it through a day of horrors, lost some acquaintances, exhausted, and what for? In WW 2, it wasn't one year and out of service - you were in it 'til A.) you died, B.) you were maimed, or C.) the war ended. After 24 hours of constant combat and no water during a battle, all you had to look forward to during your "recovery" (a day, two days, a week?) was the same thing all over again, until you either died or somehow, the war ended.
While Mallick's films fails spectacularly in attempting to illustrate these points, Jones succeeds in ways that will only cause you to keep reading, imagining what it must have been like, yet thanking your God that you weren't there, and that these brave men were there for us.
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