Book Report: The Naked and the Dead

Norman Mailer wrote it. It was ranked #61 on the Modern Library 100 Greatest Novels list. Many have called it the greatest novel ever written about World War II. I have to say, the competition doesn’t seem that stiff. Oh well.


  • Really long. Makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Sure, it’s a pyrrhic victory, but still: a victory!
  • Nice binding.
  • There were two characters I vaguely liked, Hearn and Red. Didn’t like anything that happened to them or that they did, of course, but — you know.
  • You can skip pages without missing much.
  • Some of the modernish flashback sections were nice. Others weren’t.


  • 700 freakin’ pages. Trimming the count by 400-500 might have imbued it with some, I dunno, necessity let’s say.
  • No plot. None. Some occasional feints, but those were quickly disregarded. A few were left hanging (how poignant!).
  • Character soup. There were several characters who could have exchanged names halfway through without my noticing.
  • The collection of characters was not believable. Every single one of them was an asocial near-moron with a ridiculous array of issues. None of them were capable of making a friend, for instance. And, sure, there are people like that in the world. I’m guessing somewhere on the order of 1-2% of the US population could be described that way. If there’s a statistician out there, maybe you could calculate the likelihood of 12 members of a platoon all being plucked by random out of that 1-2%. Or, heck, *I* can do it: .02 ^ 12 = 4.1 * 10^-21 = not very likely.
  • And if you create a book with such an unlikelihood, then the book better the heck be *about* that unlikelihood.
  • I’m not sure the book was about anything, actually. It seemed hell-bent on proving that random things happen to random people in war. Huh: that’s a stunner.
  • When anything can happen, nothing matters.
  • The odds of getting 12 guys in a platoon *that* sex-obsessed are probably better than the calculation above — but still doesn’t seem very likely. They were *very* sex-obsessed.
  • Mailer shows very little capacity for language (for the most part). His constant use of the most worthless of worthless adverbs (“he stared dully”, “Ridges smiled vaguely”, etc. and repeat for 700 pages).
  • The book fits way to neatly within the sad, “we gotta feel sorry for the troops” political bent of the US left.  It just doesn’t mesh with what I’ve read about front-line fighting from a number of different sources (none of which could easily be construed as pro-war). The events in this novel were atypical, but presented as if they were typical.
  •  Meh.



(And the binding was actually pretty average — I was just trying to be nice.)

1 comment

  • HC12

    I no longer feel guilty about not reading *great* literature. Hopefully, I’ll come around before the *Bulletproof* series comes out.

    The U12 Mustang’s play for the world championship this Saturday. Hope to see you here.