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The Thin Red Line: A Novel [Paperback]

James Jones , Francine Prose
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 9 1998 0385324081 978-0385324083 Reprint
They are the men of C-for-Charlie company—“Mad” 1st Sgt. Eddie Welsh, Pvt. 1st Class Don Doll, Pvt. John Bell, Capt. James Stein, Cpl. Fife, and dozens more just like them—infantrymen who are about to land, grim and white-faced, on an atoll in the Pacific called Guadalcanal. This is their story, a shatteringly realistic walk into hell and back.
In the days ahead, some will earn medals, others will do anything they can dream up to get evacuated before they land in a muddy grave. But they will all discover the thin red line that divides the sane from the mad—and the living from the dead—in this unforgettable portrait that captures for all time the total experience of men at war.
Foreword by Francine Prose
“Brutal, direct, and powerful . . . The men are real, the words are real, death is real, imminent and immediate.”—Los Angeles Times
“A rare and splendid accomplishment . . . strong and ambitious, spacious, and as honest as any novel ever written.”—
“[A] major novel of combat in World War II . . . reminiscent of Stephen Crane in
The Red Badge of Courage.”—The Christian Science Monitor
The Thin Red Line moves so intensely and inexorably that it almost seems like the war it is describing.”—The New York Times Book Review

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"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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The two transports had sneaked up from the south in the first graying flush of dawn, their cumbersome mass cutting smoothly through the water whose still greater mass bore them silently, themselves as gray as the dawn which camouflaged them. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE Best Infantry Novel of WWII ever Written... Jan. 24 2004
This is the best combat novel of World War II infantry ever written. The second of an autobiographical trilogy planned by Jones (with "From Here to Eternity" being the first, and "Whistle" planned to finish the storyline) it covers the shortest span of time, and it is also the shortest. But it is probably the most intense and I think, the most gripping. Avoid Terrence Malick's cinematic version which I think missed Jones' vision by a mile.
In this novel, we see "C for Charlie" company's struggle for some fictional territory on Guadalcanal in late 1942. It carries some of the most intense sequences of infantry combat ever committed to paper (one of the most harrowing is the company clerk, Bead and his run-in with a roving Japanese soldier while attempting to relieve himself is particularly effecting to make it all the more remarkable, it's based on Jones' own personal experience).
I can't recommend this masterpiece highly enough. Jones has captured for all time, the sights and smells of infantry combat better than anyone before or since. Read it. You won't be disappointed.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Bang your head on the wall... it'll feel better. Nov. 4 2002
I can only say that I believe all reading is worthwhile, so reading this book wasn't a complete waste of time. I found a great deal not to like about this book. First, and most important, Jones doesn't give the reader any characters that are very likeable at all. If he had presented one even remotely worthwhile character, it might have made the experience a bit more tolerable and worth seeing through to the end. Second, he so overwrites the thing that after about 100-150 pages you start hearing a voice in the back of your mind begging for it to end. I began to wonder if he challenged himself to see how many different ways he could describe Welsh's grin or whether he just kept inserting references to it, slightly varied, to fill words on a page. I also began wondering if he challenged himself to try and refer to every act of war as some kind of erotic, sexual thrill. Further, I believe he overdoes it with the references to homosexuality - totally degarding the memory and dignity of every soldier who's served his country. Finally, while I've only read this one book by Jones so I haven't anything to compare to, he seems to needlessy inject far too many '$2 words,' which to me came across as almost condescending. I've always been trained that when it comes to art 'less is more.' All that said, there were a couple compelling and relatively well done battle sequences. However, by the last 30 pages or so of the book, I just quit. Why? I really didn't care about any of the characters or what happened to them and had had enough already. Needless to say, I wouldn't recommend the book, nor would I be inclined to read anything else by James Jones.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Keystone of a monumental trilogy Aug. 21 2002
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.
Read more ›
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2.0 out of 5 stars Is this really considered to be good writing? June 7 2002
I won't summarize the novel here, because there are so many reviews that are already doing a fine job of that. I feel badly for giving this a bad review, because I feel like I'm attacking a respected institution, but I just couldn't get into the style. I have read a few war novels up to this point in my life--All Quiet On The Western Front, War and Peace, August 1914, Darkness at Noon, The Gulag Archipelago--but nothing from the American WWII library. I saw the film and loved it and felt it was time to start exploring James Jones, since he seems to be held in such high esteem, and especially since so many people who loved the book hated the film.
Just as a side note: if Malick had made the film like the book it would have been horrible.
James Jones doesn't allow the reader to make any judgements on his own about how characters are feeling or saying their lines, and makes some of the important characters almost cartoonish. For example, I was annoyed to the point of distraction by the adverbial abuse of the crazy sergeant and his grinning. By the midpoint of the book I went back and counted over 47 different ways that this sergeant "grinned". He was constantly grinning and we always got the description of how he grinned.
I appreciate the place this book has in the historical field of war literature, but it just seemed clumsy to me.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A war novel for intellectuals
"The Thin Red Line" is not your average war novel. I've read books like "Battle Cry" and "The 13th Valley", and while they explored the feelings and... Read more
Published on Jan. 19 2004 by William Sugarman
3.0 out of 5 stars great with popcorn
The Thin Red Line is not a bad book, in many ways it's a great book. It's just that there is a thin line between great and OK. Read more
Published on Dec 25 2002 by Kim F. Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars Carrying the news
George Plimpton has stated that "The Thin Red Line" contains the best writing about war ever put on paper--"better than Tolstoy, better than anyone. Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2002 by R Takamoto
5.0 out of 5 stars War is Hell; War is Fun
The Thin Red Line is a fast paced exciting novel of combat on Guadalcanal. Forget all that you know about the dull introspective movie of the same name, the book is nothing like... Read more
Published on Jan. 25 2002 by suetonius
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel worth reading.
This novel is about loss on humanity during the battle of Guadalcanal (but it could be any war at any point in history). Read more
Published on July 1 2001 by Jan Dierckx
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Warfare Classic
The Thin Red Line is one of the few warfare novels that entertains the reader with both gripping combat descriptions and believable, developed characterizations. Read more
Published on June 3 2001 by Maury Q. Falkoff
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing descriptions...
"The Thin Red Line" is one of the best books I've ever read. Even from the first pages the book took a hold of me and I could hardly put it down (eventually you've got to... Read more
Published on Feb. 21 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars As true to life as they get...
The Thin Red Line is a book that dives deep into the minds of the men fighting on Guadalcanal. It begins by getting inside the heads of the men of C-for-Charlie Company. Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars attention to detail
Several Reviewers have missed the point that Charlie Company is composed of the peacetime army regulars. Read more
Published on Dec 17 2000 by Millard Klein
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