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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 24, 2016
The basic story is that Albania sends a plane with another country's markings to bomb the U.S. and we retaliate. However this is not a pacifist (don't build bombs book). This is not a sci-fi book. It could be a speculative fiction or just speculative.

The story begins after the war is completed and radiation is now covering the world. Australia is the last place to be covered. You read how different people are about to meet their end, some with hope, others with reckless abandon. Still there are those like the US sub commander Dwight Towers is loyal to his country to the end by not allowing U.S. property in the end to fall into the hands of the Aussies.

The book was written in the Cold War Era environment. So many people think that it is about countries and war; others think this story is some anti war story. The reality is that it is a study of people meeting a sure end and how they react. Other readers will balk at the actions of the people in this story; yet when they meet the same situation we will see how realistic the characters are. Still others will balk at the predictability of the characters. Still this is how many people get over a crisis by being predictable. It is these characteristics that make this novel timeless. Someone else must think so or they would not have made an updated version for our not too distant future.
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on January 11, 2001
"On the Beach", in my mind, ranks with "Lord of the Flies" and 1984" as one of the truly great novels of the 20th century. Yes, it is a little dated; but world politics aside, this book has a power that is just astounding. I have never felt such empathy for characters in a book, as I do for the poor souls in Shute's Australia.
The emotions in this book take my breath away. I could never do it justice here; suffice it to say, "On the Beach" may be the most incredible, powerful, moving book I have ever read.
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on July 15, 2004
A great, simple book very well written and poignant. What's interesting about it is that as we enter the story, the nuclear war that will eventually doom the characters in the story has already occurred and is over. They are simply awaiting the lethal radioactive cloud to move down to the southern hemisphere and begin to kill everyone off. The people carry on their daily lives as if nothing has happened. But we see in several key scenes early in the book how painfully, heartbreakingly aware they really are. And that's the key power to the story. These people know they're doomed but what choice do they have except to continue on with their lives. The most painful scene I found in the book was how the young couple with the baby begin to plan out their garden for the next year knowing full well that they are not going to be around to see it. They're fooling themselves, obviously, but how else to cope with the inevitable.
In the end, the book has the same effect as a movie called "Testament" with Jane Alexander. You'll be depressed and feeling a little scared and hopeless.
This is not light reading.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 17, 2010
The basic story is that Albania sends a plane with another country's markings to bomb the U.S. and we retaliate. However this is not a pacifist (don't build bombs book). This is not a sci-fi book. It could be a speculative fiction or just speculative.

The story begins after the war is completed and radiation is now covering the world. Australia is the last place to be covered. You read how different people are about to meat their end, some with hope, others with reckless abandon. Still there are those like the US sub commander Dwight Towers is loyal to his country to the end by not allowing U.S. property in the end to fall into the hands of the Aussies.

The book was written in the Cold War Era environment. So many people think that it is about countries and war; others think this story is some anti war story. The reality is that it is a study of people meeting a sure end and how they react. Other readers will balk at the actions of the people in this story; yet when they meet the same situation we will see how realistic the characters are. Still others will balk at the predictability of the characters. Still this is how many people get over a crisis by being predictable. It is these characteristics that make this novel timeless. Someone else must think so or they would not have made an updated version for our not too distant future.
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on January 14, 2001
Nevil Shute wrote "On the Beach" at a time when the world's two superpowers--both in the northern hemisphere--were glaring at each other pugnaciously, waving their "city killer" bombs, and bragging about "Mutually Assured Destruction" as their best insurance against nuclear war.

Nevil Shute simply picked up that ball and ran with it. He assumed that the strategy had failed, and that the war had been waged, and the northern hemisphere had been destroyed by a combination of atomic blast and the nuclear clouds that emanated from those blasts.

Australia, though, in the southern hemisphere--being a non-combatant--had come out unscathed in the war, and because of Coriolis force, was thus far not affected by the nuclear clouds of death. Coriolis force is that force which is created by the revolution of the earth on its axis which causes water draining in northern hemisphere sinks to circulate clockwise, while that in the southern hemisphere does so counter-clockwise. However, since there is a co-mingling of winds at the equator, the southern hemisphere was predictably doomed, and the folks who lived there knew it.

The story is about the reaction of the doomed people in Australia, and their reaction to the awful knowledge of their impending deaths, and how they handled it. The protagonist, Dwight Towers, is a U.S. nuclear submarine commander who, with his crew and boat, are in Australia. There he meets Moira Davidson and they fall in love.

Some of the throat-catching moments are when the American sub travels to the United States, and the silent streets on San Francisco are described. In the movie version, it was Seattle, and one of the sailors--a former resident of the Seattle area--leaves the ship to go home, a futile gesture, of course.

The story describes the various emotions of those facing certain death from nuclear radiation. The death of the entire human race; inescapable, inexorable death, and how they handled it. Bitterness, of course, and recklessness (What can they do, kill me?) as well as foolhardy acts of courage (What? I might be killed?).

This is a thought-provoking book. Only the shallow will describe it as "out of date." One of the truly memorable reading experiences of my life. The movie is also fascinating.

Joseph Pierre, USN (Ret)
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on April 12, 2014
"On the Beach" is both a book and a movie from 1957 and 1959 respectively. A well crafted movie ideally should be complimentary to the original book, and Stanley Kramer's movie is certainly complimentary. Although this is a book review, it is appropriate in this case however, that a review of the book and the movie together makes any reflection on the ideas within the story richer.
The main story line of "On the Beach" is about the end of all life on earth as a result of radiation poisoning after a disastrous nuclear war in 1964. The obvious message is the folly of nations, armed with weapons that they dare not use and the consequences of using them. The movie pursues that populist angle with the final scene being of a large banner strung over a public square stating "There is still time...brother." The final message that there was still time to address the concerns over nuclear war in the 1950s and 60s is the one that initially received the most publicity.

But, "On the Beach" is more than the threat of nuclear weapons.The story takes place in Melbourne, Australia as a deadly radiation moves slowly, over many months, from the northern hemisphere to the southern, providing time for us to know the characters as they wrestle with the idea of their individual and collective demise. The underlying meanings of "On the Beach" however, are more subtle and timeless than the obvious folly of nuclear war. The title is a metaphor for the good memories the characters take away when reflecting on the final meaning of their lives. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene where one smiling young couple reflects over how they first met on the beach and the joys of love, marriage and parenthood that came from that meeting. Some character's lives are complete, others fall short of their dreams and aspirations, but life is not about quantity or if they had it all or not, it is making the best of the opportunities offered and not crying over the inevitable shortcomings. It is about accepting our lot in life with dignity and self-respect. The double-meaning of the title "On the Beach" is about having lived a good life.

The concerns over nuclear war have faded somewhat today, but "On the Beach" addresses how we meet the timeless issue of death. And that is the lesson of "On the Beach", as all people die. How we face death says something about how we faced life. Throughout the story people continue to go on with their lives and even towards the end, when all hope is lost, they are still tidying up their gardens and arranging things for after they are gone. It is about duty, of self-respect and doing the right thing. One of the main characters, Commander Dwight Towers, is given the stark choice of either spending his final moments comforting, and in the comfort of, the woman he has recently fallen in love with, or fulfilling his duty by scuttling his submarine at sea and ending his own life by going down with his ship. He chooses, in this case, duty. His final act represents how he lived his life and what he saw as the stronger truths to himself, service life, his crew and the family he left behind. He and others in the novel quietly strive to remain true to what was important in their life, even at the end.

That commitment to duty, of being true to how one lives and lived, is reflected in the dignity of how one dies. There is no right answer to the question of what constitutes a dignified death, as no one else truly shares that final moment. Nor, can anyone provide the answer for you. Ultimately, each character in both the book and the movie must find individual dignity on their own terms. Some meet it with their spouse, others alone, some quietly, some with understated defiance, but all manage it with dignity. There are differences in characters and even individual endings between the novel and the movie, but they are minor. In fact the differences in some endings are complimentary as they make the point that various endings are possible and all can still be dignified.

The argument above is not for, or against, the current controversy of assisted suicide to alleviate pain and suffering at the end of life. The message of "On the Beach" is "to thine own self, be true." Read the book, watch the movie. Better yet do both and reflect on the real meaning of a good life.
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on November 1, 1999
This novel gives a very possible, and frighteningly probable, view of the way things could easily end up, as small and unstable countries enter the growing club of nuclear armament. The most eery (yet unfortunately difficult to swallow) aspect of the book is the refusal by many of the supposedly intelligent characters to truly absorb the reality of the situation. Bit by bit, over the space of a couple of years, radiation is slowly drifting across the equator from the heavily bombed, destroyed, and radioactive northern continents, to invade and kill the southern half of the globe in turn. But people continue to plan for the future, and act as though that future will come.
Unfortunately, the characters are so 2-dimensional, and act such trite and ordinary roles, that they failed to come alive for me. I never could quite believe in their reactions, either. That they could so fully split their consciousness of the approaching radiation from the actions of their daily life boggled my mind, and blew my suspension of disbelief.
Sorry. Great concept, unconvincingly executed.
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on April 7, 2004
I have read this book twice now - with a space of 14 years in between - and I found I got a lot more out of it and remembered quite a lot from the first time. It was and remains the only book I've ever read that caused me to have tears streaming down my face at the end. The realism with which Shute presents his plot and its concept - the immediate after-math of an atomic/hydrogen war and the slow spreading of a radioactive envelope in the earth's atmosphere toward the Southern Hemisphere - is scary. With the approaching radioactivity comes the DOOM of the main characters of the story who live in Melbourne, Australia and who include among them a displaced U.S. submarine captain. What Shute offers us here is the ultimate "what-if". What if this REALLY happened? How would any human being react if he/she could literally see the End coming and could not stop it? Shute's characters are haunting in that they are so REAL themselves just in the way they lash out in anger and moral injustice or recoil in overwhelming despair or even just succumb to numbing apathy. It is the infinite care and love with which Shute creates and develops them and portrays them to us that makes this not a hysterical sermon but a human story. Then he leaves them to die. As a reader you are devastated because you are left with nothing. Each of the characters in the end has to find their own way to die and the very last one is the one who seemed to have the most life and the most promise and the most vitality. Do I recommend this book? YES. You will never forget it.
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on July 29, 2003
In my opinion, this book is, today, wrongly classified as "science fiction". Being written in 1957, and a product of an incipient Cold War, maybe it was science fiction back in the fifties, but now "On the beach" is more like "apocalyptic fiction".
The story is about what could have happened if the northern countries decided to strike nuclear attacks on each other in 1961. Two years later, the whole upper part of the globe has fallen under the radioative cloud, ant there's no one left. Because of the wind patterns, this dooming cloud is slowly reaching southern countries like Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Dwight Towers is the commander of one of the two remaining submarines existent in the US Navy, now based on Melbourne. There, he meets Moira Davidson, a young alcoholic woman, and her two friends, Australian navy-man Peter Holmes and his wife, Mary, and they have to cope with, literally, the end of the world.
"On the beach" is not an action book, and it's not about heroic achievements to save what remains of Earth. This is a book of sorrow and regret. Nevil Shute's characters can be divided between those who have accepted their terrible fate, and those who will deny it until the end. That's what is most interesting, and most depressive too.
Not a long book, "On the beach" seems to drag on for the first three-quarters, only setting a gray but necessary background, but the final chapters are like the water running down the drain in an emptying sink: twisty, fast-paced and hypnotic. Yes, hypnotic is a good word. The reader will keep reading, trying himself to look for ways out, only to discover that sometimes reality is more powerful than imagination.
"On the beach" is sad all the way. In fact, the title alone is very depressive, once the reader understand its meaning, disclosed on a poem in the first page, and in the very last line. But it is also a powerful reading, one that will stick to the reader's mind after the book is finished. And, after all, this surely could have happened; in fact, Nevil Shute could have been a prophet. We all have to be grateful that he wasn't.
Grade 8.8/10
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on November 15, 1998
My mother first recommended this book to me not long after I had seen the movie "The Day After". I can rightly say that I have never been so emotionally gripped by a novel. I couldn't bear to ever put it down. Now, enough of my gushing, here's the real dirt on why this is one of the most phenomenal novels ever to tackle the subject of Nuclear War:
It addresses the topic of a nuclear war not in the context of techno-thriller explosions, but in the context of the horror of is aftermath. Once all the political and military hotheads have finished blowing each other to pieces, all that is left to do is come to terms with the disaster and it implications (a topic made even more timely by the recent nuclear testings by India and Pakistan).
The one aspect of "On the Beach" that had a profound emotional impact on me was how the last remaining survivors cope with reality of what has happened. Some panic, while others cling to the unrealistic hope that the disaster is not as bad as they thought. Soon, this all gives way to melancholy emotion of accepting the inevitable. While death is common in everyday life, it is tempered by the knowledge that life will go on. The saddest and most profound emotion Shute creates is the despair in knowing that after death, there will no longer be life.
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