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The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  1,979 ratings  ·  149 reviews
'The Armies of the Night is an award-winning nonfiction novel written by Norman Mailer. He essentially creates his own genre for the narrative, split into historicized & novelized accounts of the 10/1967 March on the Pentagon. His unique rendition of the nonfiction novel was one of only a few at the time & received the most critical attention. In Cold Blood ('65) b ...more
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Published December 1st 1968 by Signet (first published January 1st 1968)
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Ian Klappenskoff
A Novel History

This loosely "fictionalised" account of the 1967 anti-Vietnam war March on the Pentagon won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

While many of Mailer's political and philosophical concerns could be said to have dated (like much of Sixties culture), I really enjoyed re-reading it.

I suspect that many of my own views about Sixties politics (particularly the relationship between the Old Left and the New Left) were shaped by my first reading.

To that extent, it's had a la
Larry Bassett
Occasionally I have to pay homage to my roots. No. Not the Detroit suburbs or the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. To the 1960s where I spent what turns out to be my formative years.

In the past week I have read three Kindle mysteries that got my adrenalin pumping and my conscience thinking I had to do something better with my time. Part of the attraction was my new Kindle Paperwhite so I was feeling disloyal to old fashioned hard covers. Part of it was that I was burned out by serious classics th
Jan 09, 2008 gaby rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mailer enthusiasts, 60's revisionists
Norman Mailer, Norman Mailer. I believe I will take a page from Mr. Christopher Hitchens, who did NOT have a problem blasting Jerry Falwell on national television while the corpse was still warm (, and make some honest yet unflattering remarks about Mailer, whose goodreads update feed currently shows him reading The Handbook for the Recently Deceased.

This book is kind of a 'literary' atrocity. It is everything I would expect from an overblown superfamous
In this nonfiction novel, Mailer depicts the Mailer character (the Mailer character should not be mistaken for the wilier flesh-and-blood Mailer) as a glowering, self-important drunk whose main objective is to marinate in whiskey and public adulation.

By Mailer's own admission, his attendance at the 1967 March on the Pentagon is a concession to his moral opposition to the Vietnam war, which he would rather practice in the company of fellow aesthetes at exclusive cocktail parties. Reluctantly, he

Brilliant. Immediate, vivid, engaging, fly-on-the-wall account of some serious world/historical shit hitting the american fan.

A classic, and deservedly so.

Interesting: Mailer said that he had been surprised when he came upon the refer-to-yourself-in-the-3rd-person voice that was the essential narrative innovation of the book.

He said that when he was a student at Harvard he'd been assigned "The Autobiography of Henry Adams" and thought the third person referential move was odd and put the boo
Logan Mahoney
“Washington’s scruffy Ambassador Theatre, normally a pad for psychedelic frolics, was the scene of an unscheduled scatological solo last week in support of an unscheduled scatological solo last week in support of the peace demonstrations”(Mailer 1). The start of Norman Mailer’s Magnum Opus, The Armies of the Night, is one of complete explanation of what happened the fateful afternoon of October 27th, 1967, the day the most important anti-war really occurred. This book not only is a prevalent acc ...more
Love this book - my favorite quote comes from it -- of the media (he was thinking mainly of the press, of course) --- as "silent assassins of the republic"
New Journalism (among a few other things) was about bringing the writer out front to share the footlights with the story, dressed up in the unselfconscious garb of literary style. Rather than dry facts, impressions. Rather than strict chronology, non-linear context and rat-a-tat punctuation.

Which makes this prime piece of New Journalism (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner) curious, in that it's pure chronology in the first part (History as a Novel), an intricate and often painstaking
Michael Steger
A fantastic book. Anyone who wants to understand the fraught history of the Left in America has to include this wild, ironic, and visionary title on her or his reading list...

A few quotes:

On the change of mood in the hippie movement, over the course of the 1960s, from bright and happy, to dark and tormented:

“A generation of the American young had come along different from five previous generations of the middle class. The new generation believed in technology more than any before it, but the gen
I read this book because it won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. I also thought that since Mailer was a novelist that this "History" might be more compelling than something written by a dry, academic historian. Well, I was very disappointed. Mailer's egomania is not nearly as charming or interesting as he believes it to be. For me, Mailer did not make a particularly good protagonist because I didn't really care for him and therefore was not all that concerned about what would happ ...more
This book made me hate Norman Mailer. Really. I wished him dead after reading this book. And this after I had read and fallen in love with his book "Executioner's Song." This book is narcissism pure and simple, the fact that it won the National Book Award makes me question the validity of that award. After I read this book, I picked up the memoir written by Mailer's second wife Adele, the one he stabbed.(Yeah, did you know Mailer actually stabbed one of his wives? One gets the impression he want ...more
Josh Fish
A record of Norman Mailer's involvement in the anti-Vietnam-war protests written by him in the third person about him. I found this book full of false modesty (he even uses the word modest when talking about himself. Who calls themselves modest?) and self aggrandizement. He describes himself as almost a superhero taking on the giant war machine. This attitude of great men fighting against tyranny is the same rhetoric used by warmongers which I thought was ironic and something it seems surely Mai ...more
Emerald Guildner
It was fine. There are some passages that I found funny and/or enlightening. Overall though, it felt a bit too much like a chore for me to finish. Maybe it was just not what I was in the mood for, most likely it had much to do with the fact that I needed to look up people and places every ten minutes. That's totally all my fault for being a bit dumb when it comes to history. I did learn quite a lot, which was in itself worth the read. However, I did not feel very "moved", in any way, and I found ...more
Jodi Lu
Aug 28, 2011 Jodi Lu rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: psychologists
the brief journey of an egomaniac who here just flaunts his lame-o remonstrance role (which he himself derides throughout, creatively). after he gets carted off to jail, the second half of the book really makes you miss the ass's cocky--albeit lively--presence. the style gets dry and you think "awww where's norman??" even though you wanted to hate him at many points when he was around. he gives you all or nothing, so it's kinda manipulative like that. you don't care about vietnam half as much as ...more
Erik Graff
Dec 24, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mailer fans, students of the 60s
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Although I can find no ready reference to it, I believe this book was published, perhaps in serialized form, in a magazine like Harpers or the Atlantic (both of which I subscribed to back then). In any case, I recall reading it in such a format while still in high school, when the Pentagon demonstration was still a fresh memory. It was, I believe, the first full-length book I'd ever read by Norman Mailer, an author familiar to me from parental and grandparental bookshelves.
I had read excerpts years ago...but had never read it.,.I found it somewhere and finally have read it....I participated in the march of May Day in Washington May 1st 1971. We marched to Capitol Building. I was in that huge rolling field near the Washington Monument....Hell I slept right near the Monument...That whole area that Sat was filled with every where....we were given instructions on what to do if we were gassed...hit...( there were serious concerns due to what happened whic ...more
Nov 17, 2014 Kennedy rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kennedy by: Course Literature: Creative Nonfiction
Pulitzer Prize winner, Norman Mailer. I’m reading through this book with much difficulty, straining to see the brilliance in it others have seen, and of course how it justifies its prize winning hype. Okay, it’s the same conundrum I faced in art school when they tried to convince me Jackson Pollock was an artistic genius. The very same! In fact, Mailer seems to be the Jackson Pollock of writing; the difference being instead throwing paint on canvas, he’s thrown words on a page.
After posing the q
It's as if Mailer read George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" and set out to prove Orwell wrong. Very rarely can I get through a book whose gratuitous use of overly-complex syntax and thesaurus-worthy words without thinking that the author is simply a bloviating douche with nothing to say. Mailer falls into that rarity.

Don't get me wrong; Mailer loves himself, but fortunately for the reader it is not to his/her detriment. Mailer's use of prose is unparalleled, except for a select fe
I'm not sure if it was the intended seriousness of the topic, but unlike "The Fight," a book I very much admired by Mr. Mailer, "The Armies of the Night" was not nearly as enjoyable as I had hoped. It won heaps of awards and was clearly tapping into the contemporary zeitgeist, but coming at it forty-plus years later it feels heavily overwritten, self-important, and ultimately ends up being a bit of a slog.

The project, however, is worth thinking about. While he describes it as "history as a nove
This book (pioneering, perhaps, in the footsteps of Capote's In Cold Blood) hyped itself as "historical fiction" but in actuality, it's a memoir written in third person, regarding the March on the Pentagon (invoking a medieval exorcism, an attempt to drive out the evil spirits which seem to have taken up permanent residence, here & now, forty-five years later) on October 21-2, 1967. Mailer, no slouch when it comes to promotion of his own, ever inflated ego, nonetheless captures a true spirit ...more
An example of the New Journalism that emerged with Mailer and other writers like Truman Capote and Thomas Wolfe, in which the journalism employed conventions of fiction in telling a story. In this book, Mailer describes the March on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Mailer himself was present among the other marchers (including Dr. Benjamin Spock, linguist Noam Chomsky and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg). One of the techniques Mailer employs in his book is to describe the March as if he were it ...more
Tom Lichtenberg
As many have noted, this is a book that requires a great deal of self-editing on the fly since the author and publisher didn't seem to want to do it themselves. In the first part of the book (which comprises the first 4/5ths of the content), Mailer presents himself as the main character, in the third person, in such an insufferable manner as to seriously astonish the reader. "Mailer" the character is depicated as an ass who views himself as the de facto and obnoxious star of the October 1967 Mar ...more
David Hewitt
There's a lot to like and a lot to dislike about this book, but in the balance, its status as a great accomplishment in nonfiction is well earned. The "lot to dislike" all hovers around Mailer himself, who appears in the book as a novelized character, spoken of in the 3rd person, and as its protagonist, during the four days surrounding the March on the Pentagon in 1967. Mailer as character is in many ways unlikeable, but to his credit, he makes little attempt to hide his unlikeability--egomaniac ...more
Matt Simmons
What a profound, and what a profoundly frustrating, book. I had to force myself through the early parts, something I've gotten stuck on the couple of times when I've tried to read this book before. Mailer is a tremendous boor, and the fictionalized version of himself is even more so. Of course, Mailer himself is aware of this, and this makes the book both very enjoyable and deeply unpalatable. The standard postmodern disassociation of self is on full, eye-rolling, boring display here, though, st ...more
I won't add a whole lot to the other reviews here. This is the first Mailer book I've read, after hearing intriguing things about it from other authors and friends.

I have to admit, Mailer discussing himself and his actions in the first part of the book did throw me off a bit. Was he really trying to convey his own life as fiction and have the reader buy that concept? Brave and foolhardy in equal measures?

I also admit to being a little bored at the start of the book - Mailer's escapades hanging o
[taking a rain check on dinner:] “Promise?”
“Next time I'm in Washington,” he lied like a psychopath. The arbiter of nicety in him had observed with horror over many a similar occasion that he was absolutely without character for any social situation in which a pause could become the mood's abyss, and so he always filled the moment with the most extravagant amalgams of possibility. Particularly he did this at the home of liberal academics. They were brusque to the world of manners, they had buil
Written in third person, describing a weekend in Washington protesting the Vietnam war, Mailer pokes fun at himself, and his ego, and his other eccentricities on nearly every page. Yes, Mailer has an egotism of curious disproportions. With the possible exception of John F. Kennedy, there had not been a President of the United States nor even a candidate since the Second World War whom Mailer secretly considered more suitable than himself... Hilarious.

Lots of neat literary moments, his complex f
Jim McGarrah
I'm not a big Mailer fan. I finally brought myself to read this book because I had worked with some of the principal people in the book later (71-72) when VVAW was really active in the peace movement and I wanted to see how Mailer treated their personalities since I knew them. Also, I sometimes teach a class on the war and the anit-war movement and I'm always looking for good literature of the period. I was pleasantly surprised with Mailer's self-deprecating and honest voice. He admits to being ...more
This is the Mailer book that convinced me he was a genius. I would follow it with An American Dream and immediately ditch the idea of his genius, but when I read this book, at least, I thought he was on top of his game and writing like no one I'd ever seen before.

Of course, I was an ignorant reader. Hadn't yet read Wolfe (Tom), nor Hunter S. Thompson, nor Truman Capote, and the idea of a nonfiction novel struck me as wildly innovative. So I granted Mailer the swagger that kind of sucks this narr
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Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once.
More about Norman Mailer...
The Naked and the Dead The Executioner's Song An American Dream The Fight The Castle in the Forest

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“His deepest detestation was often reserved for the nicest of liberal academics, as if their lives were his own life but a step escaped. Like the scent of the void which comes off the pages of a Xerox copy, so was he always depressed in such homes by their hint of oversecurity. If the republic was now managing to convert the citizenry to a plastic mass, ready to be attached to any manipulative gung ho, the author was ready to cast much of the blame for such success into the undernourished lap, the overpsychologized loins, of the liberal academic intelligentsia. They were of course politically opposed to the present programs and movements of the republic in Asian foreign policy, but this political difference seemed no more than a quarrel among engineers. Liberal academics had no root of a real war with technology land itself, no, in all likelihood, they were the natural managers of that future air-conditioned vault where the last of human life would still exist.” 0 likes
“We find, therefore, Lowell and Mailer ostensibly locked in converse. In fact, out of the thousand separate enclaves of their very separate personalities, they sensed quickly that they now shared one enclave to the hilt: their secret detestation of liberal academic parties to accompany worthy causes. Yes, their snobbery was on this mountainous face close to identical—each had a delight in exactly the other kind of party, a posh evil social affair, they even supported a similar vein of vanity (Lowell with considerably more justice) that if they were doomed to be revolutionaries, rebels, dissenters, anarchists, protesters, and general champions of one Left cause or another, they were also, in private, grands conservateurs, and if the truth be told, poor damn émigré princes. They were willing if necessary (probably) to die for the cause—one could hope the cause might finally at the end have an unexpected hint of wit, a touch of the Lord’s last grace—but wit or no, grace or grace failing, it was bitter rue to have to root up one’s occupations of the day, the week, and the weekend and trot down to Washington for idiot mass manifestations which could only drench one in the most ineradicable kind of mucked-up publicity and have for compensation nothing at this party which might be representative of some of the Devil’s better creations. So Robert Lowell and Norman Mailer feigned deep conversation. They turned their heads to one another at the empty table, ignoring the potentially acolytic drinkers at either elbow, they projected their elbows out in fact like flying buttresses or old Republicans, they exuded waves of Interruption Repellent from the posture of their backs, and concentrated on their conversation, for indeed they were the only two men of remotely similar status in the room. (Explanations about the position of Paul Goodman will follow later.)” 0 likes
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