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The Thin Red Line

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  5,758 ratings  ·  139 reviews
"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 point...more
Paperback, 475 pages
Published May 7th 1998 by Sceptre (first published 1962)
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The Book Thief by Markus ZusakCatch-22 by Joseph HellerSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutThe Winds of War by Herman WoukAtonement by Ian McEwan
World War II Fiction
16th out of 600 books — 970 voters
Catch-22 by Joseph HellerAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria RemarqueSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutFor Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest HemingwayThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Best War Novels
50th out of 546 books — 538 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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mark monday
A true masterpiece and one of my favorite novels. Although it has all the realistic, gritty detailing that any novel recounting World War 2 Guadalcanal should have, it is so much more. The reader will indeed learn which gun is which and which rank is which. They will understand what needs to happen to take a hill. They will know what a crowded ship full of men will smell like. They will come to understand the practical intricacies of making war. But, as anyone who viewed the recent version of th...more
Drew
I had the same reaction to this as I did to From Here to Eternity, which is to say that the beginning was so irritating that it almost made me put it down, but I ended up glad that I didn't.

I haven't read too many other books that were written around this time, but the prose style in this seems lackluster. Yeah, there are some poetic bits, but there are also bits that seem really lazy. In the first handful of pages, for example, Jones uses the words 'unpleasant' and 'supercilious' to describe D...more
Ursula
I saw the 1998 movie version of this book in theaters when it came out. I remember that I was completely mesmerized and transported by it. It was a movie about war unlike any I'd ever seen before - it was mostly quiet and internal. Walking out of the theater, I found out I was pretty much alone in my enjoyment of it - people all around me said it was slow, boring, pointless. I mention this because I think the movie version prepared me for the book, which is probably just as divisive.

The story fl...more
Geoffrey Benn
“The Thin Red Line,” by James Jones, is the fictional account of the trials endured by the men of Charlie Company during their first month on Guadalcanal in the early days of WWII. The book, first published in 1962, has come to be recognized as a classic war novel. I think that designation is well-deserved – the book is an incredible examination of the varying ways in which men react to the shock of combat. Jones follows at least a dozen recurring characters through a range of experiences – incl...more
Paul Juma
The thin red line...whet is it? It is the line that separates life from death, health from injury.
The Novel is an anti-war novel. The effects of war are clearly elaborated.
The reasons for war is actually left out. We see Welsh asking himself why they are fighting? He seems to be the only one with an answer to that question.

Fife also tries to answer that question, but his reasons are vague. Besides being sent by the government, he's in war for his own personal reasons. That is, to prove that he...more
Robynne
This is an incredible study of war and of men who have participated in battle. This book will not make you feel good; it is not designed for that. Jones, who served in the Guadalcanal campaign, says a lot in his dedication at the beginning of the novel: "This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents...more
Steve Woods
This book is a tour de force! If you are looking for a controilled sequentiial narrative this is not it, but as someone who has seen combat the exploration of the function ofmen's minds in those circumstances is right on the knocker. Given my own experiences and conversations in the field and often afterwards the themes Jones outlines turn up time after time, often wryly in retrospect with a dash of embarrassed humour but there. The book has an essential American flavour, and much of the interna...more
Jim Coughenour
My favorite World War II novel. I'm tempted to say "sentimental favorite," if that makes any sense applied to this hard-core tale of American soldiers in Guadalcanal. Jones is convincing on the banality, the raw fear, the horniness and insanity of combat – he refuses to romanticize any of it, just as he skips the easy polemics. A gritty, captivating tale.

Fortunately I read the book before I saw Terrence Malik's film – which is excellent, if a bit too austere and stylized. Malik leaves out the di...more
John Nevola
James Jones is a talented writer with great insights and perspectives but I just could not connect with The Thin Red Line.
I loved From Here To Eternity but I found The Thin Red Line to be somewhat slow and laboring. Perhaps it was the use of fictional settings on a real island (Guadalcanal) that threw me off but I look for, and value, historical accuracy in historical novels. The War was long over when he published this book so national security could not have been the reason for the fictitious...more
scott
This novel is awfully good. Clearly amongst the best war novels that I have read. I really didn't care for the movie when it came out, and after reading the book, understand why: The book is far more about the human rationalization of solidering and killing, than it is about actual events. Internal dialogs drive the narrative, and they are much more accurate than those of (at least from the feeble understanding of human behavior I use to conjecture) other war novelists. There's something masochi...more
Chris
I imagine many people find this book in the same way I did; after seeing Terrence Malick's excellent 1998 movie of the same name. I'm so pleased I did because it has become an instant favourite.

Set during the bloody Guadalcanal campaign in 1943 the story follows the exploits of C-For-Charlie company of the US 25th Infantry Division right from their first arrival to their final evacuation after weeks of intense fighting against the Japanese forces occupying the island.

The book portrays the soldie...more
Old_airman
Interesting take on men in battle. Very rough language. Not traditional hero tale.
Richard
This is one of the greatest books on how World War II was fought in the Pacific; it is also unparalleled in its exploration of the nature of war, especially on how it affects the psyches of those bound up in it. It's the second of Jones' trilogy on the Second World War. All of the venues of the three novels were derived from his experiences; Pre-war Schofield Barracks in Oahu, the 1942-43 battles of Mount Austen, the Galloping Horse, and the Sea Horse on Guadalcanal, and in military hospitals. T...more
Seamus Mcduff
Other reviewers have pointed out that J Jones was in the US infantry and was sent to Guadalcanal. It may be worth pointing out that by his own admission the author deserted the army twice, and was finally classified Section 8 (mentally disturbed) and discharged. Just saying.

On the upside, there is much life-like detail and characterisation which gives the reader a feeling of the types of conditions, relationships, emotions, brutality, etc. the ordinary soldier was subject to in the US Army durin...more
Coxy
The quote for this book on Goodreads sums it up really:

"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."

Whilst certainly recalling the fantastic film by Malick, there is a lot more to this book besides comparing it t...more
Chris Chester
Somehow I was expecting more of this book after having watched the Terrence Malick film based on it.

I really enjoyed the setup, through the taking of the Big Dancing Elephant. The characters felt like genuine portrayals of the kind of men you would expect to find under fire, in WWII or maybe even today in Afghanistan. Their personalities spoke directly to the way they coped with fighting a war for the first time -- whether it was a 'fake it til you make it' strategy, ruthless glory hunting, or...more
Alan Marchant
mission accomplished

James Jones draws the title of this book from the "thin red line between the sane and the mad." But the subtitle gives a clearer sense of the theme - "every man fights his own war."

On the surface, The Thin Red Line is strikingly similar to The Naked and the Dead. Each novel tell the stories of a group of inexperienced soldiers sent as cannonfodder to fight the Japanese on a lonely Pacific island.

But under the surface, the novels could not be more different. Norman Mailer's no...more
Nathan
James Jones writes a gripping account of life as a WWII infantry man on the Pacific Front. One of the most impressive things about this book is how deftly and smoothly James switches between characters. My favorite thing about reading this book was that I read it so quickly. I think this definately went a long way to heighten the battle scenes. The detail and violence of which (particularly the battle for the Elephant) left me sharing a sense of exhaustion with the characters. I don't think the...more
Chris
I first picked up this book more than 12 years ago, shortly after the movie came out. I put it down before delving too deeply into it, and never had an interest to return. Recently I picked it up again on a lark and decided to give it one more try. This time around I found it fascinating. Generally in media American soldiers are regarded as heroes. They defeated the German and Japanese soldiers and did so against great odds, facing their charge with great courage. Portrayals of Americans in WWII...more
Chortle
Sep 20, 2011 Chortle rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, LGBT, 60's, 70's
Longest book I've read.

Not one of my favorites because I'm not interested in tactics of which hill they decided to go on, didn't care about the hills. Wish more time had been spent on certain characters. There were too many characters and I wanted there to be more focus on a few. Liked the various responses to combat. But it seemed that there was too much of a list of all the types of things that would happen to people while in combat. Lots of where's my next drink, which was probably honest but...more
manuti
Otro más, que cae.
Supongo que a todo el mundo le sonarán las películas De aquí a la eternidad y La delgada línea roja, pues además debería sonarnos también que el autor de la dos novelas en que se basan es el mismo, James Jones. Aún no he visto la película, pero sé que tiene fama de dura, pero la novela no es para menos. Creo que es la aproximación más real a lo que pasa por la cabeza de alguien cuando se encuentra en esas situaciones extremas de combate, y también las preguntas que uno se hace...more
Ben
I found one aspect of The Thin Red Line quite distracting. Virtually all of the numerous characters have one syllable, 4- or 5-letter last names. A sampling: Fife, Tall, Doll, Dale, Ash, Cash, Carr, Culp, Culn, Crown, Keck, Beck, Band, Land, Bank, Bead, Barr, Train, Spain, Blane, Stein, Stack, Storm, Spine, Gaff, Gray, Gore, Gluk, Fronk, Grove, Gooch, Queen, Roth, Hoke, Suss, Jenks, Potts, Tomms, Timms, Tills, Wills, Welsh, Weld, Wick, Witt.

Now, a few of these would be understandable. But severa...more
Laurent
A gritty insight into the minds of soldiers before, during and after battle

I highly recommend The Thin Red Line because it provides an excellent insight into soldiering and what compels normal, scared and rational human beings to enter and keep moving forward in battle, where imminent and immediate mortal danger is likely and random. I was originally attracted to TTRL because it had a psychological slant to it: looking at what goes through men's minds as they are thrust into the horrors of battl...more
Mark
I guess reading Matterhorn has me on a war novel kick. The Thin Red Line is a look at a fictional Army rifle company during the battle for Guadalcanal in World War II. It's also been made into a movie that I remember as "the other World War II movie around when Saving Private Ryan came out". It's similar to the novel mentioned in that the narrative flows smoothly through perspectives all throughout the company. It's different in that the majority of the focus is on enlisted non-coms rather than...more
thegift
this is an unusual book, an unusual history of reading: i read this after seeing it as one of my favourite films, so i cannot tell if it has strong images as all i see are scenes from the movie. characters played by certain actors, tropics played by certain islands, actions as presented, edited, perspectives, shooting, sound etc., all as the movie.

this might be a good thing, though it is not so clearly a joint work as 2001 by Kubrick/Clarke, it does fill in the characters. what is surprising is...more
Matt Turner
I'm going to just put this out there from the start, the first 50-60 pages of this book are really long and boring. However, once you get past these pages you'll find yourself enticed by how descriptive and detailed there journey is into the island of Gaudalcanal.For example, when they first step foot on the island they go into the jungle where "From a distance they made a funny sight: groups of wet men in the rain, moving skitishly up and down the jungle edge..." (pg. 61) This quote is from the...more
Gunnar Newland
The Thin Red Line is a story of two battles on Guadalcanal, and the adventures of C for Charlie company. Throughout the novel the status quo alters, leaving behind a changed C for Charlie. The novel is unusual due to the lack of a main character. Instead, the book delves into the thoughts of over a dozen prominent characters, including Doll, Bell, Fife, Welsh, Stein, Witt, Storm, Bead, Band, Queen, Mazzi, Gaff and even more. The characters face the challenges of war alone, since no matter where...more
Luther Wilson
This book drew me right into it -- the characters are immediately compelling, and the things that happen seem completely real...which means that it's dark, frightening, depressing, sordid, and fascinating. The psychological portrayals are amazingly accurate and honest...good god, what a miserable thing to have to go through... The movie (which doesn't really seem to match the book much) is one of my favorite war movies; for different reasons, I'm rating this book very highly. I'm only about 1/3...more
Simon
Thanks to Coxy for the lend of this one. A brilliant, affecting novel about the utter misery, solitude, terror, and existential and bodily agony of infantry combat. It combines rather detailed and technical descriptions of unit manoeuvres and tactical engagements with passages of prose that are almost ‘beat’ in their rhythms. In my mind the Second World War was always a step on from the apocalyptic trench warfare of the First World War, tactically evolved, a tiny step towards the insulated and c...more
John Alt
When James Jones died the Army lost one of its own. Here was a soldier, a man with an abiding regard for things military. Many novelists treat war and the Army but only with a passing interest. They write one book and get it out of their systems. For Jones, From Here to Eternity was the start of a lifelong study of what it means to be a soldier. To the day he died he thought like a soldier. Other writers delve into high society or family life or la vie boheme. Jones was at his best when he explo...more
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3999
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Ramon Jones was an American author known for his explorations of World War II and its aftermath.

His wartime experiences inspired some of his most famous works. He witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to his first published novel, From Here to Eterni...more
More about James Jones...
From Here to Eternity Whistle Some Came Running Go to the Widow-Maker The Merry Month of May

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“If I never meet you
In this life
Let me feel the lack
A glance from your eyes
Then my life
Will be yours”
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“War don't ennoble men, it turns 'em into dogs. It poisons the soul.” 17 likes
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