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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  27,527 ratings  ·  2,048 reviews
While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the Cold War and American culture, compelling that "swerve from evenness" in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying.

Underworld opens with a breathlessly gracefu
Paperback, 827 pages
Published 1999 by Picador (first published October 3rd 1997)
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Byron Forney I think of it in terms of Grapes of Wrath being about the first half of the 20th Cent. in regarding migration, take over of land and farming by big co…moreI think of it in terms of Grapes of Wrath being about the first half of the 20th Cent. in regarding migration, take over of land and farming by big corps. and the general reconstruction and relocation of American society and culture from a farming and agricultural society to the coming of a manufacturing society. Underworld is about the second half being the "cold war" society which has resulted from the same need for the accumulation power but done rather than through farming, through manufacturing all held together by the one thing we refuse to surrender, baseball used as metaphor. Remember, the core of the nuclear warhead is the exact same size as a baseball. I see the two stories back to back as the "story" of the 20th Cent.(less)
Jeff Absolutely appropriate. The sex is nothing major or graphic, and their is barely any violence throughout. I am not sure how many of the references a 1…moreAbsolutely appropriate. The sex is nothing major or graphic, and their is barely any violence throughout. I am not sure how many of the references a 15 year old will get, but I would let my niece read it and she just turned 16.(less)

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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  27,527 ratings  ·  2,048 reviews

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Nov 21, 2009 rated it liked it
seriously, why does everyone suck this book's dick so much?

this book was recommended to me by an ex (who also recommended zuleika dobson and the joke, so he had a good track record until then) who knew how much i liked infinite jest so he thought i would like this one. and if i only liked infinite jest because it was a long book written by a white male, then i suppose i would have liked this book. but i didn't, so it must be something else i'm drawn to in the wallace.

i remember i was reading th
Violet wells
I love reading James Wood on the novel. For me he’s up there with Virginia Woolf as a critic who genuinely enriches the experience of reading the novel. Even though he often denigrates authors I love. Don Delillo for example. Underworld for Wood was gratuitously obsessed with paranoia as if this was a concern peculiar to only Delillo. But one could say paranoia was a state of mind invented by America. Did it even exist in the 19th century? The Cold War saw the invention of paranoia as a mass med ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels

So I will strap on my backpack and don sturdy walking boots, an oxygen tank might be useful, and a supply of plasters and animal pelts - and then I will begin to scale the North Face of Modern American Literature. Let's see how far I get before I fall off one of its jagged cliffs or collapse choking with one of Mr DeLillo's sentences wrapped around my neck.


Update - Not even on page 100 and I have a
Ethan Fixell
Aug 05, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: masochists
i've only put down three books in my entire life.

the first was Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," which i absolutely loved but got terribly sick of after about 700 pages of the same goddamn philosophy being crammed down my throat. (which sounds like its awful, but i really did adore those first two thirds).

the second was a speed reading book. it wasn't a very quick read, and i got bored.

the third is now Don DeLillo's Underworld, supposedly one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th century literature.

Apr 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
People married, were born, and died in the time it took me to read this book. A kid sitting next to me on a plane commented "that's the fattest book I've ever seen. What's it about?" I told him "I have no idea--I'm only 580 pages into it." Having finished I still don't know what it was about but reading it was an extraordinary experience. The novella that introduces the book is perfect and complete in itself. What follows is discursive and ephemeral like some new kind of music. Reading it was li ...more
Oct 15, 2009 rated it did not like it
I'm surprised to see how many people here had the exact same reaction I did. They start reading, they find a few bits that seem quite gripping and well-written, they lose momentum, and they stop. Some hypotheses:

- None of us are smart enough to get the point.

- There is a clear point, but you have to reach the end to discover what it is, and we didn't have the requisite fortitude. (Also, it must be like The Mousetrap: readers who find out are sworn not to reveal it).

- The point is that life feels
Feb 16, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Felons with high recidivism rates in trade for early release
I'm on page 387 of Underworld. Please. Help me decide if I should finish. Yeah you.

Here's a few things I think are better than Underworld:
1. The song Born in the USA by Springsteen
2. The blonds on the Danish women's Olympic curling team
3. Opening a third beer
4. A clean stove
5. Any 5 pages of War and Peace
6. The Greek flag
7. When I catch an attractive woman looking at me
8. Picking my teams for the NCAA basketball tournament
9. An afro
10. Any 15 minutes of Shawshank Redemption
11. Deja vu
12. A goo
Becca Becca
I felt like this was one of those books where you kind of start getting drunk on the words and then you begin to think everything is super deep and has about 100 meanings and everything is interconnected. Then you start reading every sentence about 5 times and get lost in a daydream about how everything is related to waste, nuclear energy, more waste, and nuns.

When you finish the book you feel like you've gone on a journey but it's hard to talk about it and your not really sure exactly what hap
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Elegy for Left Hand Alone
Title of Part 2
[*4.5 stars*] [footnote added on 10/21]

I just read what to me is likely the most far-reaching American novel in terms of its scope, spanning the 1950s through the 1990s and covering a wide range of American topics, from baseball to solid waste disposal, U.S. nuclear weapons and the Soviet atomic weapons program (i.e., nuclear proliferation), guns, graffiti, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, the Cuban Missile Crisis, drug addiction, AIDS, marital infidelity,
Steven Godin

I'd been looking forward to reading this for ages, and it failed to disappoint. Underworld is one heck of a novel, and when I think of the breathtaking opening sequence at the Dodgers—Giants 1951 game I had the feeling something truly remarkable was on the cards. It was like DeLillo sat there in the stadium with eagle eyes. His capacity for details throughout the whole 827 pages was just monumental. The only thing that bothered me prior to reading this, is just how much of the novel is actually
Michael Finocchiaro
I thoroughly enjoyed Underworld by DeLillo. I was a bit scared of it for years, but after having successfully tackled two other post-modern über-works Infinite Jest and Gravity's Rainbow, I decidedly it was time (admittedly, I have not been able to bring myself to attempt The Recognitions by Gaddis yet). I enjoyed the writing style and loved the story. The background of the postwar 50s and 60s was interesting and I loved the image of the open art exposition in the desert (no spoilers). It was my ...more
Jul 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The central metaphor in Underworld, as I saw it, revolves around trash. One of the main characters, Nick Shay, works for a waste-disposal company. No matter how many different recycling bins his family divides their waste into (seven and counting), it cannot all be reclaimed. The trash builds up – and what holds true for the physical also holds true for the personal and the historical. No matter how we might try to reprocess, recast,or ignore our history/memory, our past accumulates, and the wei ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye

“Underworld" as Found Art/Fiction

“Underworld" is fascinating in at least two ways: one relates to its use of metafiction, and the other relates to its implicit view of metaphysics:

"What did I see in this juxtaposition?"

"I believed in the stern logic of [connection]."

“Everything is Connected in the End”

A major theme of the novel is that “everything is connected in the end”. DeLillo goes one step beyond theme and uses this proposition as the foundation of the structure of the novel.

Jun 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1970-present, prose
This is now my favourite novel alongside Blood Meridian, 2666 and Infinite Jest. I'm too fatigued and mentally exhausted to write a decent review now, which fact is a shame.

Underworld is, to use a quote from Roberto Bolaño's 2666 to illustrate my take on this DeLillo novel, one of "the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze a path into the unknown."

Those who will tell you that White Noise is DeLillo's best, or some other short, compact, precise DeLillo work, "want to watch the gre
Jun 30, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
An excellent example of the critical consensus being just plain wrong. Underworld is bloated, confused, and turgid - yet critics who should have known better drowned it in praise. I think this is due to a number of factors.

One, pedigree: DeLillo is a critical darling, deservedly so. Two, Heft: just like in movies, critics assume size equals importance, and thus the longer it takes to get through something, the more that something must have to say. It's 854 pages, 600 of which could have been cu
Sentimental Surrealist
With every DeLillo novel I read, I realize that Underworld is the pinnacle of the man's artistry. Every novel he wrote beforehand leads up to it, hints at it, contains thematic foreshadowings of it, and the sixty-odd pages of Cosmopolis I've read are so far from this that it seems DeLillo understood there was no going back to his older style, because he'd already perfected it. This, of course, invites the possibility that DeLillo could release another masterpiece in his later style, but with the ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
There is no review here. I’m merely registering a score.

It’s been years since I last picked up a DeLillo. This one’s been waiting far too long. I rewatched the Cosmopolis movie last week. It’s not good. Underworld is pretty fine.

My motivation was this. There are Underworld detractors on gr who I’m almost certain should have known better. There are Underworld boosters on gr who have never (not quite) convinced me. So I set out to do that thing which I rarely need to bother doing myself, Making up
Read By RodKelly
In answering the question, “how important is meaning to your writing?,” during a conversation with Jonathan Franzen, Don DeLillo explicates one of the qualities that make his books such a pleasure to read: “[meaning] is not the primary force at all. I think of myself as a writer of sentences, and I will always follow language. I will sometimes yield meaning to the words: the sound of words, the look of words, and to the beauty, at times, of a phrase, or a sentence, or a paragraph. Or what I hope ...more
Seems like to most people, Delillo is a love-or-hate proposition. His pace is either relaxed, or his books are boring as hell. His prose is gorgeous, or it's stilted and awkward (or just plain bad?). His dialogue is pitch perfect, or it's unrealistic and/or wooden. His philosophical musings are either profound or so pretentious as to be laughable. His plots are either nonexistent in such a way that you don't even notice, or they're nonexistent in such a way that you want to throw the book at the ...more
Dec 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Don DeLillo is a first-rate modern writer: his clipped and adamantine use of words, his compacted sentences and digitalized detail, all come together to tell his stories in a taut and invigorating manner—and he can dissect the quirks and pathologies that are running through our culture, probe the leavenings that have adumbrated modern societies racing towards the western horizon, with impressive acumen. However, I am not convinced that he is a first-rate characterizer, and this aspect of his wri ...more
May 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“Sometimes I see something so moving I know I’m not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave.”

The Great American novel? A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius? DeLillo's Magnum Opus? The Perfect Culmination of his Work?

Is Underworld any of these things? Maybe?

Categorizing it like this is meaningless, not because *insert some platitude here about its sheer transcendence of those categories*, but because it genui
Definitely not four, probably not exactly five. But sometimes five; fleeting moments, flickers, of five. The structure of Underworld was fantastic. It was an excavation novel. It was an extraction. It was a slow descent, a regression. I definitely have a pro-Delillo bias, but still think this novel (for me) fits among his best and strongest works. It was worth the time, the work, the emotional cost. Not Dostoevesky, but Underworld will be read, examined, analyzed throughout the next century whil ...more
May 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Underworld is concerned with history, with the inexorable passage of time, the ways in which events change and define us collectively, and how pieces of the past once misplaced can be irrevocably lost. When I reached page 382 of the novel, I was surprised to find that the next page was numbered 415, meaning that there were 32 pages of missing text. Never before had I seen an author tamper with page numbers: what an innovative and intriguing device! By creating intentional gaps in the text, Delil ...more
Justin Evans
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Voltaire is best known today for a novella and being a bit of a prick (in an enlightening way), but he also wrote a number of epic poems, including the first (?) epic poem in French, the Henriade. This was reprinted dozens of times during his life. The epic was the great literary genre of the eighteenth century, in theory. Now, of course, nobody gives a shit, because that stuff is utterly unreadable. Our 'epics' are long novels, and, like the Henriade, they get laurels aplenty, despite being all ...more
Sep 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the award nominations and the praise from great contemporary authors like David Mitchell and David Foster Wallace, I didn’t go into this book knowing much about it. Pomo, writerly, and long: those were my only preconceptions. Now I can at least pretend to see what the fuss is about. The book starts with a resounding shot, as in the one “Heard Round the World” – a phenomenal account of the 1951 playoff game where the Giants took the pennant from the Dodgers thanks to Bobby Thompson’s dram ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It’s not an easy synopsis to write but i’ll give it a go. Underworld opens with a 60 page prologue centered around a famous baseball game in 1951 with a home-run dubbed ‘the shot heard around the world’. In the crowd there’s the likes of J Edgar Hoover, a couple of over zealous commentators and a young boy who ends up with the winning baseball. We then jump forward in time to 1992 and are introduced to the two characters that feature most prominently in the proceeding chapters: Nick Shay and Kla ...more
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Underworld is panoramic and it is cosmic in its vision of the human nature.
“Yes, the dead fall upon the living. But he begins to see that the living are sinners. The cardplayers, the lovers who dally, he sees the king in an ermine cloak with his fortune stashed in hogshead drums. The dead have come to empty out the wine gourds, to serve a skull on a platter to gentlefolk at their meal. He sees gluttony, lust and greed.”
The totalitarian society is hell and the silly petty devils abide there unhap
Jun 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: George Bradford
I found this a stunning book, a reminder of what good writing can be.
I was reading this book in September 2001, when I put it down to go on vacation in Switzerland. While on vacation, 9-11 happened. When I returned, I picked the book up again and the cover - which prominently featured a creepy, black and white picture of the World Trade Center taken from the cemetery at Trinity Church - had a new meaning for me.
It was such a wonderful, sweeping, poetic book that it's hard to encapsulate. Someh
Simon Robs
Dec 15, 2015 rated it liked it
I was under-awed this time, the first reading 20-plus years ago. I've held tight with other books holding the same estimation after many years' remove. In "Underworld" there's overreach, to me. The expected synergy never, in my estimation, overwhelmed the many to produce a whole greater than sum. The characters were not up to the task of carrying that 800-plus load in spite of dexterity in setting and moving all the separate but converging storylines. The zeitgeist was there without the manpower ...more
Mar 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
I can be fairly brief about this book: I just didn’t like it. Take the prologue: 60 pages of verbal acrobatics about a baseball game in 1951 that forty years later stills appeals to the imagination. I agree: DeLillo cleverly uses every literary trick in the book to achieve the same effect as a spectacular opening scene in a movie, that continues to vibrate on your retina for hours. But according to me, it's not appropriate to do that with prose, just let each medium/art retain its own strength. ...more
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Don DeLillo is an American author best known for his novels, which paint detailed portraits of American life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He currently lives outside of New York City.

Among the most influential American writers of the past decades, DeLillo has received, among author awards, a National Book Award (White Noise, 1985), a PEN/Faulkner Award (Mao II, 1991), and an American

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“Sometimes I see something so moving I know I’m not supposed to linger. See it and leave. If you stay too long, you wear out the wordless shock. Love it and trust it and leave.” 182 likes
“I long for the days of disorder. I want them back, the days when I was alive on the earth, rippling in the quick of my skin, heedless and real. I was dumb-muscled and angry and real. This is what I long for, the breach of peace, the days of disarray when I walked real streets and did things slap-bang and felt angry and ready all the time, a danger to others and a distant mystery to myself.” 50 likes
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