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The Hunters

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,696 ratings  ·  210 reviews
With his stirring, rapturous first novel--originally published in 1956 --James Salter established himself as the most electrifying prose stylist since Hemingway. Four decades later, it is clear that he also fashioned the most enduring fiction ever about aerial warfare.

Captain Cleve Connell arrives in Korea with a single goal: to become an ace, one of that elite fraternity
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 27th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1956)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  1,696 ratings  ·  210 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Nov 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
James Salter - image from

Cleve arrives in Korea eager to join the ranks of pilot aces. He has the licks. The Hunters tells the tale of Cleve and other Korean War pilots, the small society in which they live, what they value, how they see themselves. Frustrations, seeking and achieving glory, or failing to be recognized for ones accomplishments. It is a well-written war novel, very masculine. Salter (pen name, and later legal name of James Arnold Horowitz) knows something
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excitement builds. I guarantee that you will be riveted by the novels end.

The author was a fighter pilot in the Korean War. Aerial combat and the reality of getting those five hits that make you an ace are what this book is about. It is about the competitive drive for success and how different men handle this.

Dont think that a book about war need be uncritical of the military or even war itself.

This is not a book about politics or why the Korean War was fought. It is about the combat itself and
Apr 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In The Hunters chastened prose is never more than a few steps from religious lyricism. Salter will begin a scene with the naming of parts, the spare poetry of function, and wind it up with an epiphany, or talk of grace, or comparison of a preternaturally skilled MIG driver to a heavy angel come down to test the valor of men. It makes me think of the abrupt gaudiness of nose art on a sleek aluminum fuselage.


The Hunters (1956, rev. ed. 1997) is Salters first novel, published the year he resigned
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional prose for a war novel, very short at 200+ pages. The story is very tightly wound and stayed true all the way through.

The Hunters is the story of Captain Cleve Connell and his fellow American pilots hunting North Korean/Chinese MIGS during the Korean War. They were each to fly a hundred missions. Most missions are duds. The story then builds steam as Cleve who trained many of the fellow pilots in pilot school is finally deployed to the war zone. He is frustrated by his lack of enemy
Philippe Malzieu
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
After the triumph of "All that is" in France, L'olivier, the french editor decided to translate the first Slater's novel.
Just in time.
Salter is really a geant. In Japan, he will be considered as a "lived historical monument"
All his genius is in this first book.
Sep 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-novel
The most apolitical war novel I've ever read. No character reflects on the nature of war or his role in it, for better or worse. What they do reflect on, endlessly, obessively, is the competition for wracking up the most kills and attaining ace status. Think of Mamet's salesmen in "Glengarry, Glennross" gone to war. This lack of political dimension is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it creates a kind of claustrophobic insularity in mood and focus that enevelops the characters like ...more
Jan 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2014
The Hunters is James Salter's first novel. It was published in 1956 and is the third Salter novel I have read in the past thirteen months. As with the others it is a magnificent piece of writing. The novel's setting is the air war in Korea, c. 1950-53. Salter served in the USAF in Korea flying fighters so the hard sheen of authenticity permeates every page. The Hunters has a reputation among connoisseurs as one of the best novels of air combat. That fact, however, should not stop anyone with an ...more
Daniel Villines
Jan 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's always satisfying to read stories that not only entertain, but also serve to highlight themes or subjects that reach out into real life. The Hunters satisfies.

At face value, Salter tells the story of jet fighter pilot who volunteers for a tour of duty during the Korean War. The ground story takes place at an Air Force base in South Korea where interceptor missions are flown routinely into the North to destroy North Korean fighter jets.

The story tells of a unique time in our history with
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Much has already been said here about the precision of Salter's crisp, clean style. It's Hemingway over ice with a splash of bitters. If you love language, you will read every word. Much also has been said about this book as an accurate portrayal of flying and a great novel of warfare.

What I would add to all that is how "The Hunters" is a fascinating account of the dynamics within a group of highly trained men who engage in a high-risk occupation. The central character Cleve begins the novel as
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Actual rating: 4.5 stars.
Friends on the outside were always asking why he stayed in [...] he had tried to find an answer sitting alone at dinner in the club filled with administrative majors and mothers talking about their children, but he never could. In his mind he carried Saturdays of flying, with the autumnal roar of crowds on the radio compass and the important stadiums thirty minutes apart and button-small, the wingmen like metallic arrows poised in the air above a continent, the last
Jul 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: flying
A war book where men are really men. Frighteningly believable. The two most familiar soldierly archetypes - the noble patriotic leader who rallies his troops to greatness; the greenhorn whose innocence and morality is earnestly tested - don't exist here. These are boys undone by real passions: by jealousy, pettiness, and greed, by braggadocio and selfishness, and most of all by thwarted victory, which they want to claim not for their country but for themselves. The penultimate chapter is nothing ...more
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am enbarrassed that it took me so long to read this - but I didn't want to read another book about WWII. I was wrong. This is an amazing book.
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adventure
This is another author who mistakes profundity with self-seriousness in a similar vein as Cormac Friggin McCarthy. Salter however, does not plumb the depths of pretension to nearly the same low as that aforementioned Pulitzer prize-winning wanker.

My expectations were part of the problem here. It was stupid of me to wish for a a Catch-22-like narrative that uses irony and paradox to point out the absurdity of war. What was I thinking, that every book about war pilots was going to be another
Feb 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this novel about fighter pilots during the Korean War in 1998 shortly after it was published in a revised edition. It was James Salter's debut novel about USAF fighter pilots during the Korean War, first published in 1956. It is one of the best of that breed that I have read. Salter himself was a fighter pilot with the rank of Captain who saw combat from February to August 1952. He kept a detailed diary of his tour and the novel closely follows a chronology of events he experienced as an ...more
Jun 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
Based on the ratings it has gotten at least, this has to be one of the most overrated books in human history. It's about an entitled jet fighter pilot during the Korean War. I was sure to call him "entitled" because half of the book is about his insecurities and, well, this is the best way to put it -- incessant whining. There isn't a single character that is remotely interesting. There isn't a plot or subplot that is remotely interesting. Even the dogfights in the air are utterly banal. ...more
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: military, koreanwar
This book proves to me that there is far more to a book than prose or profundity. I will have to admit that the prose and flow was beautiful. People have compared Salter to Hemingway. I'm not going to go nearly that far. As the review from Justin indicates, this story has a rather weak plot and is no more than a beautifully written pissing contest between a bunch of guys seeking to be ace pilots. Perhaps that's the goal: to say that there is little heroism in war and only hell and death. I'm not ...more
Tyler Jones
Jul 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war-fiction
A very strong and solid novel. At least the 1997 rewrite is - I have not read it as it was originally published in 1956. It is a book similar in some ways to the classic of war fiction, The Red Badge of Courage in that it shows how within a theatre of conflict a man might wish for glory - his proof of worth - but the truth is that it is often just chance and circumstance that will determine who is the hero and who is the lesser man. Such Hemingwayesque themes are now out of vogue, but such solid ...more
Sheridan Hopkins
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most perfect books I have ever read. While it is a story of bravery and humility it is a historical picture of the waste and stupidity of war. War brings out the best and worst in men and what we read as fact may not be so. Salter's deep three dimensional characters are real in their flaws and fates. I loved this book.
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Utterly brilliant, haunting, mature...
Doctor Moss
Feb 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
This is a very fast, engrossing read, but I think its much more than a war novel.

The book was written in 1956, in the wake of the Korean War, and, on the surface, its a book about American fighter pilots stationed in Korea, flying air combat missions against North Korean MIG pilots. But I think what makes it more timeless and provocative is Salters ability to convey the subjective experience of his main character, Cleve Connell.

Connell arrives in Korea as a hotshot pilot, distinguished in
Alex Kennedy
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Heat and endless days. He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He could not decide. Was it courage or enthusiasm, or something even more vital, life itself, that was draining out of him so steadily, day after day, mission after mission, as if a man were born with, or acquired, only so much of it, never to be replenished?"

"The time passed slowly. Every morning early and in the sweaty stillness of every night, he struggled with himself, stemming the weakness that seemed to come then.
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-us
A novel about Korean War F-86 fighter pilots. That's about it. No spoilers here. In my opinion, the best novel on war I have read that doesn't address the "bigger issues" (morality, etc.) about war at all. There are no "why are we in Korea," "isn't war ridiculous/futile," or "we are killing etc. innocent people" discussions at all. Salter (this was his first novel) was already a prose master and he perfectly captures the milieu of the fighter pilots. The aerial battle descriptions are excellent. ...more
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
THE HUNTERS is one of the more insular novels Ive ever read., insular in that its almost entirely about the self-contained world of fighter pilots during the Korean War of the early l950s. That forgotten war of 60 years ago involved the first air battles between the newly developed American F-86 jets and the Russian MIGs. They were both in the air to support ground troops. At that time, missiles had not been developed so planes had to get close enough to machine gun and disable the enemy ...more
John Alt
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The game was dangerous and not for the cautious. It was a hunting game, with predators suddenly becoming prey as they twisted and turned to escape MiG-15s. The war game is always dangerous and this one took place in the skies above Korea in the early 1950s. Its story is told in The Hunters, a novel by James Salter, who flew in those skies, sometimes hunting, sometimes being hunted. He bagged one kill, watching the pilot eject and bail out of a smoking MiG. It was a game about aerial glory for ...more
Nov 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I am fascinated by MiG Alley. We have an airport in my hometown named after Colonel James Jabara, one of those F-86 aces that this novel describes so richly. I am also fascinated by John Boyd, who I regard as one of the greatest thinkers the U.S. Air Force ever produced, and many historians believe he collected many of his insights flying the Wingman position on these missions over the Yalu. Honestly, I didn't know this superb novel existed until it appeared on the Air Force Chief of Staff's ...more
Aug 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Rich by: Bash
James Salter's The Hunters is a very good book. Unfortunately, I picked it up just prior to moving, but if my time were mine it would have been read quite quickly. Salter was a previous Air Force pilot and officer, but even still I was surprised to find The Hunters so genuine and free of unrealistic banter. I particularly liked this...
Being in a squadron was a digest of life. You were a child when you joined. There was endless opportunity, and everything was new. Gradually, almost unknowingly,
Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I ordered this praying to a god unknown that it not be as terse as Hemingway, and I was happy to find that Salter isn't afraid of a little polish. I'd seen Salter's writing referred to as "spare and elegant" and that's spot-on. It's a lean little book, but he doesn't skimp at all on pretty descriptions of cities, countrysides, and of course bad-ass jet fighters.

At first I was bored with the characterization, but 2/5 of the way in, the pilots really started to shine. By the end of the book, the
Aug 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
This debut novel about an Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War was heavily based on Salter's own experiences. He flew a hundred F-86 missions during his 1952 tour and kept a detailed diary, which he drew heavily upon for the book. The story revolves around a seasoned pilot with a good reputation who is assigned to a combat zone for the first time. Although confident of his abilities and eager to prove himself, it's hard to become an ace (a designation awarded after five confirmed "kills") ...more
Hetal Shah
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was drawn to Salter because of his reputation as the 'master stylist,' hoping to learn something. I started his latest novel, "All That Is" before this. I read 'The Hunters' for a book session on 'war literature. This was his first novel, written when he was 31. He famously said he wanted to prevent the readers' need to 'underline' sentences in his latest book (All That Is) -- he wanted it so perfect (a bold statement, but I guess you can get away with it when you are eighty nine), so I when I ...more
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
James Salter's debut novel is miles better than most authors' magnum opera. Beautifully written, emotionally engaging.
Knowing a little bit about Salter's service as a fighter pilot in the Korean War, I assume (egotistically) many of Cleve Connell's experiences parallel Salter's own. Perhaps not (view spoiler) but the overall ambience, the fevered anxiety and the dragging boredom, the frozen
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James Salter (1925 - 2015) was a novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. Salter grew up in New York City and was a career officer and Air Force pilot until his mid-thirties, when the success of his first novel (The Hunters, 1957) led to a fulltime writing career. Salters potent, lyrical prose earned him acclaim from critics, readers, and fellow novelists. His novel A Sport and a Pastime ...more

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“Miyata was fluent and intelligent. Nothing was beyond his curiosity. He seemed to be above the confusion of life, as if he had been commissioned to spend his own in undisturbed judgement of the world about him, protected always by a mandate from the gods. They spoke briefly of Korea and then of the past war with the United States. Miyata had been in Japan for its entire duration and must have been deeply affected, but when he talked about it, it was without bitterness. Wars were not of his doing. He considered them almost poetically, as if they were seasons, the cruel winters of man, even though almost all the work he had done in the 1930s and early 1940s had been lost when his house was burned in the great incendiary raid of 1944. He described the night vividly, the endless hours, the bombers thundering low over the storms of fire.” 1 likes
“Every glance made him need another.” 0 likes
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