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Half World

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  147 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Inspired by real CIA operations, the riveting novel of a fraying CIA analyst who conducts secret mind-control experiments and the young agent who, years later, uncovers the appalling legacy of the program and the people destroyed by it.

In the 1950s, the CIA began a clandestine operation known as Project MKULTRA, in which unwitting American citizens were subjected to insidi
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published February 18th 2014 by Simon Schuster
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3.39  · 
Rating details
 ·  147 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Apr 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Half World is one of those books that bites off way more than it can chew. The premise was promising, but at the same time I wondered how O'Connor would manage to fit everything that the book claims to be about between its two covers. The answer: He didn't manage. What resulted was a semi-enjoyable government conspiracy novel that will probably not stick with me for much longer than it takes to read the next book on my shelf.

There are three distinct sections that make up Half World:

The setup: T
Paul Pessolano
Dec 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
“Half World” by Scott O’Connor, published by Simon and Schuster.

Category – Fiction/Literature Publication Date – February 18, 2014

Henry March is an analyst for the CIA in the 1950’s and he becomes an integral part of a project that uses drug and mind control experiments on unknowing and unwitting American Citizens.

Henry is torn between his duty to his country and his belief in what is right and wrong. His devotion to his family also plays into his decision to abandon his part in the program. Unf
Feb 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, 2014
Interesting premise and mostly well-written, but ultimately unsatisfying. The stream of consciousness style gets old very quickly, as do the constantly shifting verb tenses and character perspectives.

I get that it's all supposed to be very vague and mysterious, but for me it just needed something more--some kind of revelation or at least just more of the missing pieces falling closer into place. I'm not asking for everything to spelled out bluntly in capital letters and for all loose ends to be
Shawn Hicks
Too much mystery and insignificant description

I don't know what to think. The story was good but I felt the author was trying to hard to be mysterious that he lost me so many times. I do t really understand many parts of this book and I'm not sure if I'm supposed to. I feel like the author was trying to put the reader in the same mental state of the people who were being experimented on...maybe he succeeded but the story was just confusing and boring for almost the first 60%. I liked Untouchable
Mar 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Normally, when I make the FTC required disclosure that I am writing a review based on a free review copy of a book, I throw in a canned disclosure at the end of the review. Not so with Half-World by Scott O'Connor. While most of the books I get to review for free are decent enough, O'Connor's writing is so compelling that I will be purchasing his (few) previous works and anything new that he pens. O'Connor is good. Really, really good. So then. This review is based off of a free review copy prov ...more
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I generally don't like to read thrillers or spy novels, but I got drawn into this one. It's based on the CIA's MKultra experiments of the Cold War era (look MKultra up if you haven't heard of it, it's stranger than any fiction and very disturbing). O'Conner did a good job showing how participating in torture can transform people who are otherwise good into something different. The characters were interesting and the story kept me wanting to know what would happen next. The only drawback for me w ...more
Ryan Bradford
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A literary thriller with surreal elements, which handled the ambiguous theme of identity with disarming clarity. Found this incredibly gripping, especially how O'Connor handles the different eras with cinematic precision. The first third of the book takes place in the 50s, which felt deeply Kubrickian, meticulous, haunting and unsettling. The later events felt like they mirrored the acid-washed, hallucinatory exploitation films of the early '70s.

Also, this has one of the best villains I've read
Gabriella Gricius
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Why Read: Ask anyone and they will regal you with tales of how much I adore the Cold War. Whether it's stories of espionage or wartime recollections, I am immediately caught without fail. Half World was no different. It was one of the books that has been on my TBR list for quite some time, and this winter holiday season felt like the perfect time to read it.
Review: When you start reading Half World, it begins with a bit of a confused vibe. Who is Henry, what is happening to him, and why does th
May 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
It was a good story but a tough read.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
A. S.
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
I bought this book from Dollar Tree because I needed something to read for my recent trip to Miami, and it was cheaper than buying a magazine at the airport. I buy a fair number of books from the Dollar Tree, because sometimes it's cheaper than paying a large late fee on a library book you barely read. Not surprisingly, the books tend to be a mixed bag, tending towards the lower side of average in both literary merit and entertainment value. Likewise, this book was also kind of a disappointment. ...more
Curt Fox
Sep 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Via Goodreads First Reads:

Having done some rudimentary reading about the American MKULTRA project in the 50's and 60's, I anticipated reading this novel, anxious to see how what's reported to be reality would be incorporated into the story.

I'll say that Scott O'Connor did his research, and did a very nice job of blending what we know and what he conjured for his book.

Henry March is a CIA operative sullied and tarnished by the defection to the USSR of his direct boss, and his penance seems to b
Nov 11, 2013 rated it liked it
O'Connor's novel takes a real historical event, the MKULTRA program conducted by the CIA from the 50s to the 70s, and uses it as a starting point for historical fiction. While some of this is pretty good, I'm not sure all of it works, and in particular the later chapters, in which a confusing muddle of past victims of the programs are perpetuating the drugging, brainwashing, and behavior modification experiments by in turn using them on additional generations of victims, seem a bit far-fetched.

Polly Allen
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a haunting novel, proving more poignant because of the real-life MKUltra operations of the 1950s and 60s, when unwitting victims were fed mind-altering drugs. Whilst the characters in Half World are fictional, it's pretty sobering to realise how many people (and their families) must have been affected by the CIA's actions.

The novel focuses on Henry, a 1950s CIA agent who is flailing in the wake of his boss being exposed as a traitor (feeding their work to the Soviets). He becomes increa
Sep 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Bits and pieces of this novel are beautifully written and stand alone like poetic prose, but the book as a whole was too fractured for me to enjoy. It is about mind control and experiments done by the government in the fifties and sixties where a subject’s personality was erased by using drugs, torture, and fear tactics, and another personality was instilled. Because the characters in O’Connor’s novel are either victims or perpetrators of this experimentation, it was difficult for me to grasp ju ...more
Nov 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This is an interesting spy thriller that is not like most spy thrillers out there. It starts off in the 1950s with a CIA agent, Henry Marsh, moves to the San Francisco area with his family. He sets up a program of taking people from off the street (with the aid of some prostitutes) and performing mind control experiments, drug experiments, etc. This program disturbed the already unbalanced Marsh, and he ends up leaving his wife and family and disappearing. Years later, another CIA agent is sent ...more
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
A bit of DeLillo style behind the scenes secret history stuff, married to some puply business. The books' first section, the mostly straight ahead, terse record of a CIA analyst there at the creation of a LSD fueled brain washing program, is kind of dull. The books later two thirds, about the fall out, bring out a couple compelling characters, a drug addicted former underground double agent and a sci fi author that mixes elements of Philip K Dick and Bob Heinlein, are compelling portraits, even ...more
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4 1/2 stars

This novel, inspired by the brain-washing program run by the CIA will haunt me for some time. The writing is lyrical, and turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill thriller into a deeply poetic work on the mind. Still, if you enjoy a good spy story this will leave you satisfied. The inspiration being the inspiration of the book the CIA's deeply disturbing MKultra program using LSD and other drugs and tactics to bend and twist minds, to break minds.

This is a deeply good book, the w
Sep 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
In the 1950s, the CIA was conducting illegal experiments on unsuspecting people, without their consent. Henry March is put on the job without understanding what he is doing. When he becomes fully immersed in the documentation of these experiments, he vanishes leaving behind a family. Twenty years later, another agent tries to track him down.

This book was exciting. The reader is wondering what happened to Henry, and how could he leave his family. I felt bad for Henry. He is torn between doing wha
Vicki Elia
Apr 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Audiobook Reivew

In a richly sensual and dark narrative, O'Connor unfolds the tale of an unraveling CIA agent, Henry March, his damaged family, and secret mind-control experiments in the 1950's. Unbreathably rich and tactile, sometimes employing stream of consciousness, this is one of the most superb stories of the year. If you are expecting a spy v. spy CIA spook read, this is NOT it. As in many of the subjects of the experiment, the reader is slowly drawn into a complex reality, soothed with th
Mar 25, 2015 rated it liked it
What a strange book. I started it without any real knowledge of what it was about, and now that I'm finished I feel like I know even less about it! It centers around some government experiments with LSD on unwitting subjects in San Francisco in the 50's, apparently based on fact. The character development, which is always a huge factor for me in liking a book or not was phenomenal, you really get to know the characters in the book. The plot was a little muddied though and I don't really feel lik ...more
Mar 08, 2014 rated it liked it
The premise of HALF WORLD is interesting. A fictional story based on factual CIA drug and mind-control experiments from the 1950s - 1970s. The book started out well with well-rounded charactors, excellent description and enough tension to keep me interested.

About half-way through, the story became garbled and hard to follow. Scott O'Connor started chapters with the pronoun "he" - but not naming the character. I would read several pages and still not know who's voice or thoughts I was reading.

Marshall Robertson
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Based on covert CIA mind control experiments done on unsuspecting U.S. citizens from the 1940's to the early 70's, this work by O'Connor was part "X-File", part expose of what measures governments will take in order to protect state secrets as well as extract information from our enemies. If this period of U.S. history was not well documented, I would have found this story hard to believe as any thing other than pure fiction. O'Connor writes with a fever and I found myself drawn back to the book ...more
Ron Ratchford
Jul 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: casual thriller and spy novel reader
Recommended to Ron by: Came across it in the library
All those paranoid moments that show up in the spy thriller are given a grandfather and a history through one man's life as a special operator.
The use of drugs and the avrage guy picked up off the street to become part of the great experiment is a novel that hits most of the nails and throws many hammers to succeed.
Too much of the story has been told before but there is enough in this to merit a romp through pseudo memeory lane.
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: goodreads-win
Goodreads win. Will read and review once received.

A really interesting fictional book to read that was definitely worth the time spent on the book. The author did a good job on the writing and telling of the story. I found it to be interesting that it was set during the cold war and involved the CIA. I will admit this was not a typical read for me, but it was very good and a nice change. A great read.
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was in the mood for a gripping narrative that brings to life a fully realized world, and Half World delivered. (Nothing halfway about it.) Reading this novel, when I wasn't caught up in the plot and the character motivations, I kept thinking how much work must have gone into all the layers of the story. The ending was the best surprise because once it got going, I couldn't put the book down, and endings rarely feel that satisfying to me. Highly recommended.
Sep 13, 2013 rated it liked it
I don't even know what to say about this story. It is disturbing yet not so surprising. As a college student I learned about the use of LSD on soldiers in the 1950's and 60's. The soldiers later had flashbacks and went a little crazy. This is much worse.

Read more review at
Jessica Edmunds
Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Something I nearly gave up on at least three times, but am glad I persevered. I like the mystery element to the book and that the chapters change to focus on different peoples lives and viewpoints. The ending was satisfactory but left me wanting more, contrary to my initial feelings of not wanting ANY MORE! An unusual read, and something to different to what I would usually pick up.
Kate Maruyama
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Completely captivating read.

With MK Ultra as a launching point, O'Connor explores the depths of what torture does to people - both the victims and the perpetrators. Through his carefully drawn characters and a ripple effect that covers years, he shows us that when we allow ourselves to be open to such cruelty, it fragments the very meaning of what it is to be human.
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was fortunate enough to win this book in a give away. This is a very intriguing story with great drama . It involves the life of Henry March and the life of his children and how they are all intertwined with his work . Highly recommend !!
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Scott O’Connor is the author of the story collection 'A Perfect Universe', the novels 'Untouchable' and 'Half World' and the novella Among Wolves.
He has been awarded the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, and his stories have been shortlisted for the Sunday Times/EFG Story Prize and cited as Distinguished in Best American Short Stories. Additional work has appeared in The New Yor
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