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The Sand Pebbles

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,677 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
Recommended reading as part of the Chief of Naval Operation's Professional Reading Program!
This now-classic novel by Richard McKenna enjoyed great critical acclaim and commercial success when it was first published in 1962. The winner of the coveted Harper Prize, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for seven months and was made into a popular motion picture that c
Paperback, 602 pages
Published May 1st 2001 by US Naval Institute Press (first published 1962)
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Jun 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My buddy Brad lives and works in China, teaching at an international school. He has for several years. Recently, in the midst of a post-second-child adventure-free period (I suppose childrearing is its own adventure), I decided to go visit him. I don’t know a great deal about the most populous country in the world, so when Brad asked what I wanted to do, I wrote him a simple email: “I want to see the Great Wall of China and then eat ALL THE DUMPLINGS.”

After my passport, the most important items
We are familiar with the brash side of the USA Vaunting aloud, but racked with deep despair (view spoiler) desperately asserting how brilliantly fantastical it and its mission to the world are, this however is a book from the other side of the USA, from the veteran who has come back from Imperial service overseas, gets a higher education and then writes this book, which isn't anti-american as such, but is anti-Imperalist, anti ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars- rounded down.

It is China 1926. Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang is on the rise and China is on the brink of eruption. Jake Holman is a sailor on the American gunship, San Pablo, and he and his shipmates will be at the center of the explosion, as the Chinese begin to expel foreign interests from their country.

Holman is a misfit. He loves and understands the engine, the machinery for which he is responsible on the ship, but he does not understand people very well and knows little or nothin
Oct 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a story rich in historical relevance and in character development. It is centered on Jake Holman, Machinist's Mate 1st Class who is transferred to duty on a U.S. Navy gunboat during the early days of the violent Chinese Revolution in about 1926. He utters the novel's first words, "Hello, ship" as he sizes up the "San Pablo" at its dock. Holman is a very intelligent, industrious sailor who has a love of learning. He knows everything about the steam-powered engines in ships and wants to sp ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it

This very long but extremely interesting novel was the #9 bestseller in 1963. I have completed the bestseller portion of that year's list. Now I am on to the Award winners of the year, of which there are six.

The Sand Pebbles are a nickname for the crew of the San Pablo, an old US Navy gunboat whose job is to patrol the Yangtze River, show the US flag, and protect American missionaries and businessmen. The story covers the years 1925 to 1927. Chiang Kai Shek was in those years a fairly young Chin
Czarny Pies
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Les gens qui aiment les histoires d'amour qui se terminent en hécatombe.
PPorté à l'écran avec les légendaires Steve McQueen et Candice Bergen dans les rôles principaux, Sand Pebbles est un des plus grands romans d'amour de la littérature américaine. En même temps il contient un analyse minutieuse des relations entre les gens qui semble venir de la plume d'un sociologue français. En particulier, Sand Pebbles fait penser à "Prospero et Caliban" d'Octave Mannoni qui soutient la thèse que dans la situation coloniale les rapports sociaux sont réglés par un grand nombre d ...more
An interesting book written by a navy veteran who was stationed in China in the 1930's. He knew men who experienced the time period covered in the novel and I suspect that Jake Holman is based on the author himself.

Richard McKenna was a career Navy man who (after retiring from the Navy) went on to earn a college degree before dying at a young age in 1964. A gifted writer he had the ability to transport the reader to the time and place. He makes the setting come to life.

Like Holman the novel ta
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
In the Navy, stationed in Japan, I was waiting for a seat on a standby Air Force flight when it was announced that flight operations were shutting down for 24 hours for runway maintenance. I had time to kill but there was no lounge, no restaurant, no news stand and no one else around. At least there was a room with a cot available to me. I hadn't brought any reading matter but the day's newspaper since I always slept in flight. Pacing the enormous waiting room to give my hindquarters a break I'd ...more
Mar 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those great, big, impossible-to-put-down works of historical fiction that is guaranteed to send any modern-day historical fiction writer into the dark pits of dispair that they have been born into the wrong era. Why??? Because McKenna got to write a big book full of color and fascinating characters and IDEAS!! My God! the the ideas he was allowed to play with! He writes about steam engineering in a way that compares to Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" Th ...more
Will Jeffrey
Mar 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Among the memorable openings of great novels: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times",and "Call me Ishamle",add to them, "Hello ship." The Sand Pebbles is one of a few novels I reread every 5 years or so. Age and experience lent a new depth to my latest reading. Incidents from the plot I thought I had well remembered were different and therefore somewhat fresh. I saw the movie as a child before I read the novel so I have ready images of all the characters and action,and I knew how ...more
Tim Petersik
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books ever. But what is it about? On the surface, it's about American sailors in China trying to do their job without interfering with the developing communist revolution. But you can't avoid the tidal wave of history, and get involved they do. There's forbidden love and dangerous love. There's the struggle to do what's right. There's the problem understanding the culture where you're living. It all leads to an exciting and sad conclusion. The writing is crisp and it's ...more
Feb 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
One of my favorite historical novels is The Leopard by a Sicilian Prince, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the last of his line. In 1957 he responded to a lifetime of loving books by taking up writing and telling a harsh, beautiful tale of self-destructive aristocrats in a self-destroying land. He died before knowing that The Leopard had a publisher, or that it would come to be regarded as Italy's finest novel and the best historical novel of this century.
In in similar fashion an American,Richard M
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
c1962. Extraordinary book. It is very easy to read and the pace is maintained all the way. Probably because it was written initially to be serialised in a bimonthly magazine - the Saturday Evening Post. "Four things were important on a ship: bunk, locker, place at the mess table and the engine room. The engine room was most important, because it as Jake Holman's sanctuary from the saluting and standing at attention and saying sir that went with life on the topside. Monkey-on-a-stick life, he cal ...more
Marc Baldwin
Aug 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems like I give every book that I read four stars, and here's another one. I'd seen the movie (years ago) and was hoping that the book would provide a bit more background and character development. It didn't disappoint. There is so much more to the lead character, Jake Holman, then is touched on in the movie.

I also found the subject of "unequal treaties" in China in the 1920's to be an interesting parallel with the current situation in Afghanistan. They aren't the same thing, but some of t
Dec 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A marvellous book. And a rare instance in that the movie is also exceptional. I enjoy books such as this, where the main character stands up for what he believes, even if in the end it costs him dearly. That in itself generates in me a feeling of respect. In many ways the theme reminds me of From Here to Eternity. Another book that is probably so good because the author knew first-hand of what he wrote.

As a former engine-room sailor though, I don't know that I can quite so excited about steam e
Aug 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
The Sand Pebbles is one of my favorite movies and I always wanted to read the book. It is the first novel by a man who actually served on a U.S. Gunboat in China during the 1930's. It is a riviting tale about the Chinese revolution, Imperialism, missionaries, duty, honor and sacrifice.
Nov 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Written in 1962, this book relates the "adventures" of Jake Holman, an enlisted engineer on the USS San Pablo, an American gunboat in rural China during the nationalist tumult there during the mid-1920s. The ship was taken over by the US from the Spanish during the Spanish-American War, and is now rather decrepit. The workings of the ship have largely been taken over by native coolies, and part of the plot revolves around the relationship between the non-conformist Holman and his shipmates. The ...more
Randol Hooper
Aug 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For a book that eventually got made into a Steve McQueen movie I was very surprised by the depth of this book.

McKenna does an excellent job of portraying China in transition, told from the points of view of the sailors on the USS San Pablo and from the missionaries at China Light, people whose world is literally shattered. The first part of the book focuses on the protagonist, Jake Holman, as he learns to adjust to life onboard the tiny San Pablo after having transferred from the Pacific Fleet.
Feb 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, book-group
On the plus side, I was entranced by the narrative, perhaps because the author (McKenna) and protagonist (Holman) seem to be one in the same. The scope setting were fascinating, and I learned about a moment of history I had little knowledge of. I also enjoyed the authenticity of the ambiguity and messiness of war, revolution, bigotry, and a whole host of "isms. On the down side, the book left me momentarily depressed about the existential comparison of the protagonist's life and a scrap of waste ...more
May 18, 2016 rated it liked it
-Menos valorada de lo que tal vez merecería.-

Género. Novela (no histórica porque aunque está muy bien localizada en los eventos de un tiempo y lugar concretos prefiere hacer ficción como eje central de su trama).

Lo que nos cuenta. En 1926 y en China, Jake Holman, maquinista de la armada estadounidense, es destinado a la cañonera USS San Pablo, una antigualla que data de la Guerra de los Bóxers pero que todavía presta servicio de patrulla en los afluentes más apartados y desconocidos del río Yang
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Just finished reading "The Sand Pebbles" by Richard McKenna. It takes place on the eve of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-1927 (a couple decades after the Boxer Rebellion). Chiang Kai-shek is gaining prominence as China is trying to become a true "nation" rather than just a bunch of areas ruled by warlords. The book tells the story of an old U.S.Navy gunboat, the San Pablo, and her crew of 'Sand Pebbles' on patrol in the far reaches of the Yangtze River to show the American Flag and protect Ameri ...more
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this in high school over 50 years ago and was reminded of it this week when the movie was shown on tv.
Excellent book and affecting me in two substantial ways:
1) Introduced me to a reality of "gunboat diplomacy"; which later lead me to read "the Corps"
series by Griffin
2) The author's description of life on the river boat USS San Pablo, was so sharp that I could feel the
vibrations from the engines. This experience kept me from entering the US Navy on the "buddy
system" because buddy
Christian Schwoerke
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I read this in the early 80s, a few years after my four years in the Navy, and I was enthralled by McKenna's portrayal of first class machinist mate Jake Holman's love affair with the engine room of the San Pablo. These memories were uppermost in mind when I re-read the novel earlier this month.

While the story does focus a lot of attention on the concrete and appreciable aspects of making a mechanical system operate well, there is a good deal more to this story, and McKenna does a brilliant job
P.S. Winn
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Set in China, on a boat called the sand Pablo, this book is really a look into different cultures and how empathy can bring some together, while the differences we all have can also divide people. Well written and captivating classic.
Steven Scott
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Long, a bit dated, but interesting history of gunboat diplomacy in China.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable.
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book. I really enjoyed reading it.
Dec 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am torn on the review for this book... it borders on greatness. The book is engaging from beginning to the end and we really start to care for some of the characters. The main character, Jake, is genuinely likeable and the love he feels for machinery is effective and wondrous and in many ways he is an extremely noble hero. The action and tension are great and authentic. With that being said, I had a couple of serious concerns that moderated my enjoyment.
For one, the book is profoundly depress
This is one of my favor novels, one that I would want on the proverbial desert island. I re-read it about once every ten years, and it's always fresh. This is a novel that can be enjoyed on many levels. It is an historical action-adventure story, with lots of pushing, shoving and fighting. It's a historical romance, in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott: a hero in an exotic foreign land, a long time past, fighting for what's right. It's a novel about Navy life, with lots of Navy procedures and pr ...more
Sue Q
Borrowed from the Ontario Library Service Consortium

Since this book had so many pages, I found it harder to get into compared to the BLAMMO! books I normally read. However, once I did, I found it REALLY good!!

The San Pablo military boat travels through China during their revolutionary period with the "Sand Pebbles" aboard. It follows the story of one sailor (Jake Holman) and his love of the engine, rather than the military drills. The story ends when his story ends. Obviously I would have writte
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RICHARD MCKENNA was born and raised in the small desert town of Mountain Home, Idaho. In 1931, at the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served for ten years in Asia. Two of those years were on a Yangtze River gunboat. During this time he heard many firsthand accounts of the 1925-1927 Chinese Revolution which he put to use in The Sand Pebbles.

Mr. McKenna, a machinist's mate
More about Richard McKenna

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“A sailor without his own ship was like a hermit crab without a shell.” 1 likes
“Machinery only cared about what a man knew and what he could do with his hands,” 0 likes
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