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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award Fifty years after the March on the Pentagon, Norman Mailer’s seminal tour de force remains as urgent and incisive as ever. Winner of America’s two highest literary awards, The Armies of the Night uniquely and unforgettably captures the Sixties’ tidal wave of love and rage at its crest and a towering genius at his peak Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award Fifty years after the March on the Pentagon, Norman Mailer’s seminal tour de force remains as urgent and incisive as ever. Winner of America’s two highest literary awards, The Armies of the Night uniquely and unforgettably captures the Sixties’ tidal wave of love and rage at its crest and a towering genius at his peak. The time is October 21, 1967. The place is Washington, D.C. Depending on the paper you read, 20,000 to 200,000 protestors are marching to end the war in Vietnam, while helicopters hover overhead and federal marshals and soldiers with fixed bayonets await them on the Pentagon steps. Among the marchers is a writer named Norman Mailer. From his own singular participation in the day’s events and his even more extraordinary perceptions comes a classic work that shatters the mold of traditional reportage. Intellectuals and hippies, clergymen and cops, poets and army MPs crowd the pages of a book in which facts are fused with techniques of fiction to create the nerve-end reality of experiential truth.


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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award Fifty years after the March on the Pentagon, Norman Mailer’s seminal tour de force remains as urgent and incisive as ever. Winner of America’s two highest literary awards, The Armies of the Night uniquely and unforgettably captures the Sixties’ tidal wave of love and rage at its crest and a towering genius at his peak Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award Fifty years after the March on the Pentagon, Norman Mailer’s seminal tour de force remains as urgent and incisive as ever. Winner of America’s two highest literary awards, The Armies of the Night uniquely and unforgettably captures the Sixties’ tidal wave of love and rage at its crest and a towering genius at his peak. The time is October 21, 1967. The place is Washington, D.C. Depending on the paper you read, 20,000 to 200,000 protestors are marching to end the war in Vietnam, while helicopters hover overhead and federal marshals and soldiers with fixed bayonets await them on the Pentagon steps. Among the marchers is a writer named Norman Mailer. From his own singular participation in the day’s events and his even more extraordinary perceptions comes a classic work that shatters the mold of traditional reportage. Intellectuals and hippies, clergymen and cops, poets and army MPs crowd the pages of a book in which facts are fused with techniques of fiction to create the nerve-end reality of experiential truth.

30 review for The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “Once History inhabits a crazy house, egotism may be the last tool left to History.” ― Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History It has been a long time since I've read Mailer. I read The Executioner's Song when I was a Mormon missionary (in a Lazyboy while my companion snored in the next room) in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1993. I read Harlot's Ghost my after my sophomore year in college. Mailer is fascinating to me. At the same time he is both an irritati “Once History inhabits a crazy house, egotism may be the last tool left to History.” ― Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History It has been a long time since I've read Mailer. I read The Executioner's Song when I was a Mormon missionary (in a Lazyboy while my companion snored in the next room) in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1993. I read Harlot's Ghost my after my sophomore year in college. Mailer is fascinating to me. At the same time he is both an irritating egoist chasing the tail of Twain, Hemingway and Fitzgerald (and never quite grabbing it). But he is also, at his best, a tiger of modern journalism. He (and Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, and other New Journalists) showed that print wasn't dead. That in the age of TV, however, it needed to reinvent itself and break some of the static and almost dead boundaries. When Mailer is off, he is horrible: his writing is fat (it almost glistens with a literary lard), but, but oh when it is on. When Mailer has grabbed the Universe by the balls, there is almost nothing close to the energy of his words. It is weird to think this book was written over 50 years ago (the action happened over a few days in late October 1967; the book was published in 1968). But Mailer was my exact age when it all happened. I feel both old and young at the same time. I've been meaning to read this book for years, but now seemed right. It was an accident to read it at the same age Mailer wrote it, but it does give me a bit of perspective in his motives, his perspective, his mood. It also seems appropriate now. No other period quite seems as close to the late 60s as the last few years. I feel like something has to break, or a beast is going to be born. I hope Mailer isn't write and that we aren't in the final stages before a freakish totalitarianism emerges. Perhaps it is already too late. Deliver us from our curse - indeed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    A Novel History This loosely "fictionalised" account of the 1967 anti-Vietnam war March on the Pentagon won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. While many of Mailer's political and philosophical concerns could be said to have dated (like much of Sixties culture), I really enjoyed re-reading it. I suspect that many of my own views about Sixties politics (particularly the relationship between the Old Left and the New Left) were shaped by my first reading. To that extent, it's had a la A Novel History This loosely "fictionalised" account of the 1967 anti-Vietnam war March on the Pentagon won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. While many of Mailer's political and philosophical concerns could be said to have dated (like much of Sixties culture), I really enjoyed re-reading it. I suspect that many of my own views about Sixties politics (particularly the relationship between the Old Left and the New Left) were shaped by my first reading. To that extent, it's had a lasting effect on me, despite its flaws. History as a Novel The work is divided into two parts: * History as a Novel; and * The Novel as History. Part I is New Journalism in which the author is inserted into the action. Except he is cast as a semi-fictional third person protagonist, hence it is just as much post-modernist metafiction as journalism. Mailer was both a speaker and a demonstrator at the events described in the novel. This is how he justifies the choice of himself as protagonist: "An eyewitness who is a participant but not a vested partisan is required, further he must be not only involved, but ambiguous in his own proportions, a comic hero...Mailer is a figure of monumental disproportions and so serves willy-nilly as the bridge...into the crazy house, the crazy mansion...Once History inhabits a crazy house, egotism may be the last tool left to History." Despite his overt and unashamed egotism, Mailer also paints himself as a clown in a vaudeville or burlesque show. Running late for his speech, he can't find the lights in the venue toilet and accidentally urinates on the floor, which event he builds into an extended impromptu metaphor in his speech a few minutes later. Inevitably, he both takes a piss and takes the piss. The sense of humour doesn't quite balance the egotism, but at least it broadens his rhetorical palette. The Novel as History Part II dispenses with this artifice. However, it also quotes liberally from other contemporary accounts of the March on the Pentagon, illustrating the point that, if they had formed the factual basis of History, it would have been erroneous: "...the mass media which surrounded the March on the Pentagon created a forest of inaccuracy which would blind the efforts of any historian; our novel has provided us with the possibility, no, even the instrument to view our facts and conceivably study them in that field of light a labor of lens-grinding has produced." In this light, Part I proves to be an equally valid contribution to History, even if it's a subjective account of what went on in the mind of a minor protagonist: "His history of the Pentagon...insisted on becoming a history of himself over four days, and therefore was history in the costume of a novel." The two parts are therefore equally contributions towards a History that might be derived from an aggregation of different perspectives. Stormin' Norman Mailer's favourite stance on any issue (moral, political or otherwise) is adversary or contrarian: "The clue to discovery was not in the substance of one's idea, but in what was learned from the style of one's attack (which was one reason Mailer's style changed for every project)." However, in pursuit of a "theatre of ideas", he does give ample airtime to his adversaries, and his accounts of their views are often sufficiently fair to allow you to embrace their views in preference to his. His own views might not always be reliable or persuasive. However, at least he tells you both sides of the story, unlike much contemporary journalism or historical analysis, which frequently contains an unacknowledged but transparent bias. Moral Action, Not Just Calculus Until the March, Mailer was content to express his political opposition to the Vietnam War and the social and political culture that generated it, by way of his writing. The March presented to him both an opportunity and a challenge to go beyond his writing and actually participate in political action. The Novelist became a Participant, as well as a Protagonist in his metafiction. There comes a time when a moral calculus might not be enough. If you genuinely care about your subject matter, sooner or later it has to be translated into moral or political action on an individual and/or group level. No matter how small his contribution to the March (he was one of the first ten to be arrested and jailed), he contributed to a tangible, if symbolic, political action. This action was significant in its own right, quite apart from his documentation of it in novel form. Unlike some current moral commentators, he was not content simply to describe the predicament of people who might be seen as victims, he sought to do something political about it. Morality is not just about thinking, it's also about action. A writer who fails to acknowledge this risks entrapment in the world of art for art's sake. This is not to denigrate the pure artist, only to caution against hagiography of the inactive. The Theatre of Ideas Mailer's own politics were difficult to define at most points in his career. In 1967, if not the whole time, they were in a state of flux and transition. At no point did he ever really throw his hat in with one Weltanschauung. He remained individualistic, to the point of egotism. However, the March highlighted the fact that he found himself sandwiched between two adversaries. The first was the Old Left, the second the New Left. To some extent, the March was a unique rainbow coalition of the two (plus Mailer, to the extent that he stood outside both camps), and these are genuine rainbow stories. However, the two movements coexisted like two aspects of a dialectic, that would both preserve the old and give rise to something new. The Old Left Whatever its goals, the Old Left represented rationality and logic. Mailer refers to its adherence to the "sound-as-brickwork logic of the next step in some hard new Left program". To the extent that it was Marxist, it belonged to the tradition of Scientific Socialism. However, the excesses of Soviet Communism had undermined both Socialism and confidence in its rationalism. In its Totalitarian manifestation, it was more oppressive than Capitalism. Understandably, the children of the Old Left were seeking an alternative. Mailer had been on the Board of the Socialist magazine, "Dissent", before finding that he too had moved away from the other members politically (he refers to himself as a "quondam Marxist"), despite remaining "fond" of them personally. The New Left The New Left was less dependent on a faith in rationality and logic. The Old Left logic was almost too dull and boring for the children of the New Left: "The new generation believed in technology more than any before it, but the generation also believed in LSD, in witches, in tribal knowledge, in orgy, and revolution. It had no respect whatsoever for the unassailable logic of the next step: belief was reserved for the revelatory mystery of the happening where you did not know what was going to happen next..." It adored Che Guevara and modelled its politics and political aesthetic on him. The primary goal was to embrace Revolution as a political strategy. However, Revolution had ceased to be a means to an end. It had become an end in its own right. Nobody could know what would replace the current economic, social and political order, until the Revolution had succeeded and we saw how all of the cards had landed. Spontaneity was the primary impulse: "Trust the authority of your senses...If it made you feel good, it was good." If it made you feel good, do it. There was no desire to subject the Revolution to rationality and logic and five year plans. For the Old Left, this was infantile, dangerous and counterproductive. Why support such a movement if you couldn't tell whether it would simply replace one form of oppression with a reign of terror? Mailer was more sympathetic to the vision of the New Left than was the Old Left. However, his analysis of the New Left agenda doesn't dig particularly deep, and as a result it suffers from its superficiality. In fairness, the New Left had only just formed and hadn't yet started to focus primarily on Identity Politics. Thus, it's difficult to say what it represented in 1967. Nihilism and Authority Mailer doesn't expressly use the "A word" (Anarchism) to describe the New Left. Its advocates are hippies. He often suggests that they believe in Nihilism, not in the sense that it might oppose chaos to order, just that they believe that something has to be torn down, before something can be (re)built in its place. What the Nihilists and hippies oppose is "the Authority": "their radicalism was in their hate for the Authority". Mailer doesn't refer to it as the State. It seems to be broader than the institution of government. The Authority encompasses the military-industrial complex as well. Within the Capitalist system, there is a conspiracy of the State and Business. Society must conform or be oppressed. Mailer discovers that he has some nuanced sympathy for these views. He sees in the March "a confirmation of the contests of his own life." Equally, there are differences. Historically, his drug of choice has been speed (supplemented by whiskey, marijuana and seconal). The hippies' preference is LSD. Mailer actually suspects that acid enhances the prospects of survival of the Authority, by destroying the minds of the next generation. Totalitarian Acceleration At times, Mailer's description of the plight of this generation seems to foreshadow Pynchon and De Lillo: "The nightmare was in the echo of those trips which had fractured their sense of past and present...nature was a veil whose tissue had ben ripped by static, screams of jet motors, the highway grid of the suburbs, smog, defoliation, pollution of streams, overfertilisation of earth, anti-fertilisation of women, and the radiation of two decades of near blind atom busting..." Still, Mailer was prepared to overlook this difference, on the basis that the Revolution might be a vital part of a twenty year war that, if won, would result in some economic, social and political alternatives that he was prepared to try out. If the hippies didn't last the distance, well, that was their bad luck. On the other hand, "nothing was worse than a nihilism which failed to succeed - for totalitarianism would then be accelerated." The Beast Mailer's worldview is not restricted to a battle between the individual and the Authority (and its "oncoming totalitarianism"). He describes one of his personae as "the Beast". He doesn't elaborate on this concept in this work. However, it represents his animalistic nature, perhaps an irrational or non-rational Self that is opposed to the oppressiveness of society. There is little discussion of Freud in the novel (apart from a veiled reference of Marcuse in terms of "the Freud-ridden embers of Marxism"). However, it's possible that the Beast is the Ego and potentially the Id, and that its adversary is the Super-Ego. Sexuality and Guilt Mailer raises these issues in the context of his discussion of sex (a subject upon which his ideas now seem to be the most perverse). Mailer's adversary, Paul Goodman, believes that all forms of sexuality (including homosexuality and onanism) are equally valid. He strives for a choice of sexualities, none of which should be associated with guilt. On the other hand, Mailer, despite his apparent support of libertarianism, advocates only one valid sexuality (heterosexuality): "Mailer, with his neo-Victorianism, thought that if there was anything worse than homosexuality and masturbation, it was putting the two together." He also regards guilt as a vital part of the pleasure derived from sexual activity. If sex wasn't somehow sanctioned, he believes there would be no drama involved in sexual activity. It would become dull (the worst of all possible crimes). The prospect of guilt introduces an element of theatre and dramatic tension. Individuals need guilt and social sanction, so that they have something with which to do battle and win. Great Balls of Defiance Mailer's philosophy requires an adversary which it can defy. He is not so much interested in harmony as the type of creativity that emerges from conflict. Without a dialectical opposition, there is no excitement, there is no life. This is how he describes the symbolic battle between demonstrator and soldier: "I will steal your elan, and your brawn, and the very animal of your charm, because I am morally right and you are wrong and the balance of existence is such that the meat of your life is now attached to my spirit, I am stealing your balls." Beauty and the Beast Mailer's ideas descend further into idiosyncrasy when he addresses the role of women, particularly in the act of sex. Mailer's philosophy is very male-oriented. Women are the object upon which the male subject acts. Sex is the vehicle for the expression of male dynamism and power. Women are mere passive vehicles or conduits for male self-expression. There is no sense of a personal or sexual relationship as mutual or other than an Hegelian Master/Servant relationship (in which the male is always the Master and the female is always the Servant). Interestingly, men need to go on a journey to discover and realise their version of Mailer's Beast. Men are not born men or beasts. Paraphrasing Simone de Beauvoir, men become men or beasts. Men have to earn their beastliness: "Nobody was born a man; you earned manhood provided you were good enough, bold enough." Masculinity and sex are sporting activities, perhaps even blood sports. Just as professional sport puts men to the test, so does sex. Only women are just the playing field upon which the sport is played or acted out. We Can Be Heroes If Mailer wanted to portray modern or post-modern life as some sort of heroic encounter between the individual and the State or the Authority or the Big Other (or perhaps even Death itself), he effectively shot himself in the foot by his rampant sixties misogynist, homophobic machismo. As Mailer says of himself in the third person: "He would have been admirable, except that he was an absolute egomaniac, a Beast - no recognition existed of the existence of anything beyond the range of his own reach." Regardless, I think there is something to be salvaged from his writing in terms of his focus on dynamism and activism, if not necessarily the constant quest for dialectical opposition or conflict (as a proof of manhood). Besides, the quality of his prose is consistently excellent, if you forgive him his penis obsession and his peculiar ideological bent. A Private Mixture For all his flaws, it's also possible that this work can now be read more fruitfully by later generations. Ultimately, Mailer defines his political views as "a private mixture of Marxism, conservatism, nihilism, and large parts of existentialism." This mix might not have made much sense at the time when people tended to occupy one camp or another, but not two or more. Many of these old differentiations don't resonate any longer. Now, it's possible that the inconsistencies between the different camps can potentially be reconciled into one comprehensible worldview or temperament, at least on an individual basis. Whatever, it's refreshing to read a moral calculus and a primer for action that's comprehensive, well-written and less than 300 pages long.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    The Pentagon rose like an anomaly of the sea from the soft Virginia fields, its pale yellow walls reminiscent of some plastic plug coming out of the hole made in flesh by an unmentionable operation. There it sat, geometrical aura complete, isolated from anything in nature surrounding it. Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and the National Book Award for this account of the October '67 March on the Pentagon, the March an act of protest against the Vietnam War. Wikipedia notes that the b The Pentagon rose like an anomaly of the sea from the soft Virginia fields, its pale yellow walls reminiscent of some plastic plug coming out of the hole made in flesh by an unmentionable operation. There it sat, geometrical aura complete, isolated from anything in nature surrounding it. Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and the National Book Award for this account of the October '67 March on the Pentagon, the March an act of protest against the Vietnam War. Wikipedia notes that the book is associated with other nonfiction novels of the time, such as Capote's In Cold Blood, Thompson's Hell's Angels, and Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. As I reread the book, my copy an old Signet paperback with a cover that I can't find listed on GR, I had to contend with two non-diegetic running commentaries in its narrow margins. One was written by whoever read the Signet paperback before I did- let's refer to that commentary as RC1- and RC2 was written by 2018 Mike, who read Armies before a trip to Washington that year. RC2 naturally has a few things to say about Mailer's narrative, some of them even halfway sensible, but focuses to a disappointing extent on RC1, often commenting with open contempt. '18 Mike seems to have been especially irritated by the fact that the writer of RC1 felt the need to underline the word "existential" and its variations whenever they appeared; more than once underlined some unremarkable sentence and wrote in capitals I LIKE THAT ('18 Mike, obviously dealing with issues of unresolved anger and hostility, drew an arrow to those words the second time they appeared, and wrote "fuck you"); and made comments like "refers to himself in third-person- interesting." Is it really that interesting or relevant, '18 Mike wanted to know, and how is it that you didn't notice Mailer was doing that until page 62? But maybe I was too judgmental of RC1. I have read a fair amount of Mailer's nonfiction, so to me the style of this book is just Mailer doing his nonfiction thing- observing everything exterior and interior, both the physical world and the shifts in his own consciousness, in minute detail (it's also very familiar because so much modern nonfiction owes a debt to Mailer and the New Journalists)- but maybe whoever wrote RC1 is right, maybe it's worth thinking about the stylistic choices Mailer made in approaching this material. Early in the book, Mailer somewhat disarmingly suggests that "the March on the Pentagon was an ambiguous event whose essential value or absurdity may not be established for ten or twenty years, or indeed ever." If any meaning can be derived from it however, he adds, it must be derived through the act itself, in the moment, rather than beforehand by what he refers to as "the ironclad logic of the next step" (first we attack the Pentagon, X, which naturally will lead to Y...), or afterwards, when each side will inevitably claim victory for its ideas. Instead, he regards the action on the Pentagon as he regards writing- not as a way of articulating (or setting down on paper) what one is already conscious of believing, but as a way of discovering what one truly thinks. And Mailer really does attempt to mimic consciousness throughout, breathlessly correcting and amending himself mid-sentence, possibly setting a world-record for commas in the process, seeking ideas that may be just off to the side of conscious thought. Given that this is not a traditional way to write history or journalism, Mailer employs the style of a novel, one feature of which is that yes, as noted in RC1, it's written in third-person, and follows a narcissistic main character named Mailer, a "semi-distinguished and semi-notorious" writer of 44 years of age, absurd and comic in his contradictions, not the least of which involves balancing a sense of societal responsibility with a steadily waning hope that he can get back to New York that very evening in time for a high-brow party he's been invited to (where, Mailer being Mailer, he would probably enjoy alienating the other guests with tales of his revolutionary activities). Maybe the effect has worn off to a degree in the intervening decades, given the extent to which interiority and self-deprecation have become common features of nonfiction writing, but there's still something refreshing about being reminded that even noble actions are often accompanied by self-involved and ignoble thoughts. Mailer's contemporaries of course would have interpreted events in their own ways. Chomsky is a very different kind of writer and thinker than Mailer was, and yet he is a minor character in this novel, occupying the bunk next to Mailer's after they're both arrested. Chomsky, according to Mailer, was a "slim sharp-featured man with an ascetic expression, and an air of gentle but absolute moral integrity. Chomsky- by all odds a dedicated teacher- seemed uneasy at the thought of missing class on Monday." Mailer, for his part, instead of endorsing the ironclad logic of the next step on one hand, or law and order propaganda on the other (quoted here is a good example of the latter, a New York Times account which focused on the obscenity of the slogans some of the protestors were chanting, but not the actual obscenity of dropping napalm on people halfway across the world), writes about the selfish and somewhat ridiculous truth of interior experience, his experience anyway, a place that traditional history doesn't have access to....fear of the consequences of this weekend in Washington, for he had known from the beginning it could disrupt his life for a season or more, and there was even the danger it could change him forever. He was forty-four, and it had taken him most of those years to enjoy his pleasures where he found them...it was no time to embark on ventures which could give one more than a few years in jail. Yet, there was no escape. The last sentence isn't meant literally, of course; if you achieve a certain level of wealth and fame in America, there is escape- almost always. Mailer didn't have to go to Washington, he didn't have to publicly pledge to aid and abet draft resisters...and yet on a certain level he did. He and Chomsky had extremely different personalities and writing styles, and Mailer's commitment to this idea pales in comparison to Chomsky's, but I think what Mailer also understood in his own way was that being a serious writer, or even a serious person, meant there was no escape from the social, moral and political issues of your age. That if his country was engaged in an unjust war, that had something to do with him. At the same time, he acknowledged that this engagement might involve great risk, and openly questioned his own commitment to it. As he put it in his less-appreciated follow-up to Armies, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, "He liked his life. He wanted it to go on, which meant that he wanted America to go on- not as it was going, not Vietnam- but what price was he really willing to pay?" If you read Armies, I think you should also read Siege. In fact, I still prefer the latter. It's less hurriedly-written, the writing is sharper, and the events it describes are even more dramatic. Armies is immediate and visceral, but also feels rushed- Mailer admits as much in the text- and his willingness to follow every strand of conscious thought sometimes leads him to dead-ends. Furthermore, maybe it's because I've just had the luxury of reading Vincent Bevins's The Jakarta Method, but it's hard to ignore Mailer's America-centric perspective; he gets a little romantic here and there, invoking the ghosts of the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, drawing a connection across time but not so much across countries; that is to say, he misses a chance to connect the American Left's resistance to the Vietnam War with the struggles of oppressed people across the world (including those in Vietnam), who were often facing even harder odds and greater danger than dissidents in the US. That being said, I particularly appreciate the chapter "Why are We in Vietnam?" Mailer doesn't make his case with the geopolitical sophistication of Chomsky, but he is more attuned to the unconscious currents of the zeitgeist. Instead of repeating shibboleths from either the left or the right, he does his best to come to his own conclusions, namely that the domino theory is bullshit, that the Cold War is really a religious war waged between Christianity and Communism with zealots on both sides, that "the average good Christian American secretly loved the war in Vietnam", and that, while Mailer is not a pacifist by any means, the Vietnam War is a "bad war", as are all wars that require "an inability to reason as the price of retaining one's patriotism." Ultimately, Armies of the Night feels very relevant at the moment, when we once again have a flourishing protest movement in the US, and are faced with questions about how best for it to be effective, about violent vs. nonviolent resistance, about what each of us is willing to risk, about the appropriate response when protesters in Portland are being thrown into unmarked vans and denied habeas corpus. Mailer does not offer definitive answers, but he does describe how it felt to be in the midst of things, not as a statistic in the advancement of one historical movement or another, but as an individual. The Pentagon for its part endures, and continues to thrive. Just this past summer, the US Senate allocated $740.5 billion to the Pentagon, the majority of both Democrats and Republicans rejecting an amendment proposed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey to cut the Pentagon's budget by 10%.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    Occasionally I have to pay homage to my roots. No. Not the Detroit suburbs or the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. To the 1960s where I spent what turns out to be my formative years. In the past week I have read three Kindle mysteries that got my adrenalin pumping and my conscience thinking I had to do something better with my time. Part of the attraction was my new Kindle Paperwhite so I was feeling disloyal to old fashioned hard covers. Part of it was that I was burned out by serious classics t Occasionally I have to pay homage to my roots. No. Not the Detroit suburbs or the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. To the 1960s where I spent what turns out to be my formative years. In the past week I have read three Kindle mysteries that got my adrenalin pumping and my conscience thinking I had to do something better with my time. Part of the attraction was my new Kindle Paperwhite so I was feeling disloyal to old fashioned hard covers. Part of it was that I was burned out by serious classics that were not meeting my needs for entertainment. William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe were not turning me on! So I was about to turn to a book in the Southern author Karin Slaughter series when I realized I had to do something momentous instead. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? This somewhat battered and dust jacket free Norman Mailer from 1968. I was married and had a young son and graduated from the University of Michigan that year. Formative times. I found The Armies of the Night fairly quickly on my disorganized book shelves and took this to be a sign. And I began my flashback to 1968. The book is Mailer’s story of the October 1967 March on the Pentagon. Mailer was a hoot! Just ask him and he will tell you! He was not shy and was pretty impressed with himself. So maybe you have to be in something of an oddball mood with some connection to the 1960s to really get into Norman. I am often in that kind of a mood. Some think that creative people are often people with problems, mental health problems as the suicide of Robin Williams is sadly bringing to the public consciousness this week. I have a bit of a crazy streak that is somewhat controlled by psychiatric drugs. But, thank goodness, my meds are not perfectly tuned so I get to have some crazy moments. Those moments served me well in reading this book. I should mention that this book won both the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction and the National Book Award in 1969. I do not know much about the politics of such prestigious awards other than to assume that some politics do exist. Norman Mailer was a larger than life character who was in his mid-forties at the time this book was published in the heat of the antiwar movement. Along with the likes of Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, which superimposes the style and devices of literary fiction onto fact-based journalism. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_M... The day before the March on the Pentagon there was an action at the Justice Department where 994 draft cards were turned in. The strange thing about my own draft card is that I cannot remember exactly what happened to it although I no longer had it by the end of the war. I was at enough events where draft cards were burned or turned in that I cannot remember exactly when my card and I parted company. Seems like a strange thing not to remember considering how pivotal not being drafted was for me. If drafted, I was not positive what I would do but going to Canada or jail seemed like the most probable outcome at the time. He said a little of what he had thought while watching the other: that he had recognized on this afternoon that the time had come when Americans, many Americans, would have to face the possibility of going to jail for their ideas, and this was a prospect with no cheer because prisons were unattractive places where much of the best in oneself was slowly extinguished, but it could be there was no choice. This war in Vietnam was an obscene war, the worst war the nation had ever been in, and so its logic might compel sacrifice from those who were not so accustomed. How did this book happen? How did Norman Mailer, who at best was a part of the conservative Left, come to participate in this seemingly radical and revolutionary action? Here is one story of the coming together of this nonfiction novel. After reading distorted accounts of the demonstration and of his own role in it in Time magazine and in The Washington Post, Mailer began to write his own version in two parts—a novelistic history of himself over four days, followed by a collective history consisting of his own ruminations on the historical context and the significance of the entire event. After recounting his personal experiences as a witness to and participant in the October, 1967, antiwar march, Mailer provided a more detached explanation of the context for the growing opposition to Pentagon policies. Criticizing the misperceptions and distortions of mainstream journalism, he offered an alternative overview of just what happened before, during, and after the incidents he described in the first section of his book. His experience culminated in the creation of The Armies of the Night, a hybrid of history and fiction that, for all of its critique of social disorder, concluded with a paean to America. Source: http://www.enotes.com/topics/armies-n... In Mailer’s own words: The March tomorrow would more or less work or not work. If it didn’t, the Left would always find a new step – the Left never left itself unemployed (that much must be said for the conservative dictum that a man who wants to, can always find work) if the March did more or less succeed, one knew it would be as a result of episodes one had never anticipated, and the results might lead you in directions altogether unforeseen. And indeed how could one measure success or failure in a venture so odd and unprecedented as this? One did not march on the Pentagon and look to get arrested as a link in a master scheme to take over the bastions of the Republic step by step, no, that sort of sound-as-brickwork-logic was left to the FBI. Rather, one marched on the Pentagon because . . . because . . . and here the reasons became so many and so curious and so vague, so political and so primitive, that there was no need, or perhaps no possibility to talk about it yet, one could only ruminate over the morning coffee. While the first three-quarters of The Armies of the Night is the story of the October 1967 March on the Pentagon told in the third person from the experience of author Norman Mailer and is styled at “History as a Novel”, the final quarter takes a broad view of the same event styled as the “Novel as History.” This is the story of a 1967 event told contemporaneously that received a lot of media attention when it happened and when the story was published. The book received critical acclaim as well as condemnation. The war in Vietnam was a polarizing event. The bulk of the book is as a memoir, the personal and subjective (but supposedly factual) recollections of the author as he experienced the events of the four days around the March. Mailer was a strong personality, a name dropper and highly opinionated. He has a point of view that is not disguised although the style is “he” rather than “I”. If you do not have some familiarity with the era either by having lived through the period or by having studied it closely, you will miss much of the potential enjoyment of the book. The book is after all about being “along for the ride” on both a physical and mental trip. The book gets an extra star if you are reliving the experience. Maybe even two extra stars if you were a part of the event. It is not a book that attracts a younger readership and has not really born the years well. The final quarter of the book might be interesting to the more general reader who is interested in the 1960s and 1970s protest and Vietnam period. It has some interesting details about how a major protest event was organized both technically and politically. It outlines the compromises made on both sides – government and protestors – and tells some of the stories that must necessarily be balanced to tell the “true” story of the event. the important thing, the only thing, was to have an action at the Pentagon, because that, given the processing methods of the American newspapers, would be the only thing to come out of the event. Since the American Revolution must climb uphill blindfolded in the long Capitalistic night, any thing which was publicity became a walking stick. The Armies of the Night gets four stars from me but one is that extra star because it caused me to re-experience part of my life in 1967 when I was turning 21. I had already moved safely through my period of being draft eligible and was then exempt as a young father. Exempted from killing or being killed (or being jailed or fleeing to Canada) by having a baby. Strange world that Mailer wrote about. Maybe irrelevant to most people in 2014.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    This book upon its publication in 1968 swept the highest awards for non-fiction, the Pulitzer and National Book Awards. This was one of the more entertaining and well written books that I only gave three stars to. The book is largely about Mailer himself and is written in the 3rd person which was frustrating to read. It would have been so much better if Mailer had simply inserted the word I instead. In fact I began to make the word substitution myself and it flowed more readily. The other aspect This book upon its publication in 1968 swept the highest awards for non-fiction, the Pulitzer and National Book Awards. This was one of the more entertaining and well written books that I only gave three stars to. The book is largely about Mailer himself and is written in the 3rd person which was frustrating to read. It would have been so much better if Mailer had simply inserted the word I instead. In fact I began to make the word substitution myself and it flowed more readily. The other aspect of the book is that it is quite dated, there is little reference or historical background for those current events of 1967. I hope my review does not dissuade anyone from reading because this writing style was en vogue for a time. 3 stars. More literary value than the rating indicates. For what it’s worth I have read Mailer’s other two famous works: The Naked and the Dead (disliked, too bloated) and The Executioner’s Song (one of the best books I’ve read).

  6. 5 out of 5

    gaby

    Norman Mailer, Norman Mailer. I believe I will take a page from Mr. Christopher Hitchens, who did NOT have a problem blasting Jerry Falwell on national television while the corpse was still warm (http://www.crooksandliars.com/2007/05...), and make some honest yet unflattering remarks about Mailer, whose goodreads update feed currently shows him reading The Handbook for the Recently Deceased. This book is kind of a 'literary' atrocity. It is everything I would expect from an overblown superfamous Norman Mailer, Norman Mailer. I believe I will take a page from Mr. Christopher Hitchens, who did NOT have a problem blasting Jerry Falwell on national television while the corpse was still warm (http://www.crooksandliars.com/2007/05...), and make some honest yet unflattering remarks about Mailer, whose goodreads update feed currently shows him reading The Handbook for the Recently Deceased. This book is kind of a 'literary' atrocity. It is everything I would expect from an overblown superfamous ego, and nothing that I would expect should win the goddamned National Book Award AND the Pulitzer!! Two hundred and fifty pages of Mailer on Mailer. Wherein Mailer discusses Mailer in the third person ("and then Mailer had his 15th drink ..."), his wives, favoritism for his sons over his daughters, a few flip remarks about Vietnam, a brief and annotated lattice-like history of the civil rights movement and key players, and much self-congratulatory aggrandizement about the cool NY literary parties of which his attendance was (at least in his eyes) all but mandatory. WTF! For fear that this book wasn't a fair representation of the man/myth, I'm now reading The Executioner's Song. I was dreading it, because 1050 pages of Mailer on Mailer would be too much for me to bear. BUT, it is great so far. It is clearly Mailer's fuck you to Capote's In Cold Blood. It is 1050 pages to Capote's 250, and follows a similar journalistic arc - the everyman American psychokiller, his arrest, trial, and death. I'm only 200 pages in, but I do bet Capote felt a bit upstaged. . . And, 200 pages in, I've encountered not even a back-handed reference to Mailer!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    I read this thing 49 years ago when I was still in high school. At the time I found it wonderful As a behind the scenes view of an anti-Viet Nam war demonstration, it was tremdendously topical. In retrospect it appears to be an example of gonzo journalism as Mailer described his own experiences rather than the demonstration per se. As I had not yet read anything by Hunter S. Thompson, it seemed then very new. Juvenile Fiction and adult fiction are separate categories. I suppose then that the "Ar I read this thing 49 years ago when I was still in high school. At the time I found it wonderful As a behind the scenes view of an anti-Viet Nam war demonstration, it was tremdendously topical. In retrospect it appears to be an example of gonzo journalism as Mailer described his own experiences rather than the demonstration per se. As I had not yet read anything by Hunter S. Thompson, it seemed then very new. Juvenile Fiction and adult fiction are separate categories. I suppose then that the "Armies of the Night" counts as Juvenile Non-fiction. As such it is still terribly dated. Don't waste your precious time on a book which for a year or two may have been pertinent.

  8. 4 out of 5

    M.L. Rio

    This is a vivid and compelling portrait of the 1967 anti-war march on the Pentagon, but Mailer often gets in his own way (a sentiment with which he might be obliged to agree, based on his own role in the story). Not without reason is he counted among the so-called Midcentury Misogynists and not infrequently does his prose begin to feel rather like the tiresome monologue of a man who greatly enjoys hearing himself talk, to no real purpose. All that said, this book won awards for a reason and ther This is a vivid and compelling portrait of the 1967 anti-war march on the Pentagon, but Mailer often gets in his own way (a sentiment with which he might be obliged to agree, based on his own role in the story). Not without reason is he counted among the so-called Midcentury Misogynists and not infrequently does his prose begin to feel rather like the tiresome monologue of a man who greatly enjoys hearing himself talk, to no real purpose. All that said, this book won awards for a reason and there is insight alongside the insufferable self-importance, which makes it a worthwhile read for anyone interested in this particular piece of history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Esme

    This book made me hate Norman Mailer. Really. I wished him dead after reading this book. And this after I had read and fallen in love with his book "Executioner's Song." This book is narcissism pure and simple, the fact that it won the National Book Award makes me question the validity of that award. After I read this book, I picked up the memoir written by Mailer's second wife Adele, the one he stabbed.(Yeah, did you know Mailer actually stabbed one of his wives? One gets the impression he want This book made me hate Norman Mailer. Really. I wished him dead after reading this book. And this after I had read and fallen in love with his book "Executioner's Song." This book is narcissism pure and simple, the fact that it won the National Book Award makes me question the validity of that award. After I read this book, I picked up the memoir written by Mailer's second wife Adele, the one he stabbed.(Yeah, did you know Mailer actually stabbed one of his wives? One gets the impression he wanted to emulate Gary Gilmore, but while Gary was willing to accept death for his crimes, old Norman was getting weepy at the thought of spending a week in jail.) This book is full of references to people of the late 60s that the current generation is not going to relate to. It's a book of its time that doesn't hold up today.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    In this nonfiction novel, Mailer depicts the Mailer character (the Mailer character should not be mistaken for the wilier flesh-and-blood Mailer) as a glowering, self-important drunk whose main objective is to marinate in whiskey and public adulation. By Mailer's own admission, his attendance at the 1967 March on the Pentagon is a concession to his moral opposition to the Vietnam war, which he would rather practice in the company of fellow aesthetes at exclusive cocktail parties. Reluctantly, he In this nonfiction novel, Mailer depicts the Mailer character (the Mailer character should not be mistaken for the wilier flesh-and-blood Mailer) as a glowering, self-important drunk whose main objective is to marinate in whiskey and public adulation. By Mailer's own admission, his attendance at the 1967 March on the Pentagon is a concession to his moral opposition to the Vietnam war, which he would rather practice in the company of fellow aesthetes at exclusive cocktail parties. Reluctantly, he attends the march, flinging contempt in every direction: at comfortable liberal academics ("like the scent of the void which comes off the pages of a Xerox copy"), at hawkish conservatives, at the United States ("corporation land"), at the young ("utterly lobotomized away from the sense of sin"), at the old, at radicals ("smelted down the the irreducible Puritan"), and at himself. In fact, Mailer reserves praise only for those who regard him with skepticism, piercing the thin skin of his intellectual nobility to reveal the crass, angry, disturbed man underneath. The Mailer character is unappealing in most ways, save an occasional kindness (playing games with the kids in jail) and the fact that his every repugnance is a meta-act of elaborate, tongue-in-cheek self-abasement. The "novel as history" is followed by 50 pages of "history as novel," a comparatively dry review of the various accounts of the March on the Pentagon, the fractious liberals, the celebration and defiling of conservative power, all told from a dozen different, mutually incompatible perspectives. Mailer hammers home the point that no retelling of the events of 1967 can or will be objective or factually reliable. Hence his "novel as history," hence his brash anti-hero. I am tempted to say that Mailer's bombast is neutralized by the ruthless critical eye he applies to himself, but that would be inaccurate. By turning himself into a celebrity curmudgeon, Mailer celebrates his own flaws. But he also celebrates those of his political allies and enemies, and somehow, in spite of the pointed subjectivity, or by way of it, his novel rings of truth.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Brilliant. Immediate, vivid, engaging, fly-on-the-wall account of some serious world/historical shit hitting the american fan. A classic, and deservedly so. Interesting: Mailer said that he had been surprised when he came upon the refer-to-yourself-in-the-3rd-person voice that was the essential narrative innovation of the book. He said that when he was a student at Harvard he'd been assigned "The Autobiography of Henry Adams" and thought the third person referential move was odd and put the boo Brilliant. Immediate, vivid, engaging, fly-on-the-wall account of some serious world/historical shit hitting the american fan. A classic, and deservedly so. Interesting: Mailer said that he had been surprised when he came upon the refer-to-yourself-in-the-3rd-person voice that was the essential narrative innovation of the book. He said that when he was a student at Harvard he'd been assigned "The Autobiography of Henry Adams" and thought the third person referential move was odd and put the book aside and hadn't thought about it for years...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Early example of the "New Journalism" which Norman Mailer helped pioneer...and not an especially good one. Most of the book is an account of the March on the Pentagon in October 1967, which Mailer vividly conveys in biting prose and lively, colorful descriptions: the beatniks and Yippies trying to levitate the Pentagon, the goofball activists dressed in a panoply of historical costumes, the contrast between the rowdy crowd and the regimented MPs and soldiers who contained them. The book is cripp Early example of the "New Journalism" which Norman Mailer helped pioneer...and not an especially good one. Most of the book is an account of the March on the Pentagon in October 1967, which Mailer vividly conveys in biting prose and lively, colorful descriptions: the beatniks and Yippies trying to levitate the Pentagon, the goofball activists dressed in a panoply of historical costumes, the contrast between the rowdy crowd and the regimented MPs and soldiers who contained them. The book is crippled, however, by Mailer's overweening narcissism, reflecting in third person on his authorial reputation, his antiwar credentials and comparing his wise viewpoint with the often misleading accounts of newspapers and the Mainstream Media. Worth reading, perhaps, for the bits of vivid imagery Mailer conjures up, but also filled with that author's most obnoxious shortcomings.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    An example of the New Journalism that emerged with Mailer and other writers like Truman Capote and Thomas Wolfe, in which the journalism employed conventions of fiction in telling a story. In this book, Mailer describes the March on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Mailer himself was present among the other marchers (including Dr. Benjamin Spock, linguist Noam Chomsky and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg). One of the techniques Mailer employs in his book is to describe the March as if he were it An example of the New Journalism that emerged with Mailer and other writers like Truman Capote and Thomas Wolfe, in which the journalism employed conventions of fiction in telling a story. In this book, Mailer describes the March on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Mailer himself was present among the other marchers (including Dr. Benjamin Spock, linguist Noam Chomsky and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg). One of the techniques Mailer employs in his book is to describe the March as if he were its central protagonist; another is to describe his actions and thoughts in the third person. As Mailer comments in the book, this “schizophrenic” approach functions to emblematize the madness of American policy with regard to Vietnam. Events Mailer describes include a speech he makes prior to the March (and his thoughts while in the men’s room before making his address), the March, his arrest and his thoughts while sitting in a prison cell. Hyper-masculinized, egotistic, provocative—Mailer at his best.

  14. 4 out of 5

    AC

    Love this book - my favorite quote comes from it -- of the media (he was thinking mainly of the press, of course) --- as "silent assassins of the republic"

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lichella

    Could've been interesting but I found the writing so tedious I couldn't get through it. Didn't finish.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laurel L. Perez

    Mailer's writing style in this book is very fast and pulled me through the first section quickly. I can easily see how Mailer’s book has been compared to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which was the first non-fiction novel, whereas Mailer has created here an early example of historical and fictional journalism; which seems to combine novel style with reporting. The book reads as split between two sections, in "History As A Novel," Mailer uses the third person to describe his own experience parti Mailer's writing style in this book is very fast and pulled me through the first section quickly. I can easily see how Mailer’s book has been compared to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which was the first non-fiction novel, whereas Mailer has created here an early example of historical and fictional journalism; which seems to combine novel style with reporting. The book reads as split between two sections, in "History As A Novel," Mailer uses the third person to describe his own experience participating in a anti-Vietnam war rally. By using the third person Mailer himself becomes just as much a part of the subject matter, as the march he participated in. In the second section, "The Novel As History," Things slow down in this section, but not because the subject matter is slower. Mailer focuses on the historical perspective on the march. Including why it happened, who was involved, and then describes the march as it might have been seen by some sort of an unbiased reporter. It was an interesting read, and Mailer’s opinionated voice is a never separated from the subject matter. I was mostly intrigued by the self-awareness Mailer was able to portray through writing in the third person. Since this move allowed him to step outside of himself and observe, he used this to the full potential.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott Judd

    Mailer's incredible intellect shines white hot here. Echoes of this time reverberate today through the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements. So sad that we really haven't progressed in this nation from the barbarism described within these pages.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John Woakes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The first 3/4 of the book is a kind of eye-witness account of Norman's experience over 4 days before and after the march on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam war. What takes a while to get used to is that he writes this in the third person. He, the writer, is actually is quite critical and mocking of he, the character in the story, which is easy to understand. He is one of those characters that is aware of his faults but has no intention of changing. In fact he seems to revel in his behaviour, The first 3/4 of the book is a kind of eye-witness account of Norman's experience over 4 days before and after the march on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam war. What takes a while to get used to is that he writes this in the third person. He, the writer, is actually is quite critical and mocking of he, the character in the story, which is easy to understand. He is one of those characters that is aware of his faults but has no intention of changing. In fact he seems to revel in his behaviour, kind of like Edward Abbey and Charles Bukowski. Interesting guys but you wouldn't want to live with them. I did enjoy his telling of the day and the events he witnessed. As this was pre cellphone era it was unnerving to be at such a large event and have no way to know what is going on or where your friends are, not to mention videoing the police brutality. You have to rely on rumours spreading through the crowd. You do get the impression though that his heart is not really into the protest and that he is there to feed his public persona. He knows that as a prominent leftist writer it is his "duty" to make an "impression". His arrest is an interesting and intriguing section. There is a confrontation with a Nazi which comes across as a bunch of bravado like two kids bumping chests in a school yard. Mostly it is the boring and mundane detail that make it feel very real. The last 1/4 of the book is more factual and covers all the preparation in the months beforehand. He talks about the various disparate groups and the wheeling and dealing with the police and city officials. I never really thought about how much work it takes to organize such an event. Although this is dryer than the previous part I found it very interesting and enjoyable. A nice juxtaposition to the first part.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Łukasz Gąsior

    Reads like it was written by a kid who wants to tell everybody how cool he is but every now and then he catches himself sounding desperate for attention, so he switches to being self-deprecating. Not impressed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Figueiredo

    Took me a while to get into "The Armies of the Night" because it's a really strange book. Mailer's ego, tangential drifts, and interesting use of time can be offputting. At the same time, some of my favorite elements are in his riffs on middle-class liberalism, left conservatism, etc. Not a bad novel, but a weird one.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    New Journalism (among a few other things) was about bringing the writer out front to share the footlights with the story, dressed up in the unselfconscious garb of literary style. Rather than dry facts, impressions. Rather than strict chronology, non-linear context and rat-a-tat punctuation. Which makes this prime piece of New Journalism (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner) curious, in that it's pure chronology in the first part (History as a Novel), an intricate and often painstaking New Journalism (among a few other things) was about bringing the writer out front to share the footlights with the story, dressed up in the unselfconscious garb of literary style. Rather than dry facts, impressions. Rather than strict chronology, non-linear context and rat-a-tat punctuation. Which makes this prime piece of New Journalism (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner) curious, in that it's pure chronology in the first part (History as a Novel), an intricate and often painstaking dissection of a single moment as seen by the writer from where he stood. Not history as an overview, but the meticulous making of a little piece of history - the March in Washington DC in October 1967 as told by one of its protagonists. Actually, it's a bit like someone describing the whole of his wedding day, blow-by-blow, seeking out all the moments that shine some kind of a light on the underlying themes of the marriage it led to. Which sounds pretty off-putting, more so when we consider that at this point Mailer was widely seen as a drunken ex-literary wunderkind, better known as a putative wife-killer then onto Wife 4 (who is "on all nights of the full moon near to mad", but at least does not get attacked with a knife like Wife 2) and a rather egomaniacal, supposedly waning force as a writer. Not promising... But it's damn quotable, this at-length dissection, full of glittering pearls (and more than few humanising clunkers) with just the right balance of knowledge and distance. He is with 'the kids', but not of them. With the Left, but sternly critical of its pofaced assumptions. Self-centred but also self-critical, highly aware of his own ridiculousness and talent in equal measure. He floats over his 3rd person alter ego, a remiss guardian angel, finding multilevel slabs of motive to toss about in industrial length Hemingway-torrential sentences (if we must quibble, without the super-short ones that Papa so often used to keep the narrative peace and rhythm). Mailer and Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe tugged fondly at the frayed kaftan of 1960s counterculture, coming over as acerbic and forgiving and well aware this was their bread and butter, but also deeply amused, sometimes even offended by its hey man platitudes and syllogisms. Capote discussed the ideal in reporting to refrain from subjectivity and 1st person, so here Mailer places himself in the heart of the action, but refers to himself in the 3rd person. He revives his sagging image by mocking it, Falstaffian and faux-humble. This is irritating to some readers, but seems almost necessary in the case of a figure as contradictory as our narrator. (In The Fight, it is a device that ensures Muhammad Ali is the star, while maintaining a literary slant and avoiding the perils of hagiography, because there's always this dark matter ego present in the space given over to Ali). The second part (The Novel as History) takes our narrative into the laboratory. Here we do get an overview, as well as liberal dollops of first-hand accounts by others, here we get to see what was happening outside while Norman was in the slammer. It attempts to play even-handed, Mailer seeking sympathy on both sides while deriding the essential corporate negation involved in the government's response. The abrupt change works - journalism as doppelgänger - the heart (and hangover) had its say and now here comes the head to grant a little perspective to our excitement. It would be a tough trick to pull off in the same breath, on the same page. This way we get the vegetables as a follow-up course. Of course, now that we know what happened in the ensuing 12 months, another element comes into play: there's a prescience to the build-up of concepts and the hopeful air in the signing off that we now know to presage the downfall of LBJ's attempt to strongarm the Zeitgeist and to herald a cultural cataclysm. This makes the book both highly dated and yet essentially timeless in a way that straighter narratives from the time (Jimmy Breslin gets hauled out often in this book as a reactionary apologist) could not hope to have. Check out the drunken Mailer on The Firing Line after the book's release, William F. Buckley Jr. skewers him in the introduction and he tries to score his own points later. Then check him in 1971 on the Dick Cavett Show, jaw-droppingly embarrassing as he mumbles about his 'superior intellect' and gets slapped down easily by Cavett. Apparently he even head butted Gore Vidal that night. Which all goes to show he was a curious of cerebral, pugnacious, centrist and provocateur. This book displays all those sides to a tee.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Logan Mahoney

    “Washington’s scruffy Ambassador Theatre, normally a pad for psychedelic frolics, was the scene of an unscheduled scatological solo last week in support of an unscheduled scatological solo last week in support of the peace demonstrations”(Mailer 1). The start of Norman Mailer’s Magnum Opus, The Armies of the Night, is one of complete explanation of what happened the fateful afternoon of October 27th, 1967, the day the most important anti-war really occurred. This book not only is a prevalent acc “Washington’s scruffy Ambassador Theatre, normally a pad for psychedelic frolics, was the scene of an unscheduled scatological solo last week in support of an unscheduled scatological solo last week in support of the peace demonstrations”(Mailer 1). The start of Norman Mailer’s Magnum Opus, The Armies of the Night, is one of complete explanation of what happened the fateful afternoon of October 27th, 1967, the day the most important anti-war really occurred. This book not only is a prevalent account of the March on the Pentagon, but is one of the most important books in the “Faction” or New Journalism genre, which was created by Truman Capote in 1966 with his masterpiece, In Cold Blood. The book is split into two parts, the first being “History as a Novel”, a new journalism, or factual perspective of what happened through the eyes of our Narrator, Norman Mailer. The accounts of what actually happened at the March are real accounts of what happened, including the arresting of the author Norman Mailer, and the attempt by a few protesters to start an “evil” chant to lift the Pentagon off the ground. The main fiction in here is the creation of the Narrator, and his influence on how the events are seen. Many a times does the narrator seem to be “unclear of what is going on, like when he gets drunk at a party from Brandy. The second part of the book, “Novel as a History”, brings in other people’s accounts of what they believe have happened at the March of the Pentagon, from writers such as Margie Stamberg and Thorne Dreyer from the Washington Free Press. The second half of the book is a complete history of the events the events that happened that day, but this time from the press and from accounts of people that attended. Norman Mailer was a writer and a journalist born in 1923 who was credited for the creation of the literary genre New Journalism, along with Truman Capote. From New Jersey, he would attend Harvard University at the age of 16 studying Aeronautical engineering. Soon he would become interested in writing and would publish his first story in 1941, which won a contest. He was drafted into the army in 1943, where he could not evade the draft, and served until the end of WWII. The draft made his views of war drastically, where he ultimately hated the thought. This would influence the writing of his first book The Naked and the Dead. This also would be the reason then when Mitchell Goodman called him in 1967 about the March, he would accept to go. At the March, he and 650 other people were arrested and went to jail for the night. This experience led him to write The Armies of the Night. This book has fascinated me with the many great adventures of the Yippies. Yippies have always fascinated me and the sub-culture is marvelous. Choosing a 150 pound hog to be your presidential candidate is hilarious! Yippies are marvelous group of people. I have a passion for the counterculture and how they operated, and this book informed me more on one of the biggest anti-war rallies this group had. I have quickly fallen in love with this subculture once again, which started when I heard my first Beatles album when I was barely a teenager. As I read, I continued to wish I could be there and witness what many people were lucky enough to go to. Unfortunately my generation is full of threats and violence, so why can’t we go back to a time when peace rallies were settled by singing “Yellow Submarine”? This book made me realize how much I wanted to be there to witness all of this, and is probably a great resource to anyone who loves the counterculture movement, or wants to learn more about anti-war rallies. The only complaint I have is that many a times Norman is redundant with what he says, and is very slow to get off the ground, but once he is rolling, he will hook you in until the end. Please read this book, it is a wonderful experience.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Steger

    A fantastic book. Anyone who wants to understand the fraught history of the Left in America has to include this wild, ironic, and visionary title on her or his reading list... A few quotes: On the change of mood in the hippie movement, over the course of the 1960s, from bright and happy, to dark and tormented: “A generation of the American young had come along different from five previous generations of the middle class. The new generation believed in technology more than any before it, but the gen A fantastic book. Anyone who wants to understand the fraught history of the Left in America has to include this wild, ironic, and visionary title on her or his reading list... A few quotes: On the change of mood in the hippie movement, over the course of the 1960s, from bright and happy, to dark and tormented: “A generation of the American young had come along different from five previous generations of the middle class. The new generation believed in technology more than any before it, but the generation also believed in LSD, in witches, in tribal knowledge, in orgy, and revolution. [...] Their radicalism was in their hate for authority—the authority was the manifest of evil to this generation. It was the authority who had covered the land with those suburbs where they stifled as children while watching the adventures of the West in the movies, while looking at the guardians of dull genial celebrity on television; they had had their minds jabbed and poked and twitched and probed and finally galvanized into to surrealistic modes of response by commercials cutting into dramatic narratives.” "Now, here, after several years of the blandest reports from the religious explorers of LSD, vague Tibetan lama goody-goodness auras of religiosity being the only publicly announced or even rumored fruit from all trips back from the buried Atlantis of LSD, now suddenly an entire generation of acid-heads seemed to have said goodbye to easy visions of heaven, no, now the witches were here, and rites of exorcism, and black terrors of the night...The hippies had gone from Tibet to Christ to the Middle Ages, now they were Revolutionary Alchemists." “An extraordinary multiplication of the romantic, but it was not Rubin’s apocalyptic vision alone–it had been seen before by men so vastly different (but for the consonants of their name) as Castro, Cortes, and Christ–it was the collective vision now of the drug-illumined and revolutionary young of the American middle class.” And the great, gothic, brilliantly hyperbolic last paragraph of the book—could there be a better way of summing up 1967 in America: “Brood on that country who expresses our will. She is America, once a beauty of magnificence unparalleled, now a beauty with a leprous skin. She is heavy with child no one knows if legitimate—and languishes in dungeon whose walls are never seen. Now the first contractions of her fearsome labor begin—it will go on: no doctor exists to tell the hour. […] she will probably give birth, and to what?—the most fearsome totalitarianism the world has ever known? or can she, poor giant, tormented lovely girl, deliver a babe of a new world brave and tender, artful and wild? Rush to the locks. God writhes in his bonds. Rush to the locks. Deliver us from our curse. For we must end on the road to that mystery where courage, death, and the dream of love promise of sleep.”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Greg Brown

    What a weird mixed bag of a book, one that jumps too often between moods and styles to really feel cohesive (or purposeful in that jumping). The opening is sort of fractionally amusing in how Mailer seems to have a pseudo-paranoid grievance against everyone, but mostly just comes off an irritating portrait of a jackass. Once Mailer starts participating in the march itself he tones it down a bit, with help from anecdotes about the various sideshows throughout the route and at the Pentagon. Once he What a weird mixed bag of a book, one that jumps too often between moods and styles to really feel cohesive (or purposeful in that jumping). The opening is sort of fractionally amusing in how Mailer seems to have a pseudo-paranoid grievance against everyone, but mostly just comes off an irritating portrait of a jackass. Once Mailer starts participating in the march itself he tones it down a bit, with help from anecdotes about the various sideshows throughout the route and at the Pentagon. Once he's arrested and jailed, it takes the time for some interesting but brief character portraits, as well as more of a pensive tone. And in the final section (The Novel as History), Mailer removes himself and zooms out to show how the march was developed, engineered, and the larger course of events those days—which is great and would have been way more valuable and interesting earlier in the book. It's very difficult for me to separate a judgment of the book from a judgment of Mailer himself—and I'm not even sure that such a separation would be advisable. Mailer himself seems trapped in the cycle where he dumps a ton of himself in the books, is personally unpleasant, gets bad reviews for those books which he takes personally because he's in them a lot, and then uses that as fuel to become even more personally unpleasant. (Does he moderate any between this and The Executioner's Song?) And his politics are a fuckin' mess; I'm kinda astonished he didn't become one of the sixties intellectuals who took a rightward turn as the decades went on. As is it seems like he really wants to be a prudish conservative but is held back by an anti-authoritarian streak, admission of the force of Marx's logic, and a desire to not be disinvited from the liberal social scene. Seems like a real fucko to me, exactly the kind of guy who would stab his own wife twice at a party. All in all, I'm kinda astonished that this book won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, and suspect that both committees were more endeared by the novelty of the style. This was just a year or two after In Cold Blood kicked off the "non-fiction novel" trend, after all. Might still read Miami and the Siege of Chicago eventually, but I've had my fill of Mailer for quite a while.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vlora

    Look, the fact that I wanted to throw this book against the wall on at least five separate occasions probably means it has some merit because at least it elicited some sort of emotion. I'm sure there are even some intelligent thoughts in here. I respect the fact that Mailer can create a character I dislike so much (himself). The descriptions of brutality towards the end were shocking, which is what they should be. Also, Mailer was on Gilmore Girls, so I really tried to like this. All that consid Look, the fact that I wanted to throw this book against the wall on at least five separate occasions probably means it has some merit because at least it elicited some sort of emotion. I'm sure there are even some intelligent thoughts in here. I respect the fact that Mailer can create a character I dislike so much (himself). The descriptions of brutality towards the end were shocking, which is what they should be. Also, Mailer was on Gilmore Girls, so I really tried to like this. All that considered, I absolutely hated this book. I just detested the writing style. I did not connect to anything and I skimmed large passages (so take this commentary with a grain of salt) because I just couldn't be bothered. Mailer takes himself FAR too seriously. Also, I can't get over the fact that he stabbed his wife and still won two Pulitzers. I mean I know it's not the Nobel peace prize, but on what level is that okay. This is not in any way an articulate review, and I won't bother with one because I don't want to think about this book much longer than I have to. I'm sure there are reasons to like it, but I really don't.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Written in third person, describing a weekend in Washington protesting the Vietnam war, Mailer pokes fun at himself, and his ego, and his other eccentricities on nearly every page. Yes, Mailer has an egotism of curious disproportions. With the possible exception of John F. Kennedy, there had not been a President of the United States nor even a candidate since the Second World War whom Mailer secretly considered more suitable than himself... Hilarious. Lots of neat literary moments, his complex f Written in third person, describing a weekend in Washington protesting the Vietnam war, Mailer pokes fun at himself, and his ego, and his other eccentricities on nearly every page. Yes, Mailer has an egotism of curious disproportions. With the possible exception of John F. Kennedy, there had not been a President of the United States nor even a candidate since the Second World War whom Mailer secretly considered more suitable than himself... Hilarious. Lots of neat literary moments, his complex friendship wth Robert Lowell, his (and others) presence as literary icons which at the time lent them significant political power (yet now seems to be going the opposite way and non politicians speaking about politics is generally derided in our conservative society). If what the United States is doing in Vietnam* is right, what is there left to be called wrong? *Insert "Iraq" instead and the sentence is just as true. And some more humor: An evening without a wicked lady in the room was like an opera company without a large voice.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I read this book because it won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. I also thought that since Mailer was a novelist that this "History" might be more compelling than something written by a dry, academic historian. Well, I was very disappointed. Mailer's egomania is not nearly as charming or interesting as he believes it to be. For me, Mailer did not make a particularly good protagonist because I didn't really care for him and therefore was not all that concerned about what would happ I read this book because it won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. I also thought that since Mailer was a novelist that this "History" might be more compelling than something written by a dry, academic historian. Well, I was very disappointed. Mailer's egomania is not nearly as charming or interesting as he believes it to be. For me, Mailer did not make a particularly good protagonist because I didn't really care for him and therefore was not all that concerned about what would happen to him as a result of participating in the October 1967 March on the Pentagon in protest of the war in Vietnam. Some of it is well-written; I especially liked the way Mailer detailed just how fragmented the anti-war movement was, with the various groups and their sometimes conflicting agendas. Explodes the myth that the 60s anti-war movement was unified. But, that is about the only positive thing I have to say about this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Josh Fish

    A record of Norman Mailer's involvement in the anti-Vietnam-war protests written by him in the third person about him. I found this book full of false modesty (he even uses the word modest when talking about himself. Who calls themselves modest?) and self aggrandizement. He describes himself as almost a superhero taking on the giant war machine. This attitude of great men fighting against tyranny is the same rhetoric used by warmongers which I thought was ironic and something it seems surely Mai A record of Norman Mailer's involvement in the anti-Vietnam-war protests written by him in the third person about him. I found this book full of false modesty (he even uses the word modest when talking about himself. Who calls themselves modest?) and self aggrandizement. He describes himself as almost a superhero taking on the giant war machine. This attitude of great men fighting against tyranny is the same rhetoric used by warmongers which I thought was ironic and something it seems surely Mailer must've been aware of yet he never stops to analyze it. He also says things like "the soldiers can't pluck our hippy women" so the "our" there is the hippy men which makes the protest just between the hippy men and the soldier men which seems so patriarchal. I can't believe this won the Pulitzer prize.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emerald Guildner

    It was fine. There are some passages that I found funny and/or enlightening. Overall though, it felt a bit too much like a chore for me to finish. Maybe it was just not what I was in the mood for, most likely it had much to do with the fact that I needed to look up people and places every ten minutes. That's totally all my fault for being a bit dumb when it comes to history. I did learn quite a lot, which was in itself worth the read. However, I did not feel very "moved", in any way, and I found It was fine. There are some passages that I found funny and/or enlightening. Overall though, it felt a bit too much like a chore for me to finish. Maybe it was just not what I was in the mood for, most likely it had much to do with the fact that I needed to look up people and places every ten minutes. That's totally all my fault for being a bit dumb when it comes to history. I did learn quite a lot, which was in itself worth the read. However, I did not feel very "moved", in any way, and I found that disappointing. Mailer does this thing where he uses double negatives, often, like, way too often for my taste. "She was not unattractive" "He was not unhappy" "It was not unlike the time..." etc... I get it, really I do. But it became so overdone that I wanted to punch him.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jodi Lu

    the brief journey of an egomaniac who here just flaunts his lame-o remonstrance role (which he himself derides throughout, creatively). after he gets carted off to jail, the second half of the book really makes you miss the ass's cocky--albeit lively--presence. the style gets dry and you think "awww where's norman??" even though you wanted to hate him at many points when he was around. he gives you all or nothing, so it's kinda manipulative like that. you don't care about vietnam half as much as the brief journey of an egomaniac who here just flaunts his lame-o remonstrance role (which he himself derides throughout, creatively). after he gets carted off to jail, the second half of the book really makes you miss the ass's cocky--albeit lively--presence. the style gets dry and you think "awww where's norman??" even though you wanted to hate him at many points when he was around. he gives you all or nothing, so it's kinda manipulative like that. you don't care about vietnam half as much as about mailer, which is strange but interesting at points. it's glaringly a lot better of a commentary on a high point of a signature mailer than on a low point in politics.

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