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Book Name: On the Beach

Author: Nevil Shute

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Overall Rating: (4.1/5) View all reviews (total 61 reviews)

“The most haunting evocation we have of a world dying of radiation after an atomic war.” —The New York Times  “The most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off.”  —San Francisco Chronicle“A novelist of intelligent and engaging quality, deservedly popular. . . . Nevil Shute was, in brief, the sort of novelist who genuinely touches the imagination and feeling.” —The Times(London)


The War that Ended War

by Acute Observer

On the Beach by Nevil ShuteThe book begins with Australian Lt. Cmdr. Peter Holmes being recalled to active duty. Then we learn that there is no oil or gasoline after a short war in the Northern Hemisphere. People travel by horse or bicycle now. Brown coal alone provides electricity. Holmes will be liaison officer on the USS Scorpion, an atomic-powered submarine that discovered lethal radiation at all American naval bases; there is no radio contact with the USA. They're all silent! The Russian-NATO war was followed by a Russian-Chinese war, then by an Israeli-Arab war. Only Australia remained, until the radioactivity arrived there. Holmes visits the submarine and invites Commander Dwight Tower USN to visit his home. The winds carry radioactive dust, and radiation sickness is beginning to appear. Its so unfair.The book tells of their lives. The local church is packed. The Scorpion will travel to check the radiation levels in the northern ports. The empty streets are swarming with people, dancing and drinking like there's no tomorrow. Business is slowing down, people are working less or out of a job. When the submarine visits Port Moresby, Cairns, and Port Darwin they see no people; they're ghost towns. Chapter 3 tells of the surprise attacks and miscalculations that started the war. The ports along the eastern seaboard of America were dangerous to explore because of the sea mines around the harbors. In Chapter 4 the submarine will explore the west coast of America to test if the radioactivity is subsiding. The effects of radioactivity on a body is similar to the effects of cholera. There is no cure. The Government plans to hand out free suicide pills!Shute uses subtle humor to mock Holmes' attitude about women: "living in a sentimental dream world" (Chapter 5)! The submarine travels to Washington state and visits Edmonds, 15 miles north of Seattle. They're all dead (Chapter 6). Life went on, but fuel for fires and little luxuries became scarce. Now motorcars appeared on deserted roads (Chapter 7). Some have saved petrol, but now the problem is tires. Money decreased in value and importance; it was the goods they bought that was important. (What happened to productivity?) Their Grand Prix for racing cars symbolized the bleak future. Does alcohol increase the tolerance to radioactivity (Chapter 8)? There is a meeting in Melbourne. Holmes notices a number of absences (Chapter 9). This chapter tells about the end of the characters in this novel. They suffer from radiation sickness, then take the suicide pills handed out as the last gift from The Best and The Brightest. Those who say it was a miscalculation never read Machiavelli as to the effects of fortune on human activity.This is all so unfair! You would hope the primitive peoples in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia would somehow survive. The film of this prophetic novel was a justified success, and warned and educated the public about the dangers of radioactivity. A few years later there was a treaty to ban nuclear testing above the ground. The spread of science allowed many countries to create nuclear reactors, as they did with cannon and guns in earlier ages. Will the warning in this novel ever be forgotten?Note on the Comment. The original Amazon Editorial Review on this book mentioned the mass doom of people around the world. "They are the last generation, the innocent victims of an accidental war, living out their last days, making do with what they have, hoping for a miracle. As the deadly rain moves ever closer, the world as we know it winds toward an inevitable end...."

a great classic

by adead_poet@hotmail.com "adead_poet@hotmail.com"

Nevil Shute's classic book 'On the Beach' looks at the end of the world from a different angle--a nuclear war has raged in the Northern Hemisphere, over in a month, but because of the winds the radiation is slowly covering the Southern Hemisphere, none of which were involved in the war. It's the story of the last days on Earth as experienced by the innocent Australians. It is a sad book, down to the core. And you will find tears welling in your eyes as the characters of the novel attempt to deal with their upcoming fate. It's a story of love, hope, redemption, sorrow, and peace. this is one of the greatest books I've ever read. I highly, highly recommend it to everyone.

dull, dull, DULL! also very dated

by Alberto Vargas

After reading almost half of it, I could not bring myself to finish this book - I will just see the movie to see what the fuss is all about. For some reason this book is highly rated among lovers of apocalyptic fiction, but I fail to see why.The writing is pretty bland, the language sounds stiltedly formal and old, and the characters are not well developed at all. The main premise is also very dated to the early cold war.If you read any other reviews, you know that the novel is about the aftermath of a major nuclear war between the northern powers of Russia, China, and US. The survivors in Australia are waiting for radioactivity to spread slowly to them and kill them. In the mean time they go about their lives as usual (minus imported goods of course), whilst waiting for the bitter end.The dialog, plot, and characters are so dull that I could not bother to care if the apocalyptic premise was actually plausible or interesting.I think the reason why this book is popular is that it captures the cold war psyche of the 1950s and it influenced thinking about nuclear weapons and concern about the survival of humankind.This novel is a dated period piece. Sort of like a pre-renaissance medieval painting, which by modern standards would be ugly and primitive, but played some role in depicting the history of its era and perhaps in the history of art.Do not read this unless you are crazy about 1950s early nuclear cold war history.

Interesting but bleak

by Amazon Customer

What if the powerful countries of the world waged a nuclear war so catastrophic that all life was destroyed, and you were stuck in southern Australia, watching the deadly radiation move slowly, inexorably your way? That is the question posed by this classic post-apocalyptic novel. The inevitable conclusion is rather dreary. However, the characters seem a bit too 1950s, and therefore not quite realistic. Still, it's an interesting, if bleak, what-if scenario.

Post-Apocalypse Classic

by Anne M. Hunter "Anne Hunter"

I read this novel as a young teenager, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis (when it briefly seemed quite possible a nuclear war with the Soviet Union might start at any moment). I cried a lot while I read it, especially at the end. The Aussies in it seemed more like rather stuffy Brits than like our concept of modern sporty outgoing energetic people.It's all about carrying on as normally and honorably as possible as the world of humanity quietly and slowly ends. I remember wanting them to stop being so passive, to get organized and fight to survive -- go to the deepest caves, stock them with necessities and seal them off for as long as it would take for the radiation levels to fall. But they go on doing their jobs, caring for their families, right to the end. I've seen a movie and a mini-series, and neither seemed to me to have the emotional punch of the book. I'm sure it's dated -- now space might be a possible escape route, and perhaps people just aren't as innocent and noble any more.

My only friend is darkness - Psalm 88

by bernie "xyzzy"

The basic story is that Albania sends a plane with another country's markings to bomb the U.S. and we retaliate. However this is not a pacifist (don't build bombs book). This is not a sci-fi book. It could be a speculative fiction or just speculative.The story begins after the war is completed and radiation is now covering the world. Australia is the last place to be covered. You read how different people are about to meat their end, some with hope, others with reckless abandon. Still there are those like the US sub commander Dwight Towers is loyal to his country to the end by not allowing U.S. property in the end to fall into the hands of the Aussies.The book was written in the Cold War Era environment. So many people think that it is about countries and war; others think this story is some anti war story. The reality is that it is a study of people meeting a sure end and how they react. Other readers will balk at the actions of the people in this story; yet when they meet the same situation we will see how realistic the characters are. Still others will balk at the predictability of the characters. Still this is how many people get over a crisis by being predictable. It is these characteristics that make this novel timeless. Someone else must think so or they would not have made an updated version for our not too distant future.

High marks for originality, but sinks under its own banality

by Big Cadillac "Survivor"

****Some Spoilers Follow****"On the Beach" promises a riveting account of the last survivors on Earth after a nuclear holocaust. These last survivors know that deadly fallout will come to claim their lives and their only hope is a stranded submarine captain and his crew. While being strikingly original for its time, the book ends up being a dreary exercise in dignity and hopelessness.My biggest complaint is that Shute's characters lack any color and fail to generate any empathy as they fret about their ordinary lives. Much like wooden pop-up targets at a shooting gallery, Shute's characters appear and reappear just to give a few mundane lines and then fade away until they are needed again. They talk about milk, Pogo sticks, playpens, alcohol, gardening, racing, etc. while the End of the World creeps ever closer and closer to them. Thus, the book's inevitable conclusion fails to affect the reader just as it is hard to feel sorry for pieces of cardboard.On a plus note, Shute really knows his technical details when it comes to a submarine lifestyle and nautical navigation. Unfortunately, Shute's maddeningly simplistic writing style fails to paint any atmosphere of, well...anything.Luckily, imitation is the highest form of flattery; several contemporary books expand on Shute's nuclear vision with much more energy, realism and humanism. I recommend aA Canticle for LiebowitzandAlas, Babylon (Perennial Classics)for more enjoyable and thought-provoking EOTW reads.

Australian SF Reader

by Blue Tyson "- Research Finished"

Nevil Shute's book about the collapse and extermination of civilisation after a nuclear war. The resulting devastating radiation effects from the Northern Hemisphere are taking some time to reach the Southern Hemisphere, but it too is doomed, including Australia.People know how long they have left in the history of the human race.

A classic worthy of its reputation

by Brian D. Rubendall

Nothing much happens in the way of action in "On the Beach." The bombs have already dropped and the human survivors are mearly waiting for the end. As a reader, you know they are all going to die, which makes them even more compelling. This is apocalypse fistion at its finest. Shute doesn't cop out and give the story an artificial happy ending. I first read this book while in high school nearly two decades ago and the ending still haunts me.

full of a lust for life

by Caraculiambro

One of the most uplifting books I've ever read: belongs on the same shelf with "Jonathan Livingston Seagull," "Siddhartha," and "The Prophet."I was really at a low point in my life when I read this. But, miraculously, this book put a spring in my step and got me right back on track.Guaranteed to dispel even the blackest mood. This is a book to read just after you've been divorced, you've been paralyzed, your children have died, etc.Truly inspirational!


by C. Colt "It Just Doesn't Matter"

"On the Beach" is one of those books that you read for the concept and the story, but not for the quality of the writing. The plot centers around the lives of a few remaining survivors of a nuclear war who live in Australia. Since the was has taken place in the northern hemisphere, Australia has largely escaped unscathed--for the moment. But as prevailing winds approach Australia, they carry lethal doses of radiation with them. The implication of this is that all of the characters in the book--in fact everyone in the world--will inevitably be extinguished."On the Beach" has a profound psychological impact because it is devoid of the intense action that usually accompanies nuclear apocolypse films. The destruction has already occurred elsewhere and the citizens of Australia are largely going about their business knowing they will soon die. The fact that their infrastructure has not been destroyed and that all of their social aparatus is still intact makes their fate all the more sad and earie.Although this book is set in the Cold War it's outcome is still relevant and feasible today. The nuclear warheads generated by the arms race haven't gone away. The former Soviet Union is a desparate, chaotic place, and as several reviewers pointed out, more small countries are joining the nuclear club. One could say that Nuclear madness has merely transformed itself, but its danger certainly hasn't disappeared.I think everyone should read this book to be reminded of the possible future we all face.

The Sadness of Evanescence

by Christopher "chrysaetos"

The beach, when one beholds it as such, is the end of the world.Nevil Shute's incredible novel is not about surviving a global nuclear holocaust. The reader will follow the lives of several people, some of whom are related, some who are friends, and some who have been brought to Australia by inevitability. One of these strangers, Dwight Towers, is an American commander for the U.S. Navy who oversees a vital submarine mission to the United States' western shores. And there the servicemen will observe, on the beach, the unsettling lack of human life.When not commissioned, Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes lives with his brand new family, Mary and his young baby Jennifer. There they spend their days living in labored bliss, on the beach, and frequently visited by family friend Moira Davidson, a young blonde in her 20s whose hobby was once gin, but is now brandy. She consumes more liquor than even Alistair MacLean can wave an empty glass at. Though her disposition is one of genuineness, she begins enticing the submarine captain Dwight into falling in love with her. By the end of the tale, Moira becomes the most beautiful and haunted character and her faithfulness and loyalty brought me to tears more so than any other character.Shute's novel frightened me. We are, all of us, led to believe that much of Fate is in our own hands. Every day we make decisions that affect the rest of our lives, and this we do not need to be reminded of. What we forget, however, is how fragile and ephemeral our lives are, and at any given moment, our lives are not necessarily in the hands of God, but very possibly in the hands of other human beings. It is worthwhile to remember, lest we forget, that all humans err.It is only at the very end of the book that some of the characters, who have been living a life restrained, must finally accept the truth. Peter states, "[I]f a couple of hundred million people all decide that their national honour requires them to drop cobalt bombs upon their neighbour, well, there's not much that you or I can do about it" (229). The small matter of pride is what tears marriages and friendships apart. Unfortunately, it can also destroy the world.It is so subtle, it is easy to overlook, but Shute's motif with beaches pervades the story and ultimately becomes the one thing that never changes.I read the 1963 Signet edition. My dictionary dash consisted of "sedulously" (31).

A great premise, not great writing

by Christopher Hivner

I believe the premise of this book is excellent, but the execution of the idea leaves something to be desired. The novel begins after a worldwide nuclear war has just ended. The bombs hit in the now completely destroyed northern hemisphere. People are still alive in the southern hemisphere but have only a few months left until the fallout makes its way south. So basically, the books asks, what do you do, how do you behave, when you know that everyone left on Earth has only a few months left?The book takes place in a town in Australia. Dwight Towers is an American naval officer who has been blended in with the Australian navy since the American Navy is all but gone from the war. He is given command of a submarine which goes out on missions to find signs of life and measure radiation levels. He becomes friendly with an Aussie officer who introduces him to a local girl. The girl's job is to keep Towers' mind off of his now dead wife and children. The Aussie officer is married with a small child. He and his wife try to keep life as normal as possible from day to day.I love the premise of the book, but it's not all-together fascinating in its style. There are parts that I couldn't stop reading. But other parts dragged on with little happening. It's also true that Shute isn't the greatest writer in the world. Point of view or even location sometimes shifts from one paragraph to another which can be jarring. On the Beach is a great idea, but couldn have been written better.

"Normalcy" In The Face Of Our Species' Self-Imposed Demise

by Dai-keag-ity

As radiation from a nuclear war that destroyed all life in the northern half of the earth gradually spreads southward to deliver its poison to all who live there, a number of Australians and a handful of Americans who reside among them attempt to continue some facet of normal life, even when the time for all things is nearly done. We learn going into this foreboding novel that at most one year remains to even the most fortunate of those yet alive. We read along as the last of humankind pathetically (or is it with dignity?) plant gardens, play with their children, reform from their alcoholism, fall in love, race cars...the list could go on and on. What must it be like to dwell under these horrible circumstances? What must it do, for instance, to the mind of a devout theist when she sees the deity to whom she has maintained lifelong faith is not going to arrive deus ex machina to save her and make everything right again? What must utter and complete moral hopelessness be like? How horrible must it be to be young and rise each morning knowing the despair that would come with so many hopes lying before you, now impossible to ever fulfill? And what must it be like to be a parent and understand that the children you bought into a terrible world reeling in extremis, will die in a matter of weeks?On The Beach is not about exploding cities and geo-political confrontations. The war and the nations who fought it are distant, quiet memories, barely of significance. On The Beach is about people, and how those people carry on in the face of a doom they neither created nor can elude. It is one of the darkest works of fiction ever produced, and also one of the finest. If it impacts a jaded modern reader so startlingly, what must it have been like to read this fifty years ago when the very concept of global extinction after nuclear conflict, was new?A universal, eternal classic of the Cold War era.

A Very Civilized Apocalypse

by David Hood

In an interesting choice, Shute portrays an end of the world nuclear war novel with no violence at all. Rather we see the aftermath of a civilized country intact and waiting for inevitable radiation death. This makes it all the more chilling.We see a variety of viewpoints through the characters, some who accept their fate yet continue going on their day to day duties as if the world would go on, mostly to fill their days with something to do and maintain their sanity. Some who hold out hope that the radiation will not reach them or they will not get sick. Some who are in outright denial, and some who are partying their life away.The centerpoint characters are a young Australian couple, and an American submarine commander and a Australian "party girl" who is quite affected by the demeanor of the commander. Their unconsummated romance is truly heartbreaking as the commander remains faithful to his wife though she is of course dead.The Australian couple are also touching as the wife is more or less in denial and the husband accepting of the reality, though playing along to support her emotional needs.In no way an exciting book, but compelling and affecting. The T.S. Eliot at the beginning is the perfect summation of the ending.

A depressing tale, well told.

by Doug Dandridge

One of the two books I read as a child on the aftermath of nuclear war. Amovie was made, so most people know the story. Still a well told storyabout the struggle for psychological and emotional survival in a dyingworld with no hope of continued physical existence. People go about theirlives, some taking great risks with their remaining time, others seeking away out for the human race when there is none. I normally don't likehopeless books, but this one is so well done that I recommend it highly.

Not About Nuclear Fallout

by James Hobson Jr.

On The Beach uses the backdrop of the post-nuclear war and the nuclear fallout as a premise but the novel is not about the war or the fallout. It's about the people living their lives with the knowledge of inevitable ending nearing. There isn't any preaching from Shute about social injustice or anti-war statements really. Instead Shute asks questions about how we would live our daily lives given the premise that we are all going to die and that we know the estimated time/day (and others have the same day/time). Of course the writing style and conversations are from the 1950's so it's a throwback to an era before cell phones or other modern electronics and focuses on conventional relationships with actual personal contact. Shute does a great job going into detail on the current lifestyle workarounds of the characters due to lack of gasoline and other necessities as Australia is the last remaining 1st world nation with electricity. Mostly the characters party, eat and drink, and socialize which in an imaginary impending doom scenario I guess we would all do. Pretty classic sci-fi end of the world apocalypse novel with a mid-20th century perspective.

Bleak, gloomy...the end of the world if we're not careful

by Jason

The transition from night to day begins each morning with a gentle sunrise insidiously piercing through the unwilling blanket of darkness. Eventually the colossal battle becomes fruitless and night gives in to the increasingly unrelenting pressure of sunshine. In relatively little time the seemingly insignificant temperature rise becomes substantial, creeping its way into life, permeating throughout all that doesn't wilt before the sun's potency. The changes are both irrevocable an inevitable.The atrocities and horrors of war, specifically the aftermath, are just as apparent as that sunrise. Similarly, the nuclear fallout and resulting widespread death is agonizingly slow.On the Beach is a tale of the realistic horror that could eventually destroy our planet. For those near the epicenters of full scale nuclear war, death is painless and instant. Those not fortunate enough to suffer a sweet, immediate death, face the realization that death approaches at a snail's pace. As the poison of radiation drifts across the ocean southward towards Australia, a U.S. submarine commander named Dwight Towers has to carry on with his mission, and make sense of the world's military actions.Dwight meets Moira Davidson, a frisky Australian girl with a wild streak, and along with their married friends Peter and Mary, they go about the gut-wrenching final days of their lives. Dwight holds on to the memory of his life, seeking solace in moderate denial, buying gifts for his wife and children who have no doubt already succumbed to the poisonous radiation. Similarly, Peter and Mary plan a garden for future seasons they will never see. Meanwhile, Moira faces death with a slight chip on her shoulder, and a scowl at what could have been. Eventually the four find a dichotomous comfort in knowing that they have no recourse for survival, living their final days with as much vigor, generosity, and soft smiles as possible.The real strength of this novel is the character development. By learning about the characters' lives and insecurities, strengths and flaws, as well as their likes and dislikes, a great deal of empathy is elicited. Following their depressingly mundane last days during humanity's failing health and infrastructure sheds light on that which we all take for granted, like the simple pleasures and beauty that can be gained from a good drink, an exhilarating race, or a relaxing day fishing.Humanity should hope that nothing remotely similar to this novel actually occurs. And, even though I'm sure there would be considerably more chaos than represented in the characters' dignified approach, the slow, somber story development accentuates the truly dreary prospect of a slow helpless death.

Found by chance, enjoyed this very much...

by JCD "Page Flipper"

I was searching for fiction similar in tone to McCarthy's 'The Road' and came across this older title. Very haunting read. Showcases believable common people and how they would conduct themselves while facing the impending nuclear doom. A great cautionary tale in our often uncertain times. Schools should make novels like this required reading moreso than some of the removed literary 'classics' in my opinion.

We live as much as we can

by J. Edgar Mihelic "Skyscraper"

I had trouble reading the first fifty or so pages of this book. Shute's cadences are hard to get a handle on, and he has some awkward attributive tags on his dialogue. I initially had no sympathy for half the characters.I had trouble reading the last thirty pages of this book. Once I picked up the rhythm that Shute used to tell his story I became immersed in the world he created. The book changed from a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel to something greater. On the Beach transcends generic boundaries and becomes an elegy for the human race in an extinction that has not happened yet. I had trouble reading because of the tears in my eyes.On the Beach is one of the most emotionally powerful books I have read in a long time. After putting it down, I tried to reflect and determined it had been almost a decade, when I read Lawrence's _Sons and Lovers_ that I was so moved by a book. I have a tender heart, but this book is not emotionally manipulative in a transparent way that cheapens the effect. On the Beach is powerful because it asks and answers fundamental questions about our being in a way that is truthful to what it means t be human.Shute asks: "What do we do in the face of death?" He shows that we live as much as we can. We love. We make plans for the future. While we face death individually, we move towards it collectively. We are all cosigned to the same fate, but we do not have the certainty of the time that his characters do. On the Beach is an extended metaphor in a way, and as such is both an elegy and a celebration of what it means to be human. Sometimes that is beauty in the face of horror, and both come from the same root.

Still thought provoking after all these years

by Jim Lester "HoopCrazyAuthor"

This is one of the most thought provoking novels I've ever read. It was written almost sixty years ago as a warning of the dire consequences of nuclear war but its philosophical message is as powerful today as it was back in the 1950s. The question at the heart of the book is how would you live your life if you knew that, not only would you die soon, but so would the entire population of the planet?In the story, the Northern Hemisphere has been wiped out by nuclear conflict while in the Southern Hemisphere the people in Australia must wait while deadly radiation drifts slowly toward them, carried by the wind. The plot of the novel involves how a small group of people, each in their own way, deal with this terrifying reality.Unlike much of the 21st century apocalyptic fiction, these characters are not facing roving bands of zombies, a plot devise that gives these novels a fun, fanciful feel like a comic book. On the other hand, the characters in ON THE BEACH are facing certain death and grappling with the meaning of their existence. The book is well written, totally engrossing and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes serious novels that deal with thoughtful topics.


by J. N. Mohlman

"On the Beach", in my mind, ranks with "Lord of the Flies" and 1984" as one of the truly great novels of the 20th century. Yes, it is a little dated; but world politics aside, this book has a power that is just astounding. I have never felt such empathy for characters in a book, as I do for the poor souls in Shute's Australia.The emotions in this book take my breath away. I could never do it justice here; suffice it to say, "On the Beach" may be the most incredible, powerful, moving book I have ever read.


by John Beyerlein

I read this about 45 years ago. I was in my late teens. At the time, I thought it was extremely profound. I read it a couple of weeks ago, I'm now 63. I now regard it as so so. The characters were unbelievable. with a years warning they did nothing to prepare for the survival of the species.John Beyerlein 23 Nov 2010Liz & Dick

This Book Was Really Awful.

by John Guilbault

This book had the most BS I have ever read. Cobalt bombs only exist on paper. Frankly, I think it is wholly unrealistic and dangerous for it turns people away from civil defense measures which could save their lives. Mr. Shute was a great writer of fiction, but this book, as far as realism is concerned, completely missed the bullseye.

A trult memorable reading experience

by Joseph H Pierre "Joe Pierre"

Nevil Shute wrote "On the Beach" at a time when the world's two superpowers--both in the northern hemisphere--were glaring at each other pugnaciously, waving their "city killer" bombs, and bragging about "Mutually Assured Destruction" as their best insurance against nuclear war.Nevil Shute simply picked up that ball and ran with it. He assumed that the strategy had failed, and that the war had been waged, and the northern hemisphere had been destroyed by a combination of atomic blast and the nuclear clouds that emanated from those blasts.Australia, though, in the southern hemisphere--being a non-combatant--had come out unscathed in the war, and because of Coriolis force, was thus far not affected by the nuclear clouds of death. Coriolis force is that force which is created by the revolution of the earth on its axis which causes water draining in northern hemisphere sinks to circulate clockwise, while that in the southern hemisphere does so counter-clockwise. However, since there is a co-mingling of winds at the equator, the southern hemisphere was predictably doomed, and the folks who lived there knew it.The story is about the reaction of the doomed people in Australia, and their reaction to the awful knowledge of their impending deaths, and how they handled it. The protagonist, Dwight Towers, is a U.S. nuclear submarine commander who, with his crew and boat, are in Australia. There he meets Moira Davidson and they fall in love.Some of the throat-catching moments are when the American sub travels to the United States, and the silent streets on San Francisco are described. In the movie version, it was Seattle, and one of the sailors--a former resident of the Seattle area--leaves the ship to go home, a futile gesture, of course.The story describes the various emotions of those facing certain death from nuclear radiation. The death of the entire human race; inescapable, inexorable death, and how they handled it. Bitterness, of course, and recklessness (What can they do, kill me?) as well as foolhardy acts of courage (What? I might be killed?).This is a thought-provoking book. Only the shallow will describe it as "out of date." One of the truly memorable reading experiences of my life. The movie is also fascinating.Joseph Pierre, USN (Ret)

Let's Never Find Out

by Joseph Pellerin

Nevil Shute offers us a grim picture of nuclear apocalypse - but then again, is there any such thing as a picture of nuclear apocalypse that is not grim? "On the Beach" was written in the late 1950's (Shute, himself, died in 1960), but the action in the book apparently takes place in the mid-60's, a year after the final war has been fought in the northern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere now waits for the inevitable arrival of lethal fallout, which will complete the eradication of all life on earth.A novel of deep irony, "On the Beach" deals with the inhabitants of Australia after the war, who are waiting for the radiation sickness to set in and hoping (though not too deeply) for some kind of reprieve. It is ironic, of course, as we discover that the southern hemisphere never joined the fray - however, it is an effective reminder that in nuclear war, what side one is on or whether one wins or loses are irrelevant questions. We are all on one side, and all of us lose in the end. Although I've heard it billed as a tear-jerker, and I myself did shed a few, it was not an overly emotional book. Mainly, it dealt with the reality of the situation in a matter-of-fact manner - in the end I felt mainly dazed and cold.I'm not in any way a scientist, nor do I have any particular education by which I can judge the accuracy or merit of the story that Shute paints. Perhaps "modern" science has a different prediction of how such a scenario would unfold and end - almost certainly it does. Also, I question whether such an all-out event could likely take place - the events leading up to the war seem contrived and unrealistic. Yet, the point of the novel is not to provide a plausible adventure, but rather to emphasize that we don't know what will happen if the bombs ever fall. At the end of the book, as a father applies a cyanide injection to his child - and as I shed my tears for that - I was reminded that, at the very least, I never want to find out.

What could have been

by J R Zullo

In my opinion, this book is, today, wrongly classified as "science fiction". Being written in 1957, and a product of an incipient Cold War, maybe it was science fiction back in the fifties, but now "On the beach" is more like "apocalyptic fiction".The story is about what could have happened if the northern countries decided to strike nuclear attacks on each other in 1961. Two years later, the whole upper part of the globe has fallen under the radioative cloud, ant there's no one left. Because of the wind patterns, this dooming cloud is slowly reaching southern countries like Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.Dwight Towers is the commander of one of the two remaining submarines existent in the US Navy, now based on Melbourne. There, he meets Moira Davidson, a young alcoholic woman, and her two friends, Australian navy-man Peter Holmes and his wife, Mary, and they have to cope with, literally, the end of the world."On the beach" is not an action book, and it's not about heroic achievements to save what remains of Earth. This is a book of sorrow and regret. Nevil Shute's characters can be divided between those who have accepted their terrible fate, and those who will deny it until the end. That's what is most interesting, and most depressive too.Not a long book, "On the beach" seems to drag on for the first three-quarters, only setting a gray but necessary background, but the final chapters are like the water running down the drain in an emptying sink: twisty, fast-paced and hypnotic. Yes, hypnotic is a good word. The reader will keep reading, trying himself to look for ways out, only to discover that sometimes reality is more powerful than imagination."On the beach" is sad all the way. In fact, the title alone is very depressive, once the reader understand its meaning, disclosed on a poem in the first page, and in the very last line. But it is also a powerful reading, one that will stick to the reader's mind after the book is finished. And, after all, this surely could have happened; in fact, Nevil Shute could have been a prophet. We all have to be grateful that he wasn't.Grade 8.8/10

Dead World Walking

by Julee Rudolf "book snob"

Having been published over fifty years ago (long before Al Gore "took the initiative in creating the Internet"), On the Beach is a bit dated. But the story, that of the survivors of a nuclear war, seems eerily realistic. The book begins on December 27, 1962, about a year after the end of the "short war," (p 9) "the Russian-NATO war, that had in turn been born of the Israeli-Arab war, initiated by Albania," and the "use of cobalt bombs by both the Russians and the Chinese..." during which (p 61) "about four thousand seven hundred" nuclear bombs were dropped. Only the inhabitants of Australia (where the story is set) and Antarctica have been spared death by radiation poisoning.Royal Australian Navy LCDR Peter Holmes is posted "as liaison officer in U.S.S. Scorpion" under the command of thirty-three-year-old Submarine Commander Dwight Lionel Towers, U.S.N. Towers, former resident of Mystic, Connecticut is a bit of a paradoxical character. He believes in doing things by the book, and that "One ha[s] to live in the new world and do one's best, forgetting about the old," yet seems certain that he will one day be reunited with his (undoubtedly deceased) wife and two children. The Holmes family (Peter, Mary and baby Jennifer) invites Towers to their place one weekend and asks their neighbor, twenty-four year old Moira Davidson, to "Keep him occupied..." Of their future (the radiation is expected to arrive less than a year later), she tells him, (p 30) "It's like waiting to be hung," and (p 31) "It's not that I'm afraid of dying...It's all the things I'm going to have to miss..." But her attitude and behavior become more positive as her feelings for Towers become stronger. Holding fast to his idea of a perfect family reunion, Towers struggles a bit in maintaining an appropriate relationship with Davidson. Rounding out the cast is a relative of Moira, civilian scientific officer, John Seymour Osborne, who is hired to go on a submarine cruise to (p 39) "make observations and keep records of radioactive levels..." during which the actions of one crewmember are especially memorable, the mission being undertaken in part due to (p 29) "...radio transmission still coming from someplace near Seattle."Alternately resigned to, and in denial of their fate, the Holmes' create a wonderful garden, Towers readies to see his family, and Osborne, prepares for the race of his life. Especially chilling is the various characters' contemplation of the use of suicide pills. On the Beach is a powerful, unsettling look about the aftermath of a nuclear war. Also good: Voices of Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich.

Well-behaved Australians face nuclear doom

by Kim Boykin

This postapocalyptic novel from the 1950s is an interesting exploration of the reactions of some Australians who will be among the last human beings hit by the fallout spreading south after nuclear devastation in the Northern Hemisphere.My husband, who'd read this book when it came out, found it chilling and frightening, which I didn't particularly, perhaps because I've read so much postapocalyptic science fiction. But also, I found an odd sort of hope in the way some of the characters dealt with living in the face of impending death. I thought there should have been more social chaos and more extreme insanity and despair as the end came near, but the reactions of this bunch of 1960s Australian middle-class white folks did seem plausible.The movie "On the Beach," starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, is good too and follows the book closely.I also highly recommend Nevil Shute's "A Town Like Alice."

Slow but somehow fascinating

by Kristine Cook "affirmationchick"

I was very torn when figuring out what to articulate about this book. On one hand, nothing happened, with the highlight being the submarine trip to Seattle. On the other hand, the nothing was somehow interesting. I won't say I walked away invested in the characters, but they were enjoyable enough to watch move about their lives. I agree with other reviews that say the world was very oversimplified -- crime would be rampant and hardly anyone would have any motivation for going to work -- but at the same time, their actions planning for a future they didn't plan to live spoke volumes about the necessity for hope within humans.Overall, worth the read for post-apocalyptic or old science fiction fans who aren't expecting a great deal of action.

A classic in the field...

by K. Stevenson "ancient_mariner"

A classic in the field of apocalyptic fiction, I'm not sure why I put off reading it for so long.... until I read it. Quite depressing. The denialism and fatalism in this story written at the height of the Cold War makes me very very glad that that period of history is over. Our children, of course, have other end-of-the-world worries, but slowly dying of radiation isn't one of them (not that the nuclear weapons are gone.. we just don't think about them which is another form of denialism, I guess).I wonder why the idea of hiding out in radiation proof bunkers (ala Farnham's Freehold by Heinlein) wasn't explored by Shute. Five years was all they needed for the radiation to dissipate... surely SOME people could've survived that long underground. Stoically facing ones doom is a bit more "English" I suppose.. stiff upper lip and all that...I enjoyed the story, highly recommend it, and suggest that if you like Shute's style, thatA Town Like Aliceis another enjoyable read.

Arguably the most significant of the nuclear holocaust novels

by Lawrance M. Bernabo

"On the Beach" was one of the first novels to describe what the aftermath of a nuclear war would be like, although the genre of post-apocalyptic novels goes back at least to Robert Cromie's "The Crack of Doom" in 1895. Edgar Rice Burroughs's Martians used radium bullets in 1912's "A Princess of Mars" and Upton Sinclair's 1924 novel "The Millennium: A Comedy of the Year 2000" involved atomic weapons. J.B. Priestly's "The Doomsday Men" in 1938 used radioactive material to disrupt the earth's crust. There was a nuclear war in the background of George Orwell's "1984," and the same can be said for the Ray Bradbury collection of short stories, "The Martian Chronicles."Nevil Shute's "On the Beach" was published in 1957, which was the same year that the Soviets launched Sputnik and Nikita Khrushchev boasted of a super bomb that could melt the polar icecaps. That might explain why this became the most prominent nuclear war novel of the decade, if not for that entire generation. Shute quotes T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" on the title page with the famous lines "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper," and indeed the novel is not about surviving the war but awaiting the end of the world. Given what we now know about nuclear winter, Shute's pessimism is actually somewhat understated, but that does not make it any the less disturbing."On the Beach" is set in Australia, two years after the war of which all anybody knows is that it put so much radioactive fallout into the atmosphere that there are eight months left before it reaches Down Under, where humanity is making its last stand. Unlike books like "Alas, Babylon" by Pat Frank in 1959, which deal primarily with how people try to keep on living civilized lives in the wake of an all-out nuclear exchange, "On the Beach" is about facing the inevitable end. Jonestown was still a couple of decades away and the story of the mass suicides at Massada was a minor historical footnote, so when the book was published there was nothing to color the horror of a continent of human beings choosing to end their lives with pills rather than succumb to the slow death by radiation poisoning (for that matter, there was not an active cultural debate on euthanasia either). There might not be anything more unrealistic in the novel than the idea that the scientific inevitable of the coming radiation is universally accepted. Yet that is a major factor in creating the depressing nature of the novel.The focus of the novel is on a group of characters. Scientist John Osborne provides the necessary scientific details while tuning his racing car for the world's last Grand Prix. Peter and Mary Holmes are spending their final days taking care of their baby daughter and planning a garden they will never live to see. Their friend Moira Davidson chooses to sedate herself by constantly drinking, until she meets Dwight Towers, captain of the U.S.S. Scorpion, which makes him the highest ranking officer in what is left of the U.S. Navy. The two are able to provide some comfort for each other, but Towers still heeds the call to duty. When a mysterious message is received, being transmitted from Seattle where it is assumed every one is dead, Towers takes his submarine back to see if there is still reason to hope as time runs out.Part of the problem with this novel is that most readers come to it after seeing the powerful 1959 film made by director Stanley Kramer, with its haunting use of the song "Waltzin' Matilda" and its insistent warning that "It's Not Too Late, Brother!" Shute's characters are much less compelling on the page and the screenwriters were remarkably faithful to many of the key elements of the novel so you do not really get the sense of reading it to get more of the story. There are those who complain that what little Shute has to saw about the war and its weapons of mass destruction does not make sense, but as was the case with the television movie "The Day After" such concerns are negligible because both narratives need the war to allow them to tell their stories. Paying attention to the details definitely misses the larger picture here.Ultimately, "On the Beach" is more important historically than it is critically. This is not great literature, but it inspired many of the post-nuclear war novels that followed, such as Peter Bryant's "Two Hours to Doom" (which later became "Dr. Strangelove"), Helen Clarkson's "The Last Day," and John Brunner's "The Brink." If you have to choose between the two, watch the movie rather than read the book. But if you are a student of this genre, then you have to read this book simply because of its impact in this field. It is for that reason that I round up on this one.

original and thought-provoking...

by lazza

I had feared 'On the Beach' would be a overly macabre post-apocalytical (nuclear war) story since it was written back in the early years of the cold war when folks were scrambling to build their personalized bomb shelters. But in fact Nevil Shute writes a story that is compassionate and largely realistic. Despite being written fifty years ago 'On the Beach' feels very fresh and topical. And the author was clearly a fine writer. The prose and characterizations are uniformly excellent.Now back to the story, we have a small town in southern Australia waiting for the radiation from the nuclear fallout of WW III to arrive and ultimately kill everyone (..the rest of the world has been wiped out, with only the folks in the remote southern hemisphere still unaffected). We have several families trying to get on with normal life knowing their days are numbered. These people are experiencing the width and breadth of life: parents tending to young children, people still desperating wanting love, and those who have recently lost loved ones. Yes, the ending is what you might expect. Yet amongst all the tragedy the author had his characters behaving in a dignified fashion, which is my only quibble with the book. I would have expected more chaos and panic.Bottom line: a sobering yet slightly sugar-coated view of mankind dying off planet Earth. Strongly recommended.




Utterly depressing

by Linda "Mom of 5"

It's impossible to say that I enjoyed this book. How can one enjoy a book about the end of humanity? Most of the people in the world are already dead when the book begins and those remaining in southernmost Australia, South America and South Africa are just waiting for the inevitable fallout to get to them. They know it is coming and there is nothing they can do about it. This is the depressing part. The upbeat part, if you can really call it that, is the way the inhabitants of Melbourne go on with their lives - working at jobs that really don't matter anymore, planting gardens they will never be able to harvest, building fences to keep in livestock that will soon be gone, going to school to learn skills they will never be able to use, etc. They don't just roll over and play dead. They don't go looting all the stores and stealing everything. If fact, merchants more often than not just let people have what they need without payment at all. To me the best part of this book is the grace with which most of the people accepted their fate. Though I still like 'Alas Babylon' better, this is a very good book too.

A very interesting and possible take on a nuclear apocalypse

by Margaret Fiore

This novel gives a very possible, and frighteningly probable, view of the way things could easily end up, as small and unstable countries enter the growing club of nuclear armament. The most eery (yet unfortunately difficult to swallow) aspect of the book is the refusal by many of the supposedly intelligent characters to truly absorb the reality of the situation. Bit by bit, over the space of a couple of years, radiation is slowly drifting across the equator from the heavily bombed, destroyed, and radioactive northern continents, to invade and kill the southern half of the globe in turn. But people continue to plan for the future, and act as though that future will come.Unfortunately, the characters are so 2-dimensional, and act such trite and ordinary roles, that they failed to come alive for me. I never could quite believe in their reactions, either. That they could so fully split their consciousness of the approaching radiation from the actions of their daily life boggled my mind, and blew my suspension of disbelief.Sorry. Great concept, unconvincingly executed.

Read this only if in a good place emotionally

by Mark Wilsonwood

Not a story to be read if you're feeling down; certainly not if you're depressed. If I could use just one word to describe the tone of the story, it's "melancholy". Pretty much start to finish.But within that overall tone is a page-turning story, and a very unusual one. From a technical/scientific viewpoint, it's probably quite flawed. (Also from a sociological viewpoint; I had a hard time accepting the lack of societal turmoil).But I didn't care about these flaws. It was a gripping story, and I will read it again soon.

On the Beach: Style As Metaphor

by Martin Asiner

Stories that deal with the the end of the world often suggest that end through the style of the author. Those who have read ON THE BEACH often complain of the deadening weight of a style that is long on sensory description but short on memorable character interaction. Yet, that is precisely the point that author Nevil Shute wants to make of his apocalyptic view of worldwide nuclear death. By the time the book begins, the plot mechanism has already been set. A nuclear war has broken out, with most of the world's major centers of population put to the torch. The reader does not see this; in fact he hears about it only second hand. The stark impression that Shute draws comes mostly from dialogue with surviving Australians, who have as yet been untouched by the clouds of killing radiation that have swept the rest of the world. Unlike other post-war dramas, this one shows the aftermath, survivors who decide when and how to react in their respective ways. The primary focus is on American submarine commander Dwight Towers, who has successfully landed his sub in an Australian port. He strikes up a relation with a local woman, Moira Davidson, and they are well aware that the nuclear clock is ticking on their lives. The immunity that Australia has had is but temporary. The radiation that has spread worldwide is now slowly infiltrating their air. The dramatic center of the book is not so much human-based, but idea-based. Dwight and Moira, and other couples in the book, carry on as best they can, but the only real choice left to all of them is when to end their lives via suicide pills before the poison cloud does that for them. It is noteworthy what they do before they take the death pills. Most simply do what they have always done, the normal mundane things that marked so much of their pre-war lives. A few do dangerous things like driving in races that produce fatalities for most of the drivers. The unspoken point that Shute makes and many readers miss is the connection between what he says and how he says it. The end of the world and all life is truly a desensitizing concept. Shute's style of excessive detail and lack of human interaction suggest the feelings of the major characters. Dwight, Moira. and the others are both physically and psychologically disconnected from one another. By the end of the novel, they are dead or dying. The gap between a still surviving Dwight and Moira is emphasized by his decision to spend his last day on earth sinking his sub with all hands aboard rather than spend that last day together. ON THE BEACH is truly a depressing novel that shows the physical interactions between the dead and dying as less important than their psychic distancing. Sometimes, the expression of fear and gloom are better understood by focusing on how the characters feel rather than on what they do. No one ever said that a writing style must be perky.

A must-read book

by meiringen "meiringen"

This book, written in 1957, has not lost any of its shocking power.It tells the tale of a diverse, doomed group of people in Australia, after a nuclear war leaves them in the only safe place in the world. They know they are to die soon, and how each person copes with the situation is the core of the story.How mankind got to this place in history is also explored, and the quote from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" (used on the title page) is right on the mark:"In this last of meeting placesWe grope togetherAnd avoid speechGathered on this beach of the tumid river...""This is the way the world ends--This is the way the world ends.This is the way the world endsNot with a bang but a whimper."Powerful stuff. A must-read book.

Happy Story Amid Saddest Hours

by Miami Bob "Resurgent Reading"

Futuristic novels dealing with life after man's cruelty to man devastation through nuclear spill out ordinarily depict men as beasts in anarchy and don them names like Mad Max. Such is not this novel.Instead, this novel takes a really different perspective of an awful event. It is a love story amid the tropics of Australia among soldiers and demoiselles, and all in the light of love to which not one scene involves illicit sexual contact, or even context.Written primarily for dialogue, this is more a screenplay than novel. The characters are rich and pure, and the flippant Moira's flirtatious remarks and cunning witticisms make the otherwise stark and droll man-in-her eye, Cmdr. Dwight Towers, acceptable. She carries almost all scenes, and her positive attitudes in life or world measured by months, then weeks, then hours, are true to the end.Although I may have given away the ending, this story is really aTitanicon an epic proportion. Love can grow even in the worst moments in man's history. And, even the little palpitations of certain people's hearts are worth reading about - and are more fun than having someone spew for countless pages about the reasons why man would destroy all humanity. And, to Nevil Shute's credit, he rarely discusses why or never philosophizes about how come. Instead, this is a man meets girl, man "kind of" gets girl (and vice versa), and man and girl lose each other and selves . . . story.The Australian relaxed atmosphere of enjoying life to the fullest adds to the contrarian view of this seemingly morbid topic. To the end, the people engage in sports and have outings for the simple reason that these events are what men and women live for.Surprised by the novel, except the inevitability of the ending, this book compares to his other great novelA Town Like Alice. Now I need to rent this movie which I can only imagine follows the book which is tailored so well for the wide screen

The end of mankind.

by Michael G. "mikefromrochester"

Nevil Shute's On the Beach is a post-apocalyptic novel written in 1957 but set in 1963. The worst has already occurred. The majority of human life has been destroyed by nuclear warfare before the narrative begins. Only people living in the farthest reaches of the the southern hemisphere remain alive. They too will all be dead in a matter of months as the unstoppable cloud of deadly radiation ultimately covers the entire planet.The novel features a number of Australian characters as well as an American submarine captain. As doomsday approaches, their lives are touchingly described. On the Beach contains some interesting scenarios and there are many moments of poignancy especially in the final pages.Much of the narrative contains accounts of everyday life as the characters strive to go about their business as if the end weren't just around the corner. Since everyday life isn't all that exciting, these portions of the book may be seen as rather dull. It's just very hard to write about the mundaneness of day to day existence without being a little bit boring.All in all, an interesting and thought provoking take on the doomsday novel. Haunting in its simplicity.

Mull over this: 'Everyone gets it, in the end.'

by M-I-K-E 2theD "2theD"

On the Beach is emotionally tolling from the first thirty pages. The cast know the radiated dust is circling the planet bound ever further south towards the southern coast of Australia, yet the families still continue their mundane bucolic existence. Each chapter brings the plot and people closer and closer to the inevitable death via emesis and diarrhea. It's not a pretty death but each can choose each owns idiosyncratic death before the Big Death comes along.Families plant gardens ready to bloom next year, the hardware store still charges for items and the farm animals must continue to be fed. Dealing with tragedy is to act as if the inevitable is but a whispered fib, an unlikely conclusion or a passing fad. While the facts of global death from radiation, the radio silence from the northern hemisphere and the absence of life from submariner observation, the families talk lightly of the September death, the slow death, the inevitable death. It's painful to read the passages where the logistics of baby Jennifer must be discussed and when the topic of `taking the pill' when it becomes too agonizing.Shute writes with a dash good vocabulary, a wide range of commonplace activities, the light conversations dealing with death and the infusion of banal details surrounding auto racing, fly fishing and gardening. Even while knowing that this book was once a serialized publication, I found most of the nine chapters to be very lengthy, devoid of stoppages, section breaks. It's not a very artsy novel, the passages aren't very well structured and it's mostly a flat novel dotted with a sinking depression bringing the reader near tears. For that feat alone, Shute merits a high rating.

Maybe the subject matter depressed him too much!

by Owen Hughes

This is a poor effort by a very good writer. Leaving "On the Beach" to one side, Nevil Shute is a writer who does a tradesman-like job, and can normally be counted on for a good story with an interesting background to it. This book must have been suggested to him by his publisher or something of the kind. Perhaps he was obliged to write it, for some contractual reason or other. It does not even come close to his other books, some of which are minor classics of mid-twentieth century literature (although usually disdained by the intelligentsia as not being literature of any kind).I suppose the subject matter is such that the book is worth reading anyway. If you are willing to fumble and stumble along with the ups and downs of the writing, the story is not, historically, without interest. Yet I don't think many readers will be terribly convinced by the poor plot and simplistic characters. It's a facile book that I can't imagine Shute himself being very proud of, in spite of its relative success (due no doubt, to the film).

"Not With a Bang"

by Paul Camp

In _In Search of Wonder_ (1967), Damon Knight devotes a chapter to "amphibians"-- mainstream authors who write a science fiction novel and then go back to what they were doing before. Some examples of amphibious books are Aldous Huxley's _Brave New World_ (1932), Bernard Wolfe's _Limbo_ (1952), Gore Vidal's _Messiah_ (1954), Pat Frank's _Alas, Babylon_ (1959), Anthony Burgess's _A Clockwork Orange_ (1962), Pierre Boulle's _Planet of the Apes_ (1963), William Burroughs's _Nova Express_ (1964), John Barth's _Giles Goat-Boy_ (1966), and Marge Piercy's _Woman on the Edge of Time_ (1976). Many amphibious novels are in fact more literate and original than a lot of genre science fiction.Is _On the Beach_ (1957) an amphibious novel? Knight argues-- and I concur-- that it is not. There are a few superficial resemblances to science fiction; but unlike the novels listed above, it is not really steeped in science fiction traditions. It is closer to such books as William Golding's _Lord of the Flies_ (1954), B.F. Skinner's _Walden Two_ (1948), Mordecai Roshwald's _Level Seven_ (1959), or Eugene Budrick and Harvey Wheeler's _Fail Safe_ (1962)-- novels that are eccentric but which were conceived and written as some kind of mainstream novel.Is it a good novel? You might think that a novel showing the world ending "not with a bang/ But with a whimper" is not a very promising proposition. But Shute is a writer who knows how things work. He knows how submarines and sailboats and Ferraris work. He knows what the best tires are for wagons and why cars are sometimes pulled with horses. He knows how to read a Geiger counter. He knows how Navy bureaucracy operates and what hard decisions politicians sometimes make. He knows the routine of running a farm or tending a garden. He knows why suddenly socks must be darned and shirts must be mended. He knows what a postwar church service would be like. He knows what drinks not to mix together, and he knows the best wines to drink from the wine cellar. He knows how the trade winds circle, blowing radiation ever southward. He knows the symptoms of radiation sickness, measles, and cyanide poisoning.He does not know any more than his characters how World War III began, but he-- like the characters-- knows how it _might_ have begun. How there was a Russian plan for a Siberian- Shanghai railroad, and how this plan, incredibly, might have led to a war where split second decisions were made-- a war in which nobody could risk refraining from using kilotons of nuclear weapons. (Shute had been an areonautical engineer who knew a lot about weapons. This section, in spite of its speculative nature, rings very true.)He knows why people do certain things. He knows why some people try to escape into drink, others into the routine of work, and others into family affairs. He appreciates why some people do not want to watch movies except when they are drunk. He understands why some people still think of their dead family as alive, and why others might become morbidly obsessed with death.Shute draws you into the world of these people who desperately want to continue to live normal lives-- but who know that their hopes are futile. But... would things really wind down as quietly as we see it portrayed in _On the Beach_? No rioting in the streets? No breakdown of civil order? Just a few decent people accepting their lot with stiff upper lips? I don't know. Shute writes so well that he makes you _believe_ that it could happen this way, but I Have My Doubts. In any event, _On the Beach_ is certainly a fine book that holds up very well, even after a period of almost 50 years.

As Great as when I read it first, over fifty years ago

by Peter D. Springberg "retired M.D., now an author"

This a superb rendering of the end of humanity. If you read one book this year, it should be On the Beach.

Facing the End of the World

by Plume45 "kitka12345"

Shute's 1957 best seller about the grim danger of nuclear war which stalks man's very existence will shake up the most complacent reader. Written during the Cold War, it is a stirring plea for sanity among governmental superpowers, for they alone have the dreaded capability to actually destroy the world. Yet the plot develops with sincere concern for the Human aspect of this horrific catastrophe. Starkly chilling the story chronicles the last six months of Life on our planet for the people living and stationed in Australia-the southernmost section, near Melbourne. By the time the novel opens, nuclear war has wiped out human life in the entire Northern Hemisphere; it is just a matter of time before global winds shift patterns to carry the radioactive cobalt particles into the Southern Hemisphere. Annihilation by gradual but inexorable Contamination, which is our own fault!.How humanity copes with impending and inevitable death make a sobering tale; each character demonstrates his/her own foibles, suffers denial phases, and invents ways to deal with the end-not only of their own lives, but all human kind on the planet. Readers will mourn not just the character whom we come to care about, but also the needless and painful fate of man. The animals would survive longer, but eventually succumb to the poisoned air, water and vegetation. By the time Earth would again be habitable (20 years hence) there would be no humans alive to enjoy or revive it. Not because of an alien invasion or an act of God, but because of our own arrogant and bellicose stupidity.Dwight Towers is the highest ranking US Naval officer, currently commanding one of the last two submarines; still considering himself married and a family man, he does everything by the book-Navy to the end. Australia has ordered native Peter Holmes to serve as Liaison Officer for Dwight as the ship explores, with great circumspection, the remains of the deserted US and other coastal area which have gone silent. Peter's wife, Mary, is concerned mainly about their little house in the country and their young baby. Her girlfriend, Moira, is invited to a party to help keep Dwight occupied; seems it's difficult for Northern Hemisphere types to keep their cool in Australia, where life still maintains some degree of normalcy. John Osborne is a scientist assigned to check the levels of radiation during the two-month recon cruise, though he would much prefer to enjoy his private pride--a Ferrari--while he sill can. One by one our friends succumb to death by radiation sickness--many opting to take a cyanide pill calmly in their favorite settings. One of which proves to be on the beach.This terrifying cautionary tale reveals man's futile attempts to salvage the future which he unthinkingly destroyed;the dark plot development focuses on the last efforts of humanity to preserve the dignity of the species and its once bright accomplishments.

There are many better post-apocalyptic novels out there

by P. Nicholas Keppler "rorscach12"

On the Beach by Nevil Shute is one of many post-apocalyptic novels conceived during the Cold War. The story is not, however, set in one of the countries that was a major figure in the nuclear arms race, but in Australia where, following an atomic armageddon that engulfed most of the rest of the world, a nation awaits the global airstreams to bring upon them the lethal fall-out let loose by massive nuclear detonation. Some turn to alcohol and other vices; some follow their usual routines, denying the inevitable poisoning and some vow to live each remaining moment to its fullest. It is certainly an interesting premise. Sadly, Mr. Shute proves himself unfit to explore it aptly.I was surprised to read that the author had written more than a dozen novels before On the Beach because the book is so amateurish. Unimportant details are given overwhelming emphasis, use of description to color a scene is basically absent, and never is the novel given any noticeable tone. On the Beach would have benefited greatly from a major revision, one that would perhaps add some flavor and depth to it. With so many stronger post-apocalyptic novels still in print (A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller Jr., Earth Abides by George R. Stuart, The Last Ship by William Brinkley, Alas Babylon by Pat Frank) this monotonous, poorly written book should be disregarded.

Cold war fiction at its best.

by Ratmammy "The Ratmammy"

On The Beach is the story of the results of a nuclear war and the last days left for those that survived it. The war pretty much has annihilated the Northern Hemisphere, with the remaining population living mostly in Austrailia, where most of the story takes place. We watch as these people, knowing that their time is limited due to the "nuclear cloud" that is slowly drifting towards the southern hemisphere, live their last months to their fullest. We have the Navy, headed by the Austrailians and one American, sailing to the north in search of survivors of this war. We have people like you and I, living in Austrailia, going about their every day lives, living as if there IS a tomorrow, as if there IS a next year. The tension increases as the story heads towards the end, and the reader knows there is no mistaking what that end would be.There is no blood or gore in this post-nuclear war story. If you want that, rent MAD MAX. This book is about people living every day,knowing that their lives are about to be cut short. It's about people dying with dignity. And it's about the devastation of war, and the stupidity that can cause a nuclear war in our own futures.Nevil Shute's ON THE BEACH is a classic. If you want to read a great nuclear war/end of the world book written before the end of the Cold War, this is it.

Terrible and Beautiful

by Ravenskya "Princess of Horror"

This book is beautiful, beautiful in a sad and heart wrenching way... like finding a dead butterfly. The world is winding down; an all out nuclear war has ravaged and wiped out the entire northern hemisphere. Those who weren't claimed by the bombs themselves died from the radiation. The southern hemisphere waits patiently for their time, as the radiation sweeps slowly southward, taking with it town after town.In southern Australia the last of the large cities prepares for their demise. One of two remaining American Nuclear Submarines has made it and it's crew reports in to the Australian Armed forces.This book mainly follows two men, Peter Holmes an Australian in the Navy who is a new father, and Dwight Towers, an American Commander of the Submarine "Scorpion," a refugee in Australia. Peter is assigned to Dwight's submarine as the Australian Liaison, however the military aspect of this novel is truly nothing but background. This is a book about people, who know that death is swiftly approaching through the air and that there is nothing they can do to stop it. At the start of the book it is December 27th, and the radiation is due to reach them in September. We follow several members of the town as they work to go on with their daily lives all the while knowing that everything will be ending. Some live in a state of denial, planting gardens they will not live to see bloom, others attempt to live out what fantasies they can, racing fast cars with reckless abandon. Still others accept what is coming and live their lives the best they can.This is a story of quiet desperation, terror, acceptance and the decision to die with dignity. The writing style is fine, though not brilliant, perhaps this is because of the time it was written in, or perhaps Shute's idea was grander than his literary ability. Some of the words were awkward, which I simply attributed to my not knowing Australian slang, also many of the male characters can come across as fairly detached while the women verge on a touch of insanity. I contribute this to the fact that it was written in the 1950's when the men were expected to be both strong and reserved, and the women were still considered the "weaker sex." There is also a deep rooted sense of morality and duty that courses through the novel, there is no looting, rioting, or mass pandemonium, rather we see a quite resolve, camaraderie and sense of dignity.Many have said this novel brought them to tears, though I can see my mom bawling if she read this, I did not cry, instead I found myself feeling empty, disturbed, and emotionally drained. There is no action in this book, save a car race, so if you are looking for fighting, explosions, and mutilations, look elsewhere. This is instead a powerful study of what those last days could be like. I wish they made books like this required reading in school, the next generation might think a little harder.

The End of Days...

by R S Cobblestone

What would you do if you knew that, in 6 months, everyone you know would be dead? That every human being on this planet would be dead? That every animal on this planet would be dead?Would you go to work? Plan on the birth of a child? Plant a tree that won't produce fruit for five years? Follow the fishing rules? Would you make sure your cows would be fed in the weeks following your death? Worry about marriage? Drink yourself into oblivion? Would your feelings toward religion or nationality change? Would you accept a check for a purchase? Would garbage be collected? Would you start college?Would you decide to end life on your own terms?In On The Beach, by Nevil Shute, these questions and others must be addressed. There was a war. It really doesn't mattered who started it, or why. The result is that many areas in the northern hemisphere were turned into radioactive wastelands, and a planet-wide plume of dangerous radioactive particles is slowing, but surely, covering every square inch of the planet.There is no escape. The fatality rate is 100%. The plume will eventually reach 100% of the human population. As radio signals stop transmitting, survivors can predict the location of the deadly plume and its proximity to them. As certain as the sun rises and sets, the plume continues its journey.This is the story of the humans left alive in one of the last places on Earth untouched by the radioactive plume: Melbourne, Australia. An American submarine captain, an Australian navy commander and his wife, a local woman living with her father on his farm, and a CSIRO scientist with a passion for fast cars have their lives, and deaths, intertwined.This book was written in the 1950s, and the Cold War was in full bloom. Shute mixes the pessimism of any future with the nobility of the human spirit. You will be depressed, and your mind will be pleading for another ending, any kind of miracle, a technological advance, or a safe haven that will allow these kind people to live.There is no escape. The deadly radioactive plume has no intelligence, no soul. No United Federation of Planets appears to save humanity from themselves.Humbling, sobering, and haunting. How would I behave?I hope I never have to know...

immensely depressing

by Ruth

After nuclear war wipes out the Northern hemisphere, the radiation gradually creeps South, killing everything in its path. In Melbourne (at the time, the world's southernmost city), people realize they have only a few months to live, that there is no escape, and they sit and wait to die. Pretty grim. Of course, everyone is just finding ways to fill in the time and distract themselves. ...'On the beach' has been quoted widely with regards to Australians referring to England as 'home' even though they'd never been there. It's the only time I've ever come across that phenomenon. I actually found that these 1950s Australians quite familiar and interesting: much more British than Australians nowadays, still in that stiff duty mode from the second world war, and facing certain death. I think the listless writing style was very successful in conveying the sense of despair and doom.It's a powerful novel, profound probably, and quite awful.

The end of the World

by Sailoil

When he wrote this novel the end of the world in a nuclear holocaust was a very real prospect. Time has passed, and the nuclear threat has receeded. The expectation is that "On the Beach" would become terribly dated as a result.But it is not. The reason may be that Shute concentrated his novel on the people, on how they cope with the end of the world, rather than on the technology, the how and the why.As time goes by the radiation spirals further and further south to threaten the Australians. In response they attempt to go about their business with what normality they can muster. The book raises the interesting questions over how each of us might act when death comes knocking on the door. Do you want to go out in a blaze of glory, vent your anger at fate, or curl up in your own bed and sleep the end away?A great read, it stands the test of time.

On the Beach 1957

by Sam Adams

Plot Kernel - The people within a small town in Australia cope with the certainty that a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere has created enough radioactive fallout to blanket the Earth and annihilate all animal life upon it. It is only a matter of weather currents and time before they too will fall ill and die.

On the Beach

by Spider Monkey

`On the Beach' is one of the best books I have read in quite some time. Not only is it exceptionally well written, but it is gripping and moving as well.After a global war and the northern hemisphere being wiped out by nuclear bombs, the people of Australia are waiting as the radiation cloud slowly makes it's way towards them. An American submarine captain is stranded in Australia and makes friends with his Australian naval colleagues and with a young woman who reminds him of his wife who perished back in America. You follow them as they prepare for the worst and how they go about their lives in the last few months.One thing I found especially refreshing about this book is that everyone is remarkably civil to one another and law and order hasn't broken down. The main menace comes from the approaching radiation cloud, rather than the breakdown of society. It is thoughtful without being maudlin and the last fifty pages or so were especially moving and handled with great sensitivity. You finish the book feeling both saddened and satisfied which is truly the mark of excellent writing.I was surprised just how well this was written. Shute writes with rich descriptions that make you conjure the images up in your head instantly and fully engage with the story and characters. It moves at a decent pace and although the chapters are quite long, you can't help but read through them in large chunks until you reach the shattering conclusion. This left me feeling profoundly affected and I'm sure it will stay with me for a long time to come and I will revisit it at some point down the line. It is highly praised for good reason and I happily add my endorsement to this gripping and affecting novel.Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.

A Singular Vision

by Stephen Hitchings

This book was published when I was about 2 years old and it has taken me over half a century to get round to reading it. Better late than never.No need to rehash the plot - too many reviewers have already done that.It is a very impressive book, for several reasons.Shute was no prose stylist - some of the writing is actually rather poor - but he knew how to tell a good story. The book is very readable and even compelling, the kind you can read in one sitting if you have the time, and yet there is no real suspense. In some ways, it almost reads more as a history than a novel, but this actually seems to increase the impact.Most unusually, for a book about a group of people facing their own deaths and the end of humanity, the writing is almost completely unemotional. People go about their business, engage in small talk, and worry about the petty details of life. Although everyone knows what is coming, they accept it calmly. The eeriest detail is that they go on preparing for a future they know will never come and making plans to meet people they know are already dead, even talking about them as if they are still alive, and buying them presents. When they finally begin to succumb to the wave of radiation that they know will destroy them, they simply speak of feeling unwell and voice their hopes that they will soon recover.The ending is calm, like the rest, but it packs quite a punch.Not surprisingly, like so many others, Shute begins the book by quoting the end of Eliot's "The Hollow Men". The quote is particularly appropriate here.Despite all this, two things bothered me. One is that no one even thinks of going underground and converting railway tunnels or below-ground garages into fallout shelters. Since it is clear that the radiation will eventually settle and the population of Australia - and Melbourne in particular - has several months to prepare, why is this not even thought of? It's not as if the idea would have been unknown, even in 1957.The other, more troubling difficulty is the absence of any serious mention of religion. Since threats and tragedies always lead to an increase of religious fervour - witness, for example, the massive increase in church attendance in New York following the Twin Towers disaster - it seems very unrealistic that hardly anyone in this book appears even to think of it, especially since the mid-Twentieth Century was a much more devout time than the early Twenty-First. One character does decide to pop into a church, another says a quick prayer before killing herself, and there is a question about the morality of suicide, but there is never a sense that anyone is giving it much consideration. This makes the tragedy, when it comes, even more poignant.


by Susan Haas

Shute's usual excellent characterizations, and a believable story, but just a bit depressing due to the premise of the possible/probable results of a nuclear war.

The Last Horizon

by sweetmolly

One approaches a classic carefully. Rather than a novel experience, the reader brings preconceptions, prejudices, awe and maybe a whiff of resentment to a well-known book that is not entirely new to him.Mr. Shute delivers a slow-starting novel, liturgically paced with an inexorable conclusion that is with us from page one. This is the power of "On the Beach." It has the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. The characters and the reader self-deceive, twist, hope, pray and promise-all to no avail.I would not call "On the Beach" timeless. The behaviors seem quaint and dated fifty years after the writing of the book. I doubt the characters had much believability even in 1957. Moira Davidson goes from dissolute debauchery to saintly status without even a pause for proper redemption. I can see the lovely Ava Gardner as the Jezebel, but it is quite a stretch to imagine her as St. Bernadette. Mr. Shute casts an American as a central character, but unfortunately he has not much an ear for American speech. For some reason, he believes American men, when addressing marriageable aged women leap from "Miss Davidson" to "honey" and then never call her anything else. (I don't know, maybe "Moira" is hard to pronounce.) Also, I fear Mr. Shute had little affinity for our youngest humans. The Holmes' baby girl Jennifer, was always referred to as "it" by Mr. Shute. These were small irritations, but jarring.Nevertheless, the power of the book is undeniable. There is a certain rightness that the events are larger than the humans involved. The humans respond with an orderliness that is astonishing, but perhaps Mr. Shute was trying to be kind in a very unkind world. Grade: 3-1/2 stars.

Classic post Nuclear War End of World. Depressing

by Thomas Erickson

Years ago I saw On The Beach on TV. It was a good movie but not a great movie. Worth seeing. I wondered how the book would compare.In 1957 at the height of the cold war between the USSR and USA, while both countries stockpiled thousands of megatons of nuclear weapons, Nevil Shute wrote a classic novel about the end of the world after a major nuclear war. Basically the small country of Albania started the nuclear war. China and the USSR exchange nuclear devastation. One plane gets through and knocks out a US city another 2 planes bomb England. The USA retaliates and launches a massive strike against the USSR who did not bomb the US. The USSR retaliates with a massive strike against the USA. Over 4000 North Hemisphere detonations.The innocent Southern Hemisphere did nothing and does not get Nuclear strikes. All human life and most animal life in the Northern Hemisphere is killed by radiation.We see a US Submarine crew in Australia and Australians awaiting the slow drifting of nuclear fallout and death to all coming into the Southern Hemisphere. I wont ruin it for you by telling too much of the story.Parts of the book were poor...like calling baby Jennifer "it" who is dying of radiation poisoning.Lots of red suicide pills given out. The last Grand Prix auto race in Australia is won by a scientist who monitors radiation from the last US submarine. He wins driving a Ferrari he got for next to nothing as its the end of the world.There are really great parts to the book and it is well worth reading. This is a historic 1957 classic sci fi end of the world book. . There are lots of great parts like the race car and the submarine crew finding what is causing a CW transmission in dead Seattle.I found the book kind of depressing. The reader wants to help these people escape approaching death. Death for all is inevitable. There is no escape for anyone. Nevil Shute had the main characters leading a semi normal life to the bitter end. The vast majority of the people did not behave crazy with rape, robbery and mayhem. Of course there is some but the majority of people just wanted to spend their last days with their families and loved ones. Basically Australia went out with a whimper.Just remember that this is still possible. Some little county like North Korea or later Iran could start a nuclear war that gets out of control. We may not have to worry about "Nuclear Winter". The nuclear fallout in the stratosphere could be spread worldwide and if the half life of a cobalt bomb is 5 years we probably could not escape radiation poisoning worldwide from 4000 plus H bombs going off. A frighting book. Read non fiction The Cold and The Dark by Paul R Ehrlich ,Carl Sagan, Donald Kennedy and Walter Orr Roberts about the non survival after a global major nuclear war. An even more chilling "true" book. There would be no long term survival for mankind. Nevil Shute hit it right on in 1957.On The Beach a good book, with a strong story where the reader develops much empathy and sorrow for the dieing characters. Would of given On The Beach 5 stars but it is depressing and I didn't like dying baby Jennifer called "it". Gets you to thinking... this could really happen to us in this crazy world. I pray for peace before its too late. 4 stars and recommended.

The End of the World

by Tom S. "filmfan3"

Nevil Shute wrote this novel 50 years ago, and it is as powerful now as it was then. This story of the last people on earth is simply devastating--in every sense of the word. It amazes me that Shute, an aeronautical engineer who helped Britain design and build nuclear weapons, would sit down 10 years later and produce this horrifying account of the possible effects of his own work. His change of heart is our great gift.As I write this, Cormac McCarthy's novel, THE ROAD, is at the top of the bestseller lists. Read both masterpieces and compare Shute's vision then with McCarthy's vision now, half a century later. The basic premise of both novels is the same: nuclear war, if it comes, will have only one outcome. I hope we will continue to have great artists like this to constantly remind us of that fact. As long as we can still read ON THE BEACH and learn its message, there is still hope.

Three and a half stars.

by Verita "a devoted reader"

The best thing about this book is its premise. The northern hemisphere is completely depopulated -- everyone dead in the aftermath of a nuclear war that is over in a month, and is based on mistakes and misunderstandings among several countries. The southern hemisphere is waiting for the deadly fallout to reach them -- it creeps southward daily as the winds overlap, and people in Melbourne, Australia will be among the last to die, and are given their estimated death date, some months in the future, and meanwhile watch as cities farther north fall silent. After that, the book is a series of characters who are mainly stoical and persevering. They go on with life and parties and work as before.There is too much dialogue, used to convey information, and the speech of the American naval commander almost invariably begins with "Say" or "Why" -- not as a question, but as in, "Why, that's a lovely dress." I don't know if people spoke that way in the early 60s, I think it was the 40s, but it gets a little tedious. In fact, the book gets a little tedious--at one point spending pages describing the last Australian Grand Prix auto race. There's a thwarted love story, that is fairly well done, a bit sappy, but the characters are believable enough. All the characters are believable, but, as another reviewer pointed out, there isn't much variation in their reactions. The mystery of the radio signals coming from Seattle is a complete anticlimax, could have been used for some effect. All in all, a decent read if you love the end-of-the-world genre, but dated.

More compulsory reading for politicians

by W. Weinstein "William Weinstein"

On the Beach is a book about good people caught in an impossible situation. Set in Australia, it tells the story of a diverse group of characters who are waiting to die. The whole Northern hemisphere has been obliterated by nuclear war and the clouds of fallout are drifting slowly southward. While they wait, their characters are gradually revealed, like a painting appearing as years of accumulated grime are carefully wiped away. When this book was written it had an enormous impact. People really believed that a nuclear holocaust was likely, if not inevitable, in their lifetimes. For some years, the threat receded but the events of September 11th 2001 have brought those fears back. The weapons are still in their silos, the submarines are still on their stations. We can but hope that sanity will one day prevail. In any case, this book should be read for its poignancy, its beautiful yet simple plot and its optimism in the face of tragedy.

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