On the Beach

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Overview

The time is 1963. China and Russia have engaged in an all-out nuclear war against each other. The fighting actually begins in Albania and spreads to Tel Aviv, prompting Egypt to unleash a direct assault on London and Washington. The result of this military activity is the total destruction of all life on the northern hemisphere.

ON THE BEACH tells the story of the last survivors, in Australia, waiting resignedly for the globegirdling bands of ...

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Overview

The time is 1963. China and Russia have engaged in an all-out nuclear war against each other. The fighting actually begins in Albania and spreads to Tel Aviv, prompting Egypt to unleash a direct assault on London and Washington. The result of this military activity is the total destruction of all life on the northern hemisphere.

ON THE BEACH tells the story of the last survivors, in Australia, waiting resignedly for the globegirdling bands of radiation to work their way south and swallow the final remaining life on Earth.

This is the classic tale of post-nuclear existence that was made into a stunning film of the 1960's.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“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)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780451022790
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/1960
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nevil Shute Norway was born in 1899 in Ealing, London. He studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. Following his childhood passion, he entered the fledgling aircraft industry as an aeronautical engineer working to develop airships and, later, airplanes. In his spare time he began writing and he published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926, using the name Nevil Shute to protect his engineering career. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they had two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death in 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), A Town Like Alice (1950), and On the Beach (1957).

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Read an Excerpt

On the Beach


By Nevil Shute

Vintage

Copyright © 2010 Nevil Shute
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307473998

CHAPTER ONE

Lieutenant-Commander Peter Holmes of the Royal Australian Navy woke soon after dawn. He lay drowsily for a while, lulled by the warm comfort of Mary sleeping beside him, watching the first light of the Australian sun upon the cretonne curtains of their room. He knew from the sun's rays that it was about five o'clock: very soon the light would wake his baby daughter Jennifer in her cot, and then they would have to get up and start doing things. No need to start before that happened; he could lie a little longer.

He woke happy, and it was some time before his conscious senses realised and pinned down the origin of this happiness. It was not Christmas, because that was over. He had illuminated the little fir tree in their garden with a string of coloured lights with a long lead to the plug beside the fireplace in the lounge, a small replica of the great illuminated tree a mile away outside the Town Hall of Falmouth. They had had a barbecue in the garden on the evening of Christmas Day, with a few friends. Christmas was over, and this-his mind turned over slowly-this must be Thursday the 27th. As he lay in bed the sunburn on his back was still a little sore from their day on the beach yesterday, and from sailing in the race.. He would do well to keep his shirt on today. And then, as consciousness came fully to him, herealised that of course he would keep his shirt on today. He had a date at eleven o'clock in the Second Naval Member's office, in the Navy Department up in Melbourne. It meant a new appointment, his first work for five months. It could even mean a seagoing job if he were very lucky, and he ached for a ship again.

It meant work, anyway. The thought of it had made him happy when he went to sleep, and his happiness had lasted through the night. He had had no appointment since he had been promoted lieutenant-commander in August and in the circumstances of the time he had almost given up hope of ever working again. The Navy Department, however, had maintained him on full pay throughout these months, and he was grateful to them.

The baby stirred, and started chuntering and making little whimpering noises. The naval officer reached out and turned the switch of the electric kettle on the tray of tea things and baby food beside the bed, and Mary stirred beside him. She asked the time, and he told her. Then he kissed her, and said, "It's a lovely morning again."

She sat up, brushing back her hair. "I got so burned yesterday. I put some calamine stuff on Jennifer last night, but I really don't think she ought to go down to the beach again today." Then she, too, recollected. "Oh Peter, it's today you're going up to Melbourne, isn't it ?"

He nodded. "I should stay at home, have a day in the shade."

"I think I will."

He got up and went to the bathroom. When he came back Mary was up, too; the baby was sitting on her pot and Mary was drawing a comb through her hair before the glass. He sat down on the edge of the bed in a horizontal beam of sunlight, and made the tea.

She said, "It's going to be very hot in Melbourne today, Peter. I thought we might go down to the club about four, and you join us there for a swim. I could take the trailer and your bathers."

They had a small car in the garage, but since the short war had ended a year previously it remained unused. However, Peter Holmes was an ingenious man and good with tools, and he had contrived a tolerable substitute. Both Mary and he had bicycles. He had built a small two-wheeled trailer using the front wheels of two motor bicycles, and he had contrived a trailer hitch on both Mary's bicycle and his own so that either could pull this thing, which served them as a perambulator and a general goods carrier. Their chief trouble was the long hill up from Falmouth.

He nodded. "That's not a bad idea. I'll take my bike and leave it at the station."

"What train have you got to catch ?"

"The nine-five." He sipped his tea and glanced at his watch. "I'll go and get the milk as soon as I've drunk this."

He put on a pair of shorts and a singlet and went out. He lived in the ground floor flat of an old house upon the hill above the town that had been divided into apartments; he had the garage and a good part of the garden in his share of the property. There was a verandah, and here he kept the bicycles and the trailer. It would have been logical to park the car under the trees and use the garage, but he could not bring himself to do that. The little Morris was the first car he had ever owned, and he had courted Mary in it. They had been married in 1961 six months before the war, before he sailed in H.M.A.S. Anzac for what they thought would be indefinite separation. The short, bewildering war had followed, the war of which no history had been written or ever would be written now, that had flared all round the northern hemisphere and had died away with the last seismic record of explosion on the thirty-seventh day. At the end of the third month he had returned to Williamstown in Anzac on the last of her fuel oil while the statesmen of the southern hemisphere gathered in conference at Wellington in New Zealand to compare notes and assess the new conditions; had returned to Falmouth to his Mary and his Morris Minor car. The car had three gallons in the tank; he used that unheeding, and another five that he bought at a pump, before it dawned upon Australians that all oil came from the northern hemisphere.

He pulled the trailer and his bicycle down from the verandah on to the lawn and fitted the trailer hitch; then he mounted and rode off. He had four miles to go to fetch the milk and cream, for the transport shortage now prevented all collections from the farms in his district and they had learned to make their own butter in the Mixmaster. He rode off down the road in the warm morning sunlight, the empty billies rattling in the trailer at his back, happy in the thought of work before him.

There was very little traffic on the road. He passed one vehicle that once had been a car, the engine removed and the windscreen knocked out, drawn by an Angus bullock. He passed two riders upon horses, going carefully upon the gravel verge to the road beside the bitumen surface. He did not want one; they were scarce and delicate creatures that changed hands for a thousand pounds or more, but he had sometimes thought about a bullock for Mary. He could convert the Morris easily enough, though it would break his heart to do so.

He reached the farm in half an hour, and went straight to the milking shed. He knew the farmer well, a slow speaking, tall, lean man who walked with a limp from the Second World War. He found him in the separator room, where the milk flowed into one churn and the cream into another in a low murmur of sound from the electric motor that drove the machine. "Morning, Mr. Paul," said the naval officer. "How are you today?"

"Good, Mr. Holmes." The farmer took the milk billy from him and filled it at the vat. "Everything all right with you?"

"Fine. I've got to go up to Melbourne, to the Navy Department. I think they've got a job for me at last."

"Ah," said the farmer, "that'll be good. Kind of wearisome, waiting around, I'd say."

Peter nodded. "It's going to complicate things a bit if it's a seagoing job. Mary'll be coming for the milk, though, twice a week. She'll bring the money, just the same."

The farmer said, "You don't have to worry about the money till you come back, anyway. I've got more milk than the pigs will take even now, dry as it is. Put twenty gallons in the creek last night-can't get it away. Suppose I ought to raise more pigs, but then it doesn't seem worth while. It's hard to say what to do ..." He stood in silence for a minute, and then he said, "Going to be kind of awkward for the wife, coming over here. What's she going to do with Jennifer?"

"She'll probably bring her over with her, in the trailer."

"Kind of awkward for her, that." The farmer walked to the alley of the milking shed and stood in the warm sunlight, looking the bicycle and trailer over. "That's a good trailer," he said. "As good a little trailer as I ever saw. Made it yourself, didn't you ?"

"That's right."

"Where did you get the wheels, if I may ask?"

"They're motor bike wheels. I got them in Elizabeth Street."

"Think you could get a pair for me ?"

"I could try," Peter said. "I think there may be some of them about still. They're better than the little wheels they tow more easily." The farmer nodded. "They may be a bit scarce now. People seem to be hanging on to motor bikes."

"I was saying to the wife," the farmer remarked slowly, "if I had a little trailer like that I could make it like a chair for her, put on behind the push bike and take her into Falmouth, shopping. It's mighty lonely for a woman in a place like this, these days," he explained. "Not like it was before the war, when she could take the car and get into town in twenty minutes. The bullock cart takes three and a half hours, and three and a half hours back; that's seven hours for traveling alone. She did try to learn to ride a bike but she'll never make a go of it, not at her age and another baby on the way. I wouldn't want her to try. But if I had a little trailer like you've got I could take her into Falmouth twice a week, and take the milk and cream along to Mrs. Holmes at the same time." He paused. "I'd like to be able to do that for the wife," he remarked. "After all, from what they say on the wireless, there's not so long to go."

The naval officer nodded. "I'll scout around a bit today and see what I can find. You don't mind what they cost ?"

The farmer shook his head. "So long as they're good wheels, to give no trouble. Good tyres, that's the main thing-last the time out. Like those you've got."

The officer nodded. "I'll have a look for some today."

"Taking you a good bit out of your way."

"I can slip up there by tram. It won't be any trouble. Thank God for the brown coal."

The farmer turned to where the separator was still running. "That's right. We'd be in a pretty mess but for the electricity." He slipped an empty churn into the stream of skim milk deftly and pulled the full churn away_ "Tell me, Mr. Holmes," he said. "Don't they use big digging machines to get the coal? Like bulldozers, and things like that?" The officer nodded. "Well, where do they get the oil to run those things ?"

"I asked about that once," Peter said. "They distil it on the spot, out of the brown coal. It costs about two pounds a gallon."

"You don't say!" The farmer stood in thought. "I was thinking may be if they could do that for themselves, they might do some for us. But at that price, it wouldn't hardly be practical ..."

Peter took the milk and cream billies, put them in the trailer, and set off for home. It was six-thirty when he got back. He had a shower and dressed in the uniform he had so seldom worn since his promotion, accelerated his breakfast, and rode his bicycle down the hill to catch the 8. 15 in order that he might explore the motor dealers for the wheels before his appointment.

He left his bicycle at the garage that had serviced his small car in bygone days. It serviced no cars now. Horses stood stabled where the cars had been, the horses of the business men who lived outside the town, who now rode in in jodhpurs and plastic coats to stable their horses while they commuted up to town in the electric train. The petrol pumps served them as hitching posts. In the evening they would come down on the train, saddle their horses, strap the attache case to the saddle, and ride home again. The tempo of business life was slowing down and this was a help to them; the 5.3 express train from the city had been cancelled and a 4. I 7 put on to replace it.

Peter Holmes travelled to the city immersed in speculations about his new appointment, for the paper famine had closed down all the daily newspapers and news now came by radio alone. The Royal Australian Navy was a very small fleet now. Seven small ships had been converted from oil burners to most unsatisfactory coal burners at great cost and effort; an attempt to convert the aircraft carrier Melbourne had been suspended when it proved that she would be too slow to allow the aircraft to land on with safety except in the strongest wind. Moreover, stocks of aviation fuel had to be husbanded so carefully that training programmes had been reduced to virtually nil, so that it now seemed inexpedient to carry on the Fleet Air Arm at all. He had not heard of any changes in the officers of the seven minesweepers and frigates that remained in commission. It might be that somebody was sick and had to be replaced, or it might be that they had decided to rotate employed officers with the unemployed to keep up seagoing experience. More probably it meant a posting to some dreary job on shore, an office job in the Barracks or doing something with the stores at some disconsolate, deserted place like Flinders Naval Depot. He would be deeply disappointed if he did not get to sea, and yet he knew it would be better for him so. On shore he could look after Mary and the baby as he had been doing, and there was now not so long to go.

He got to the city in about an hour and went out of the station to get upon the tram. It rattled unobstructed through streets innocent of other vehicles and took him quickly to the motor dealing district. Most of the shops here were closed or taken over by the few that remained open, the windows still encumbered with the useless stock. He shopped around here for a time, searching for two light wheels in good condition that would make a pair, and finally bought wheels of the same size from two makes of motor cycle, which would make complications with the axle that could be got over by the one mechanic still left in his garage.

Continues...

Excerpted from On the Beach by Nevil Shute Copyright © 2010 by Nevil Shute. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 84 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(39)

4 Star

(27)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 84 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2012

    Boring?? Not.

    Those who have read this book and find it "boring" have managed to miss the whole point and flavour of the book. This was not written as an instant gratification, blood and guts flying around thriller or action piece. It was written as a warning. It was written from the perspective of the most likey survivors of such an appalling scenaro. Those deep under water, deep in a cave under ground, those in the farthest reaches from the initial blasts and shockwaves would be the survivors.......for a time...anyway. A principled military commander would behave as the main male character did. Australians, as I have known them, would for the most part behave as if life were going on as normal, and be polite, cheeky, playful, generous and caring of each other until it was their time, as individals to face and accept the innevitable. A world wide nuclear event isnt going to be an exciting, suspence filled thriller. Its going to be a horror with any survivors in post traumatic shock and with little else to do except keep on keeping on, until its time to decide whether to quietly crawl off and die alone, or quietly lie down to die with the people and things around them that they love the most, or to go out singing and fishing at their favorite fishing hole.

    I, for one, have understood the potential of a scenario such as that described by the author because I am, personally, a military Veteran; the great great, great, etc...grandaughter of Veterans, the daughter, sister and wife of Veterans, and the mother of a multiple deployment, currently serving soldier.

    So if you are looking for cheap thrills and vicarious heroics and action.........dont read this. If you want something that provokes thoughtfulness about how you hope you will behave in a post nuclear situation that leaves you only a little time left to make peace with your life, your loves, yourself and your God.......then this book will not "bore". It might actually save that most important part of you and allow you to behave with kindness, compassion and dignity in some hopeless and helpless situation you may find yourself enduring someday.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Should be required reading for anyone in charge of launching nukes.

    The headline says it all. On the Beach is a chilling example of what could happen to the inhabitants of our planet, if the outbreak of a global nuclear war occurs. On The Beach is one of those books that is a page turner, but also one that you have to put down every so often before reaching the end, because it's so heartwrenching.

    The story follows the last days of mankind, and the months leading to them. 37 days of nuclear war have wiped out all life in the northern hemisphere, and while it appears that Australia, South America, and South Africa have gotten a freepass from the total destruction that rained down upon the rest of the world, their deaths will come in months from the radioactive fallout that is steadily coming their way.

    The main focus of On the Beach is on a few different charecters. One is US Navy Captain Dwight Towers, who lost his family in America during the war. They either died in the blast (if fortunate) or died of radiation sickness, and he must come to grips with them being dead. The other is Moira Davidson, a 24 year old who is drawn to Capt. Towers and dealing with the fact that with death coming via radiation, she will never get to do the things she wanted in life. There is also a scientist who uses the time he has left to live on the edge so to speak, and finally we come to the most painful story in the book, Peter, and Mary Holmes. They are a young couple with a baby (possibly born or conceived during the war) who must cope with the fact that they must poison their child, and kill her to spare her from the painful death that is radiation sickness.

    While Nevil Shute may have had some trouble constructing dialougue, and I find people's reaction to impending doom a tad too calm for the overall direness of their situation, he did convey a message that we are all living on borrowed time, and we have choices when it comes to facing death. As I said in the headline, On the Beach should be required reading for anyone, whether it be leaders of nations that have nuclear weapons, or the military personel who initiate launch sequences.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2012

    Very highly recommended

    This novel is a timeless classic. I first read it in high school 40 years ago and I just knew I had to read it again. I discovered that the story is as relevant today as it was then. My kids are in their 20s and I am pleased to say that they were as enthralled with it as I was 40 years ago.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Something old but something new

    You start reading "On The Beach" and from the first page, realize that you are going to have a different relationship with this book. It was written in 1957 and yes, there was a movie made, but the writing and story telling is as pertinent today as ever. The grace of the characters, the love of the time and the integrity of decisions as each person faced the end makes this a keeper for my library. To consider that it could all come to an end, but have the sense of it's the beginning ... what a gift.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2008

    read in one sitting

    I read this book in one sitting. i couldnt leave it alone. the story of the survivors of WWIII is touching and painful. if you want to know what the last days are really going to be like, here it is

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2005

    Read it just for one time...

    The book On the Beach by Nevil Shute is a great book for anyone to read. I do not really like to read fictional story, but the connection between the characters in this book do not let me to put it away. I like the title of this book because every thing in this book happens on the beach and ocean. I am recommending to anyone to read this book because it will make you to think about how you will spend the last day of your life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2005

    Great book with a great ending

    The book On the Beach by Nevil Shute is a great book for anyone to read. I¿m not a big reader but this book really got my attention quick. This book was hard to put down. I just couldn't wait to find out the ending. I didn't expect the outcome. I liked how the characters in this book didn¿t know if they were going to live or die. The book was teaching you a lesson to enjoy life because you don¿t know when the world is going to end. If you like mysteries and you want a book that keeps you wondering you should look into reading this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2005

    You must read

    Wow!A great book. I am not really big on reading about navy war, but this book was hard to put down. This was interesting. The book was well written. The characters were well thought of. I just couldn't wait to find out the ending. I didn't expect the outcome. Well I did figure the major part, but the one about the baby I didn't suspect. I am happy how the story did fold. Eveyone must read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2013

    Wonderful book awesome movie

    I am a 13 year old girl who has read about WW2 all her life. I believe this book is one of the greatest "It could have happened books ever written".If you love that type of book look no further and then check out the movie which has Eva Gardener and Gregory Peck,two phenomenal actors!:)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Depressing... But deserving of being called a classic

    This is one of the most depressing books you will ever read. Seriously, it makes "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy look like happy fun time. But at the same time it is incredibly well written and one of those books that goes down in only one sitting. Well worth reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2011

    Excellent! Makes you hope for humanities survival to the last page.

    I read this while on an actual submarine patrol in the North Atlantic in the 70's. It is a powerful book reminding us that there are no winners in a nuclear war, thank goodness it never became reality. Yes, my fellow shipmates thought I was nuts to read such a book while underway, perhaps they were right?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 19, 2010

    Haunting

    This is a book that we need to make sure our children appreciate. The one best word I can use to describe it is "haunting". When reading it, I constantly find myself thinking along the lines of the characters - "No need to do this, since there's little time left". This is a fantastic book to show the next generation what it was like to live with the potential of a superpower nuclear war, even if the science is dated.

    One of my all-time favorites - I wish the ebook version was priced more reasonably, but for now I'll be satisfied with my 1957 (bought used) original.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2006

    The reason Why I Chose this book

    This book is truly amazing book to read. The author really describes each character and what they are like. He also lets you know what is going on in the story, but you have to figure it out yourself. I would reccomend anyone to go out and read this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2004

    shocking and possible!

    I just finished this- as this was voted one of the top ten scariest books written.. at first it did not scare me- but by the end I had many sleepless nights and dreams of radiation sickness! SCARY!! It is scary- because the way the world is going in its crazy direction, may one day leave all to consider the time we have till we open the red box with our loved ones at hand.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 24, 2012

    Really boring. I kept on reading up to page 100 hoping it would

    Really boring. I kept on reading up to page 100 hoping it would take off and it never did. This book starts after nuclear war has allready happened and takes place aboard a submarine out of Australia looking for suvivors elsewhere. It never gets going and is just absolutely boring and uneventfull. If you're looking for a good post-apacolyptic novel i would suggest "One second After" and "Alas, babylon".

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Genius

    One of the best post-appocalypse books of all time.I started reading and could not put down

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2010

    Well written but slow

    It was a great read, but incredibly slow. I ended up reading On the Beach and another book at the same time. On the Beach was slow but written wonderfully. If you are looking for a challenging but wonderful 1960's future fiction, this is the book for you.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2005

    The Beach in' ?

    Let me just say after carefully reading the book 'On the Beach', I was completely lost in the very beginning. The entire prologue of the first introductory was absolutely bland. I mean, come on. After reading each chapter there was nothing to support it's already existing story-line. I strongly suggest that anyone who decides to read this fascinating book should take note: Do Not Read !!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2005

    GREAT BOOK

    The book On the Beach by Nevil Shute is a great book for anyone it reccommended to me by my professor and I just loved every bit about it. Im not a big reader but this book totally got my attention and quick. It has great moral to it so if you get the chance to read this book i would reccommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2004

    amazing thriling book review

    I enjoyed the book On The Beach I loved the suspense in this book it made you want to read more and more. I liked how the characters in this book didn¿t know if they were going to live or die. The book was teaching you a lesson to enjoy life because you don¿t know when the world is going to end. If you like mysteries if you want a book that keeps you wondering you should look into reading this book. The plot of this story could actually happen, with all these countries with access to nuclear weapons. Even though this book is old it has a modern day Idea.

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