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Red or Dead

Red or Dead

by David Peace

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A New York Times Editors' Choice

"[T]he stuff of great literature." —The New York Times | "Red or Dead is a winner." —The Washington Post

The place where the swinging sixties started – Liverpool, England, birthplace of the Beatles – wasn’t so swinging. Amid industrial


A New York Times Editors' Choice

"[T]he stuff of great literature." —The New York Times | "Red or Dead is a winner." —The Washington Post

The place where the swinging sixties started – Liverpool, England, birthplace of the Beatles – wasn’t so swinging. Amid industrial blight and a bad economy, the port town’s shipping industry was going bust and there was widespread unemployment, with no assistance from a government tightening its belt. Even the Beatles moved to London.

Into these hard times walked Bill Shankly, a former Scottish coal miner who took over the city’s perpetually last-place soccer team. He had a straightforward work ethic and a favorite song – a silly pop song done by a local band, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Soon he would have entire stadiums singing along, tens of thousands of people all dressed in the team color red . . . as Liverpool began to win . . .

And soon, too, there was something else those thousands of people would chant as one: Shank-lee, Shank-lee . . .

In Red or Dead, the acclaimed writer David Peace tells the stirring story of the real-life working-class hero who lifted the spirits of an entire city in turbulent times. But Red or Dead is more than a fictional biography of a real man, and more than a thrilling novel about sports. It is an epic novel that transcends those categories, until there’s nothing left to call it but – as many of the world’s leading newspapers already have – a masterpiece.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Geoff Nicholson
Shankly was obsessive about football, with few interests outside the game. His life was scandal-free…He was a man who said what he meant and meant what he said—all of which could make for a very dull novel. Peace combats this possibility with a prose style as curious as anything in contemporary fiction: a deadpan blend and pastiche of Zen poetry, Homeric epic and medieval saga, with elements from Samuel Beckett and Gertrude Stein…Peace is obviously onto something with…the repeated stock phrases, the ritualistic listing of names, teams, scores and attendance figures…At its best Red or Dead is hypnotic, the words casting a spell that verges on the shamanistic…by the end of Red or Dead you really do feel as though you've been living in Bill Shankly's world, in fact inside Bill Shankly's head. The world seems different. You find yourself thinking and speaking in the rhythms of Peace's prose.
Publishers Weekly
Here’s a tough sell for an American reading audience: a challenging, 700-plus-pager about a very successful English football club manager, based on a true story. About that “challenging” thing—the book is challenging, but not in a footnoted, stories-within-stories, tricky postmodern kind of way. No, this is an endurance test. Bill Shankly, the man this novel is about, is one of the great football managers of all time. (I’m going to refer to football as football here, and not soccer—because that’s how it is in the book, and also “soccer” sounds like something children play.) He took over an ailing Liverpool Football Club in 1959 and over the next 15 years raised the team up from the scummy backwaters of lower-tier English football and turned it into a trophy-winning powerhouse. How did he do it? Repetition, repetition, repetition. In life, in training, in everything. This becomes painfully apparent very early on in the novel, as Peace sets up the narrative and stylistic scaffolding. Short sentences. Repetitive sentences. A wholesale chucking of even the faintest notion of elegant prose. Indeed, this book is made of a forest’s worth of wooden sentences. Seasons are methodically recapped match by match in choppy bursts: “In the third minute, Ian St. John scored. In the fifty-fifth minute, Roger Hunt scored. In the sixty-fifth minute, Alan A’Court scored. And four minutes later Hunt scored again. And Liverpool Football Club beat Manchester City four-one.” Here’s a blip from another random page: “Bill dried his hands. Bill picked up the tea towel. Bill dried up the pans. Bill dried up the plates. Bill dried up the knives and forks. Bill put the pans in one cupboard. Bill put the plates in another.” (This goes on for a while, and is not the only time Bill does the dishes.) At several points I nearly put the book down, having plowed through another 100 pages that were more or less the same as the 100 pages that had preceded them. But I didn’t. Because Peace every now and again figures out a way to smuggle in a bit of actual human emotion—and having finished the book, I can’t figure out how he managed that. At one point, Liverpool is once again dumped out of Europe, and I felt crushed. Another season, Liverpool misses out on the league title, and I was legitimately bummed for Bill. I have a lot of gripes about the book. Bill is too much a saint; after he retires, the book becomes a series of situations for Bill to stumble into and act selflessly. His wife is a one-dimensional phantom of ceaseless nicety. Massive chunks of the narrative could be lopped off (a 20-plus-page reproduction of a radio interview springs immediately to mind). Pretty much everyone has the same stilted speech pattern. But for all of the book’s faults, it’s hard not to admire its hubris. There is nothing else at all like it out there, and there are some nerdy delights to be found in reading this if you’ve also read Peace’s other football novel, The Damned Utd, about another famous football manager, Brian Clough. But if ever there were a case where you love the idea of something much more than the actual something, then this is it. Jonathan Segura is the executive editor of Publishers Weekly. His writing has appeared in GQ, NPR, and The Best American Sports Writing 2013 (HMH).
From the Publisher
“I’d offer the British P.M. Red or Dead, David Peace’s demented novel about real-life soccer coach Bill Shankly... The novel is barking mad, but quite brilliant, and is a monument to a kind of magnificent decency once at the core of British life, but now rapidly fading."
Kazuo ishiguro, New York Times Book Review

A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice

“As both postmodern epic and ultimate sports novel, Red or Dead is a winner.” 
Washington Post

Red or Dead is hypnotic, the words casting a spell that verges on the shamanistic….[it] creates the most remarkable, operatic sweeps of emotion in the reader... This is the stuff of great literature.”
New York Times Book Review

“Sprawling, ambitious and heartbreaking, it's one of the best sports novels in recent years."
NPR, Best Books of 2014

10 Best Books of 2014
Janet Potter, NPR's On Point

One of Liberty Hardy's (RiverRun Bookstore) Must-Read Books from Indie Presses for 2014 on Book Riot

“It’s about so much more than soccer. It’s about politics, obsession, community—plus, what could be more British than football?”
Condé Nast Traveler, 10 Books to Inspire Your Next Trip to the United Kingdom

Red or Dead might be seen as an elegy for that period when the game was played by and for the working classes and perhaps even seemed an authentic expression of their collectivist sensibility... In writing an elegy for Bill Shankly’s world, then, Peace suggests that what has been lost goes far beyond sports. Or to put it another way, he shows us ourselves in soccer."
The Millions

“David Peace’s writing reverberates in your head, pulling you along headfirst into the story... Red or Dead is a feat of writing. The manner in which Peace shares this history with us is just as important as the story itself. It’s not often that writing can transport you through style. Peace more than just succeeds in this. He excels."
Preeti Chhibber, Book Riot's Books of the Year

“Truly brave and utterly heroic . . . I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like Red or Dead before. Not ever.”
—The Goldsmiths Prize shortlist citation

“I want to go out and knock on doors like a Jehovah’s Witness and read this book to people.”
The Observer

“A magnificent literary achievement . . . Profoundly powerful.”

“An epic that has more in common with Beowulf or The Iliad than with the conventional sports novel.”
—The Times of London

“The writing is honed, sculpted, poetic . . . It doesn’t matter if you don’t follow the game, this is also a profound investigation of the tension between aspiration and the constraints of time, the very essence of the human condition.”

“A book about the choices by which we live and die, the moments that make us feel alive, and those that choke our souls. It is a masterpiece. Make no mistake of that. A masterpiece.”
—The Quietus

“An extraordinary piece of writing.”
—The Independent

“A story of triumph . . . one that might be quoted for decades.”

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-02
A story of faith, ambition, socialism and a last-place English football club, combining a true story with eternal truths. English novelist Peace is no stranger to mixing fiction with the football pitch (The Damned UTD, 2006, etc.), and in this volume he tells the story of elegant and elegiac Bill Shankly, the legendary coach of the Liverpool Football Club who took a down-and-out team in a down-and-out town to the top ranks of English football. (You could think of him as a sort of British Joe Torre for the way he's revered by fans.) This book is barely fiction—it's more a fictionalized biography—but it's a classic story about dedication, redemption and love, all set in a locker room and in football stadiums where tens of thousands, sometimes more, chant and cheer. It's a story about struggle—against wind, rain, snow and mud; against Arsenal Football Club and Sportgemeinschaft Dynamo Dresden and UD Las Palmas; against a tradition of failure; against the limits of athletes and ownership. But it's above all a story of triumph—over other clubs, to be sure, but also over obstacles moral and financial—and a story about passage: one man's (from the coal mines of Scotland), and one team's (from the depths of the Second Division to the giddy heights of the First). Across its pages stride some of the greatest names in English sport, unknown on these shores but luminaries in Liverpool—and a cameo appearance by Harold Wilson, the one-time British prime minister. The result is a book to be savored with a cup of tea and a slice of orange—what the Liverpool players have at halftime. A novel without a single quote in 736 fast-paced pages—but one that might be quoted for decades.

Product Details

Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.90(d)

Meet the Author

David Peace – named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003 – was born and brought up in Yorkshire, England. He is the author of the Red Riding Quartet (Nineteen Seventy-four, Nineteen Seventy-seven, Nineteen Eighty, and Nineteen Eighty-three), which was adapted into a three-part BBC series; GB84, which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and The Damned Utd, which was adapted into a film starring Michael Sheen. Tokyo Year Zero, the first part of his acclaimed Tokyo Trilogy, was published in 2007, and the second part, Occupied City, in 2009.

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