Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (with movie review)

5 stars - loved it, have read it many times
1952 Pulitzer Prize

Thank you, Mom and Dad for exposing me to such a vast library of books, both good and bad, without any censorship. I first selected The Caine Mutiny from the bookshelf of their extensive library when I was a teenager. I was skeptical at first, not given to reading war books. I soon changed my mind (and have since enjoyed this book several times over).

What is the book about? Well, here's the synopsis:

"The novel grew out of Wouk's personal experiences aboard a destroyer-minesweeper in the Pacific in World War II and deals with, among other things, the moral and ethical decisions made at sea by captains of ships."

As I continued to watch the acts of aggression our troops are involved in around the world, I was reminded of how the folks at home have no business second guessing what is done in the heat of battle or under extreme circumstances.

Not only a well written story, The Caine Mutiny is a signficant reminder that serving in the military is not an experience that can ever be truly understood by those of us sitting back home in our comfy chairs watching the news.

Once again, I am wishing that this were on the reading list for high school students. The writing style is not too difficult for a reasonably literate individual and the moral issues raised are especially relevant during these times when so many young people are fighting battles overseas.

The book also touches on how maleable one can be when one's education has been neglected. Pity the hapless Lt. Maryk, who, lacking an education himself, is seduced by the dangerous pontification of his college graduate peers. Even without the benefit of college, it is certainly incumbant on individuals to be as informed as possible and to consider opinions which contradict their own and not hold any other person (regardless of their position or eductation) as all knowing.

How did I get off on that tangent? Just read the book.

Can't bring yourself to read the book? The movie is worth a watch. Yeah, it suffers from the bouncy and omnipresent musical accompniament so popular in older movies, but try to get past that. Like the book, it gets off to a rather slow start, but the action quickly picks up.

Humphrey Bogart. Oh my. Watching him crumble under pressure, watching him testify during the trial, totally worth it. And how about Fred MacMurray as the deliciously duplicitous and creepy Lt. Keefer? 

The movie is quite true to the book as well. Get over the sugar coating of Willie's attitude towards May (in the book he decides she is a tramp after she agreed to have sex with him) and just enjoy watching things on board the Caine. 

As in the book, the movie captures painfully well how situations, described at a distance, can lose their venom and urgency.


  1. Actually this was required reading one summer when I was in high school (hey, one summer we were required to read Lolita - pretty much nothing was out of bounds). I should probably go back and read it again, as at the time, I was more focused on 'getting through it' than on actually enjoying it. Interestingly, I am finding myself re-reading (or listening to) a bunch of the classics that were required reading in school. Honestly, since a) there is no test, and b) I know basically what happens, I do enjoy the reading/listening experience more. (As for NPRs thing about spoilers, I think there is something to that - for some people. I'm definitely one of them; when I know what is going to happen, I enjoy the process more. Like the US Open tennis tournament going on now? I always look up the scores first, so I can enjoy watching the match without having to worry about who wins... What can I say?) Never saw the movie on this one, although I think I'll go back to the book, first.

  2. I've read lots of Wouk's books, Youngblood Hawke, Don't Stop The Carnival, The Winds Of War and War and Remembrance, but I never read the Caine Mutiny. It may be because I saw the movie and didn't like it. I've liked all the other books and read most of them twice.

  3. Have a mixed attitude towards Wouk, but this was my favorite of his books. Of course, formed my opinion back in the early 60's. Might be time to reconsider his works, given that I've changed in many ways [but not in others] in the intervening 50 years.

    Love Humphrey Bogart, so loved the movie.


  4. Hey! I just discovered that the Caine Mutiny is available in unabridged form in audiobook. Since I tend to listen to a lot of stuff on the commute, I'm going to add it to my list - worst case scenario, I've got a book I can't make it through. Of course, I made it through all 40+ hours of the Winds of War (which I really liked, BTW - I had never read it, but remembered the mini-series on tv from my childhood and thought I'd give it a try), so I the Caine Mutiny will go on my listen-list. (I'm currently listening to 'Wicked' mostly because I'm trying to figure out what all the fuss was about. 9 hours in, and I'm still trying to figure out what the fuss was about, but I've got 10 more hours to go, so maybe something will click... But since my car is fairly low-tech, I'm a bit of a captive audience - I can't change books in the middle of a drive, as I have to do it manually on my iPod, a process which, if done while driving, would make me a very scary driver at best, and upside down in a ditch at worst - a range of options I'd prefer to avoid...)

    -Dr. Liz, who is still waiting to see how little 'Elfie' becomes the Wicked Witch...

  5. I'm pretty certain that I have read other books of Wouk's, and have at least one in my own library. I'll have to keep my eyes open for this book.

  6. Mom says she will have to read this. She has really enjoyed other books by Herman Wouk, but has avoided this one.

    Mom is very much enjoying your book reviews. She has not tried the Fifty Shades of Gray series and after reading your review is quite glad she hasn't bothered.

    your pal,

  7. I've never read this book, but I really enjoyed the movie. Bogart, as usual, did an awesome job. It was hard to watch his mind's decline. I wonder if my hubby ever read that book. He's read just about EVERYTHING at one time or other. I'll have to ask him about this one.

    We should be finished with this move in the next week or so, and then I will have time to read and keep up with my blogging friends.