A war no one fully understands has devastated the planet with radioactive fallout from massive cobalt bombing. Melbourne, Australia, is the only area whose citizens have not yet succumbed to the contamination. But there isn’t much time left, a few months, maybe more—and the citizens of Melbourne must decide how they will live the remaining weeks of their lives, and how they will face a hopeless future.
Published in 1957, On the Beach is considered a classic nuclear holocaust novel, and a masterpiece of speculative fiction.
©1957 Nevil Shute Norway (P)1991 Recorded Books, LLC
"On The Beach" is the ultimate description of what we all
feared during the 50s and 60s...atomic war. Simon Prebble
seems to me to be the perfect choice to have narrated this
story. His method perfectly matched the tone of the story in
every way. Pat Frank's "Alas, Babylon". It is a similar story
with a different outcome.
Even though the world was mostly dead, there was still a radio
signal from Seattle. The discovery of its source was quite
I have to say that the last few paragraphs of the book are
gut-wrenchingly realistic...the ultimate Good-Bye as you watch
a loved one leave forever... Scenes, plural. Many. If the
last three chapters do not bring tears to your eyes many
times, well, you're not human. (sorry)
There is no flowery writing in this book. Mr. Shute wrote it
pretty much the way a military report is worded. Yet, the
detail he gives to the characters and their dialog fills the
story with beauty and purpose. Masterfully.
This book profoundly influenced much of my life. I first read it while in high school and then again some time later. Now, after a lifetime, I listened to the audiobook. What struck me most from this most recent experience with the novel is the complete decency and sense of duty its characters displayed as they waited for a deadly inevitable cloud of radiation from nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere to reach them in southern Australia. They clung to, or discovered, what meant most to them in their lives and continued to carry on in the face of the certain destruction of the human species. Contemporary readers may find their behavior implausible, but having grown up in the post WW II era, I see this as congruent with the values and character of that period.
I was in college at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and vividly remember the sense of urgency I felt after President Kennedy’s now-famous speech where everything--my future and that of the entire world--was on the line. Afterwards I soberly rode the elevator up to my room from the dorm lounge where so many girls had watched and listened to grave and frightening announcements. Many of my companions were openly crying and beginning to despair. One of them turned to me and asked with great urgency, “What are you going to do?” I answered that I was going to study for the Sociology exam I was scheduled to take in the morning. She looked at me incredulously and exclaimed, “But we may be at war tomorrow!! We may all be dead!” I thought about her question and replied, “But we may NOT be at war, and if we are not, I will certainly have to take that exam. I can’t change anything out there, but I CAN continue with what I am here to do. I can be prepared for that test.”
In retrospect, we all know what happened: there was no war, I took that exam, and I did pretty well on it. I learned from On the Beach, and from that Missile Crisis experience, that I needed to do my job, whatever that might be, and to do it to the best of my ability for the rest of my life regardless of what whirlwinds of craziness were swirling about me. The characters in this book knew they were going to die, and they knew when--a truly terrifying concept. Yet, as the book points out, we all know that that our condition is terminal. Our time here is finite; we each need to make ours the best, most productive, life we can, for ourselves and for those around us. There is so much that we cannot control, but we can govern ourselves. We can be true to our values as so many of Shute’s people were in this novel.
Because I had grown up with air raid drills, “duck and cover,” under a constant threat of nuclear annihilation, this book spoke directly to me. It frightened me tremendously, but it also taught me some very important lessons that have remained an integral part of everything I have done since. Each day of life dawned with a strong sense of urgency, causing me to grasp exciting experiences and opportunities as they offered themselves. I never felt the luxury of letting them pass by perhaps for another time.
Over these many years, I have experienced much change, both loss and gain. Some events and situations I could influence, while others I was utterly impotent to affect. I learned from this book, and from life, to direct most of my energy and efforts into those spheres where I could actually have impact, and to let the rest go by. For me this is the major lesson of On the Beach.
The novel certainly may have also influenced those with the power to change global politics, leading them to actions which effectively avoided nuclear war and total annihilation of life as we know it on earth. That is unknowable. I only understand that, unlike the characters in On the Beach, I was granted a full life--basically a wonderful and somewhat unexpected gift.
I'm blind, so don't read print.
Every character in the book offered different takes on the end of hisotry.
All of them.
The last chapter when you knew for sure history was ending.
What would you do if you only had a year to live? What would you think about? The humanity of this book, and how all of these characters answer this question is what really draws you. Don't read this if you aren't in in the mood to do some serious thinking. Best book I have read in a while. Stands up to time well.
Tangential, eclectic, avid listener... favorite book is the one currently in ear.
Most of the Nevil Shutes books, I have read, demonstrate the courage of an average person facing of overwhelming odds. "A Town Like Alice", "Pied Piper" and "Trustee from the Toolroom" have been favorites. He has a very laid back, slow way of telling a story that requires listening and patience but leaves me satisfied in the end. Without carefully reading reviews... I thought this book would combine my enjoyment of Nevil's writing with an end of the world scenario, it is supposed to be his best known work.
That said, I endured the slow buildup and waited patiently to know where the small group of survivors would go to outlast the radiation. I won't read it again as it is just too difficult of a listen... I persevered and heard what Nevil was trying to say to the world of the 50's. It is a classic in it own way, and I am left thinking... but not enjoying.
The story was interesting although very dated (written in 1957, set in 1963 post nuclear earth).
Nothing needed to be done to change the story. I just have a hard time listening to female characters of this time period being as ignorant as they are frequently portrayed. The stay-at-home wife, Mary was particular tough to listen to.
When the navy commander places the bracelet purchased for his (long dead) wife in his shirt pocket and lays down with his hand on the fishing rod purchased for his (lost) son, it is very poignant.
It's worth it if you are interested in that early 1960's timeframe of total nuclear destruction of the planet and how the last survivors would utilize their time. That was an interesting study in how some people face the inevitable.
This is one of my favorite books, probably top 20.
Classic in the genres of Failsafe and Dr. Strangelove, but much more personal. We say we don't know when we will die, but what will you do when there is a date on the calendar for you?
He is an excellent narrator. This is no exception.
Finding corpses at a picnic trying to party themselves into eternity was a haunting image.
Without sounding maudlin, this is a book about politics and technology gone far wrong, and has lessons for us today. Also, anyone who knows someone with a terminal disease can relate to the coping skills this story reveals.
“In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river”
-T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men
I’ve been avoiding On the Beach ever since I became addicted to Nevil Shute’s novels. Partly because it’s his most acclaimed piece of writing (or at the very least, the most widely read) and partly because of the subject matter. The book takes place in the nebulous time of the late 1960’s after a nuclear war has devastated the world. Fallout has already rendered the Northern Hemisphere completely uninhabitable, and the radioactive cloud is slowly moving southward. The story follows a small group of friends in Australia as they live under the approaching inevitability of death. It is a powerful tale of hope and honesty and love.
I’ll be the first to say that if you are a reader and you’ve let a year go by without reading a Nevil Shute book, then you have missed out on a joy in your life. His books reveal the best parts of humanity in a way that doesn’t make them trite, but instead, noble. Not the kind of nobility that makes you want to rule and lead, but the kind that makes you want to live better and enjoy the every day. On the Beach excels at getting to the heart of who we are. Shute rarely has enemies in his books. It’s like each novel is a refutation of the belief that one must hate something in this world to prove their worth. Even at the end of all things, there is room for love to overcome.
The action follows several naval officers, both Australian and American, as they seek to find a solution to the catastrophe. Now that the world’s purpose can be wholly turned to survival, there is a turn from the day to day struggles of life. Relationships are real and vital. Enjoyment of each hour is what is looked for. It is like a quest for utopia in the darkest hour. The recent Seveneves by Neal Stephenson pushes for an idea that survival is the most important ideal. On the Beach, while not against self-preservation, posits that survival is not the highest ideal. In fact, maybe it’s integrity.
There are solutions to the world destroying itself, and Nevil Shute has done as service in making us think about it. While this book was extremely enjoyable in an eyes half full of water kind of way, I can see why one might not rush out to read it. It will move you if you do.
Audible listeners: Simon Prebble, like always, is superb. He adds depth to every story - this one is no exception.
8 stars out of 10
How would you live your life if you knew when you would die? Would you behave any differently? I have read this book at least twice, watched the film, and now enjoyed this excellent version in audiobook form. I keep coming back to this story, about how people live with loving intent, integrity and purpose, and how life can be as much about how we do things, as about what we do. The reader is superb. If you have nit read this book, get the audiobook, then see the film, too. Have a great life, with the time left to you!
The characters and their lives are described realistically, with compassion, attention to detail, and even humor. The story could happen as easily today as when the story was set over 50 years ago. It will give you a new perspective on your own life as you realize we could share the same fate today if we don't take nuclear disarmament seriously.
A well told story of how folks might act at "the end" of the world as we know it. My second experience with this book and enjoyed it just as much this time. I highly recommend it. The narrator has a lovely accent that adds just the right touch of "down under" to the story! Try it, you'll like it!
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