Review: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

Some of you may be familiar with the title of this work because of the film staring Humphrey Bogart and Robert Francis (1954) of the same name. The film was well received by the public and critics alike and received seven Oscar nominations. But I’m here today to talk about the book, and frankly, the book is worth talking about.

While not a showcase for some of the most stunning writing out there, this novel concerns itself with, and does justice to, an incredibly interesting, and often overlooked, segment of relatively recent American history. The novel follows young Willie Kieth, a privileged youth who, to escape draft into the army during World War II, enlists in the Navy. Kieth eventually finds himself on the USS Caine, a rusty and run down old mine sweeper working in the Pacific. Kieth is a wonderfully naive character, almost akin to the protagonist of Melville’s Billy Bud, and the story chronicles his journey toward adulthood, culminating with the mutiny itself, and his pursuit of a young lady, May Wynn. Kieth is not the only interesting character, and the reader’s concerns quickly begin to branch out from the main character to others, like the sympathetic Maryk, or the detestable Captain Queeg. The story’s climax also leaves nothing wanting. If you read the Caine Mutiny, and you are unfamiliar with the film, be prepared to come away surprised.

How has the author performed here? As a creative historian, I’ve seen few such successes. Wouk has taken a historical time and place and given it flesh and a pulse. It teems with life and vigor all the way through. Sir Philip Sidney, bless his soul, would be proud. As an author, a writer, in the purest sense, Wouk is no grand wordsmith. There are few, if no, moments here where beautiful images or philosophies are rained down on the reader from linguistic heights yet undiscovered by mortal men. Instead, you have straightforward writing. To the point. And the characters and the story do the talking. Wouk is no poet, nor is he a fantastic wordsmith, but he tells a wonderful story, and, in my opinion, that’s most important in the end.

I had a hard time putting this one down, and was sad when it was over. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves history, or anyone who loves a good, complex narrative.

Grade: A-

-mterry7

Comments 2 comments

JOHN 8 years ago

You are in accurate that this story is based on history.

It is a fiction story and it is noted so in the book which i have an original copy. Its important to tell the truth. There has never been a mutiny by our navy!

From A U.S. ARMY VETERAN


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mterry7 8 years ago from San Francisco Author

John, thanks for the info. Turns out, this is correct. There has never been a formally recorded mutiny on a U.S. Naval Ship. Based on what I've seen, there have been near mutinies, including one that very closely mirrored the events in this novel, but the outcome was a bit different. Apparently, there was a captain much like Queeg and, after a string of less than captain quality behavior, was reported to his superiors by his crew. He was removed from his post. After, he accused his sailors of mutiny, but there were no formal charges made by his superiors and his removal stood. (ref. Vance). There was also, supposedly, an incident in which three men were hanged for mutinous activity by their captain, but no formal trial, and thus no formal historical use of the word "Mutiny" in relation to the incident. (ref. Somers, 1842).

Thanks for the keen eye, John. Though, I do somewhat resent your tone. It was not my intent to lie, and, yes, it is important to tell the truth. I meant no slight against the armed forces, though you seem to think that I did. I am certainly open to suggestions and observations, though, and appreciate them. The error will be fixed.

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