James Jones was born in Robinson, Illinois. He enlisted in the army at 18 and served in Hawaii, where he witnessed the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor; he later saw combat in Guadalcanal. His Hawaiian experience was the basis for his brilliant first novel, From Here to Eternity (1951), which established him as the emblematic World War II novelist. Jones’ second war novel, The Thin Red Line (1962), explicitly portrays scenes of battle in Guadalcanal. Together with Whistle (1978, published posthumously), the three form a trilogy about which Jones wrote, “It will say just about everything I have ever had to say, or will ever have to say, on the human condition of war and what it means to us, as against what we claim it means to us”.
From Here to Eternity
The troubled infantryman Robert E. Lee Prewitt, one of the novel key characters, is a former boxer and passionate bugler. His independence and intransigence lead to conflicts with his superior officers and ultimately to his tragic end.
In this recording, Jones reads the famous scene where Prewitt plays Taps at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. The passage is a masterpiece of writing, in which Taps becomes the requiem of the common soldier. Jones’s emotionally powerful reading brings out the loneliness and fear, the dignity and courage, of the soldier’s lot.
The Thin Red Line
The Thin Red Line, Jones’s second war novel, is set in Guadalcanal and is notable for its explicit and harrowing depiction of battle. As in From Here to Eternity, its characters are enlisted men and officers who feel trapped in a situation they can neither control nor often understand. The book is a telling commentary on the violence done to soldiers as well as by them.