Twenty-five-year-old Norman Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead, is published on this day in 1948. The book is critically acclaimed and widely considered one of the best novels to come out of World War II.
Mailer was born in New Jersey in 1923 and raised in Brooklyn. He attended Harvard and joined the Army during World War II. After leaving the Army in 1946, he studied at the Sorbonne, where he wrote the Naked and The Dead, based on his own military experiences. The book, which closely chronicles the lives of 13 soldiers stationed in the Pacific, presents a fictional story with precise, journalistic detail.
Mailer’s next two books, Barbaray Shore (1951) and The Deer Park (1955), were savaged by critics, but his subsequent journalistic chronicles fared better. The Armies of the Night (1968), an account of his participation in the Washington peace march of 1967, won a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and the National Book Award in 1969. His novel The Executioner’s Song, a fictionalized account of the life of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1980. In 1991, his four-pound novel Harlot’s Ghost explored the CIA from 1948 through the Kennedy administration.
Mailer’s reputation as a hard-drinking, tough-talking anti-feminist made him a controversial literary figure in the 1970s and 1980s. His high-profile exploits included drinking binges, the alleged stabbing of his wife at a party, and a run for the mayoralty of New York.