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Three Soldiers

John Dos Passos

Book Overview: 

Three Soldiers, the second novel by John Dos Passos, follows the experiences of several young Americans thrown into the confusion and brutality of World War I.

Written when the author was just twenty-three, it was key to the development of a realistic depiction of war in American literature, and earned Dos Passos, later named by Jean-Paul Sartre "the greatest living writer of our time", important early attention.

Critic H L Menken said of it: "no war story can be written in the United States without challenging comparison with it--and no story that is less meticulously true will stand up to it. It changed the whole tone of American opinion about the war; it even changed the recollections of actual veterans of the war. They saw, no doubt, substantially what Dos Passos saw, but it took his bold realism to disentangle their recollections from the prevailing buncombe and sentimentality

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .ack with coal dust was leaning out of the cab, lit up from behind by a yellowish red glare. Now the cars were going by, flat cars with guns, tilted up like the muzzles of hunting dogs, freight cars out of which here and there peered a man's head. The train almost came to a stop. The cars clanged one against the other all down the train. Fuselli was looking into a pair of eyes that shone in the lamplight; a hand was held out to him.

"So long, kid," said a boyish voice. "I don't know who the hell you are, but so long; good luck."

"So long," stammered Fuselli. "Going to the front?"

"Yer goddam right," answered another voice.

The train took up speed again; the clanging of car against car ceased and in a moment they were moving fast before Fuselli's eyes. Then the station was dark and empty again, and he was watching the red light grow smaller and paler while the train rumbled on into the darkness.

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Community Reviews

I wanted to read a World War I novel. Instead, I read a novel about some men who hated the army. dos Passos would have served his audience better had he provided some detail that leads to these men hating the army. There is some complaint that all they do is go on marches, although we're never th...more

One of the reviews on this site said reading Three Soldiers is like watching a movie, “the best kind of movie.” One that doesn’t explain its images or dilute the story with too much exposition. Terrence Malick in his 1970s prime directed this in my head. Malick’s storytelling style would fit the...more

John Dos Passos was politicized by his experiences of war. During World War I he served as an ambulance driver in Italy and France and his experiences led him to become a Communist. Later, his experiences during the Spanish Civil War caused him to become disenchanted with the left and his politic...more

There were once three soldiers of The Great War. And three characters that I can't say I really cared about. Maybe it's because after 450+ pages, I still hadn't figured out what made them tick. What makes that odd is that they spent the entire book lost in introspection and talking about themselv...more

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به امیدِ جهانی بدو...more

I was drawn to Three Soldiers after hearing an old time radio show that brings literature to the airways & wanting to know the whole book as John Dos Passos intended. I have always enjoyed a good war story either written or on film when the human element is brought to light & in this nove...more

In the end you are fundamentally alone and no matter how much you would like to imagine that others could complete you or even just understand you, the saddest truth is that even this is far too much to ask.

If this review is to have no spoilers, then this must be a kind of non-review. However, in...more

My first experience with Dos Passos and I am looking forward to reading 1919 now. It really reminded me of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, not in subject but in outlook and desperation of character. Each of the three soldiers ends up in his own desperate straits and finds their own way to a conclus...more

"Three Soldiers" is one of the earliest novels to come out of the First World War to express the disgust and disillusionment felt by many Americans who had participated in it.

Dos Passos (who had served as an ambulance driver in Italy during the war) introduces the reader to 3 distinctive charact...more

I read this novel, based on the author's experiences as a volunteer ambulance driver in WWI, at grandmother's cottage in SW Michigan because I had been mightily impressed by his USA trilogy. Sadly, I was disappointed, but then it was only his second novel.

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