21 September 2010

Review: The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

Will McLean is one of the few English majors at the venerable Carolina Military Institute in Charleston. Before he walks through the gates to begin his senior year in 1966, he is still just a boy; by the time he wears the ring nine months later, he is full-grown and has seen the world for what it really is.

It's hard to believe that The Lords of Discipline is the first Pat Conroy book I have ever read. It is equally hard to believe that I would have fallen in love with an emotionally difficult book about a military college.

The book is fiction but gains its authenticity from Conroy's own undergraduate experience at the The Citadel, also located in Charleston. In fact, in an author's note (read by Conroy himself in the audio edition), he mentions that The Citadel banned the book on campus for more than decade. Although the details and the people were born in Conroy's mind, The Lords of Discipline speaks the truth.

At the hub of Will McLean's story is the horrors of the Phebe system--the sanctioned breaking down of young men during their first year of college. Hazing is too tame a word for what the Plebes endure from the upper classmen, and the majority of students who matriculate in the fall never make it to spring.

Piling up on the negative side of life at The Institute is racism, social class divisions, and the abuse of power. On the other hand, Will recalls the deep bonds he felt with his roommates of four years and the strength of brotherhood that seemed unbreakable behind the veil of youth.

The Lords of Discipline is one of the most emotionally intense books I have ever read. Although I know my connection with the novel was strengthened by the brilliant narration by Dan John Miller, I can't imagine not recommending the print version. As I said in my audio review for AudioFile magazine, "The combination of Conroy's story and Miller's rendition creates an unforgettable and lingering audio experience."

Although Conroy presents both sides of attending a military college, I more often return to the dark images and the potential hypocrisy of those who preach the sacredness of the code.

The Lords of Discipline at Powell's
The Lords of Discipline at Book Depository
For the audio version, see the buttons in the sidebar.
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Published by Random House / Dial Press 2002 (originally published 1980)
ISBN-13: 9780553381566
YTD: 81
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: A+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


JoAnn 9/21/10, 6:27 AM  

Great review. I love Pat Conroy (Beach Music is my favorite), but haven't read this early novel. Will have to change that soon.

Sandy Nawrot 9/21/10, 6:49 AM  

I've seen the movie, and it rocked too. I love Pat Conroy for "The Prince of Tides" and "Beach Music". I'm going to hop on over the library website and see if they have this audio.

Julie P. 9/21/10, 8:34 AM  

I read this one many, many years ago and I can vouch that the print version is amazing! It's a brilliant book and one of my favorites by Mr. Conroy.

Meghan 9/21/10, 8:51 AM  

I like Pat Conroy but I've never heard of this one - what a shame that is! I'll add it to my list because it sounds wonderful.

Anonymous,  9/21/10, 9:27 AM  

I've never read Pat Conroy, but I love well-done audiobooks. Based on this glowing review, Lords of Discipline is going on my list!

Eleanor Brown 9/21/10, 9:35 AM  

I just posted about The Lords of Discipline too! I adore Pat Conroy, but this is my favorite of his.

TheBookGirl 9/21/10, 9:52 AM  

I love Pat Conroy and am eagerly awaiting his new nonfiction book this fall:)

Buried In Print 9/21/10, 10:08 AM  

I've really got to make time to try Pat Conroy's fiction: your review of this novel is very encouraging indeed!

SuziQoregon 9/21/10, 10:11 AM  

I loved the movie and saw it many times. I'm always a sucker for stories set in and around Charleston anyway. I'm woefully lacking in my Pat Conroy reading. The only one I've read is Beach Music which I loved. I need to read more of his books, but I think you've convinced me to get this one on audio.


S. Krishna 9/21/10, 12:02 PM  

Believe it or not, I've never read anything by Pat Conroy - maybe I should start with this one!

Unknown 9/21/10, 12:43 PM  

Pat Conroy is my favorite contemporary author. Where did it start? The Lords of Discipline. I read it while in college, sick with the flu. I tore through it and fell in love with the characters, the place, the relationships, the manliness, all of it.

I'm so glad you enjoyed it too!

bermudaonion 9/21/10, 1:25 PM  

I can't believe this is your first experience with Conroy's work either! I've loved everything that I've read. Having grown up in a military town and having known a lot of military school graduates, I know this book speaks the truth. I loved it when I read it too!

Thoughts of Joy 9/21/10, 1:41 PM  

Well, I'm where you were - I haven't read any of Pat Conroy's work and hope to be where you are now. :) This book sounds like something I'd really enjoy. I'm going to look for the audiobook, as well. Thanks for sharing.

Just Mom 9/21/10, 2:04 PM  

I love Pat Conroy's books. Just read that Prince of Tides may be made into a TV series?! I met him at a social function recently and was so starstruck I could barely speak.

Joanna 9/21/10, 4:48 PM  

Now you need to read my two favorites -- The Prince of Tides (so, so much better than the movie based on the book) & Beach Music. His newest novel South of Broad is very good, too. It's so nice to find a new author & have several books by them to read, isn't it?

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 9/21/10, 5:36 PM  

I hadn't heard of this book, though I had heard of the Citadel. I first heard of Conroy with South of Broad. It look like he has a rich history to explore.

Peaceful Reader 9/21/10, 11:54 PM  

I haven't read any of Pat Conroy for years but I did love Prince of Tides. Thanks for such a good review on a topic I might not otherwise pick.

Michele 9/22/10, 12:39 AM  

I fell in love with Conroy with Prince of Tides. And I purchased South of Broad when it arrived on shelves earlier this year....still waiting to get to it. Love this review, though, and I will be buying a copy of this one for certain.

Anonymous,  9/22/10, 9:15 AM  

My book group had a rollicking discussion of SOUTH OF BROAD yesterday afternoon. Whew! I'm planning on reading this one and THE GREAT SANTINI soon. I enjoyed PRINCE OF TIDES a few years ago. Lots of divisions of opinion about SOUTH OF BROAD in our group. I loved it, but not everyone did.

Beth Hoffman 9/22/10, 5:32 PM  

I've read every book written by Pat Conroy, and The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides are my absolute favorites.

And speaking of favorites, your photograph is wonderful. I love it.

Alice 10/5/10, 8:10 PM  

I'm not sure where I've read a review of Pat Conroy's book, but seeing this author again right here, reminded me that I should give his books a try.

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