A Sense of Honor (1981)

A fascinating portrayal of a gung-ho first classman’s campaign to shepherd an unprepared plebe through the Academy’s complex and unforgiving ethos. It stands as a testament to those whose devotion to duty, honor, and country is only strengthened by their willingness to question it.



The Los Angeles Times:  “The narrative literally crackles with authority. James Webb has written a book of questions, has created earthy and humanly flawed characters to grapple imperfectly with the questions, to muddle through. There is love and adultery and the failure of poetry to cope with the latter. There is suspense…. As in war, no one truly triumphs. But the struggles are mighty and the victories impressive.”


The Washington Star:  “Webb is as much a moral philosopher of the military as a novelist. In a time when fiction seems to find it harder and harder to address moral issues, that makes him a valuable man at the typewriter. A SENSE OF HONOR is provocative and passionate.”


The Boston Globe:  “The question Webb asks is one that has been slighted for more than a decade: Is there a greater common good to be advanced and protected which justifies some degree of physical hardship for men who must bear it in their future lives? … It is a remarkable moral statement, one that might sooner have been expected from an older, more experienced man. But Webb learned many crucial lessons under the gun and his call rings true.”


The New York Times:  “James Webb writes as only an insider could of that peculiarly costly education. His uncanny ear for the raunchy vocabulary of military life (he must have taken notes) is matched by his evocation of its spit and polish claustrophobia and its inherent contradictions loneliness in the midst of camaraderie, brutality mixed with decency, pain with pride, honor with death and destruction.”


The Nashville Tennessean:  “The book is a novel of ideas which probes the nature of the efficient military mind and the kind of leader who breeds heroes, even when he may destroy a certain element of humanity. It is also a complex dissertation on the nature of authority and the value of rules and regulations.”


Publisher’s Weekly:  “In this powerful novel, Webb pulls the reader right into the cauldron of Annapolis, for a vivid picture of heroes and martinets living according to their various interpretations of ‘honor’; and he illuminates the mystique that makes men voluntarily stay in such a meat grinder.”


The Nashville Banner:  “Rarely do I read a book that I have trouble putting down, a book that haunts me at work and one that I anxiously return to in the evening.  James Webb’s A Sense of Honor does that…. could easily become one of the year’s best novels.”


The Denver Post:  “The plebe system of military indoctrination is treated in stunning detail, with an appreciation for both its horrors and its virtues…. The Marines and the Naval Academy are fortunate to have a chronicler as insightful and compassionate as James Webb.”