Underworld Media Watch

Starting in late fall of 1996, the buzz began circulating on DeLillo's long novel Underworld. This page lists each known report on the book leading up to its publication and beyond. Let me know if you see anything new.

March, 2024: Underworld has been included in The Atlantic's Great American Novels listing - a total of 136 titles first published in the U.S. in the last 100 years.

January, 2024: Underworld has been included in Simon & Schuster 100 on the occasion of their 100th anniversary.

August, 2015: The Picador Classic edition of Underworld included an introduction by novelist Rachel Kushner, and it was published online at The Guardian with title "Don DeLillo's Underworld - still hits a home run". Here's a piece:

Some authors go for sweep, others for sentences, and yet Underworld is both. Sentence by sentence, it may have the highest density of great sentences of all DeLillo’s novels, at two or three times as long as the rest. How did he sustain it? I have no idea, and the how is not for me to wonder. The book exists. It raises the bar on what can be done.

August 3, 2015: The Guardian included Underworld in their list of 100 best novels. Robert McCrum wrote the entry for DeLillo's novel. Here's a piece:

Underworld is the work of a writer wired into contemporary America from the ground up, spookily attuned to the weird vibrations of popular culture and the buzz of everyday, ordinary conversations on bus and subway. According to Joyce Carol Oates, he is "a man of frightening perception", an all-American writer who sees and hears his country like no other. This ambitious, massive (832pp) and visionary edifice certainly looks like a masterpiece; widely acclaimed by critics on first appearance, it is often chosen by lists like this.

July 15, 2011: The New York Times asked their writers for a 'single summer pleasure' and book reviewer Michiko Kakutani contributed her pick of Underworld in 'A Prescient Novel Retains Its Power'. Here's how she begins:

A decade after 9/11, it's worth rereading Don DeLillo's 1997 masterpiece, "Underworld," to appreciate how uncannily the author not only captured the surreal weirdness of life in the second half of the 20th century but also anticipated America's lurch into the terror and exigencies of the new millennium.

May, 2006: The New York Times conducted a survey of 125 writers to find their choice for the 'Best Work of American Fiction in the Last 25 Years' and Underworld came in number two with 11 votes (behind Toni Morrison's Beloved). For more on this, see the item under Odds & Ends.

August 21, 2003: The other three pieces on Underworld that have appeared in The Guardian.

The Guardian "How time flies" by John Mullan, a short piece on the chronology of Underworld, August 16, 2003.

In matters of character and personal destiny, the chronological complexity is often intriguing. Yet DeLillo does not always seem to recognise the potential of his own narrative method. He is most interested in the historical utility of his narrative structure -not in human individuality but in the "underground network" of a society.

The Guardian "Moving Pictures" by John Mullan, a short piece on the cinematic qualities of Underworld, August 9, 2003.

Private desires, radio broadcasts, parental refrains and, somewhere nearby, loudspeaker warnings to a crowd: all are simply interleaved. This jumpy narrative is best suited to juxtaposition and incongruity - to representing differences. We take it on trust that the fragments belong together. Klara searches Unterwelt for its "politics of montage" and DeLillo expects a good deal in requiring the same of his reader.

The Guardian "Pass the parcel" by John Mullan, a short piece on Underworld as a 'novel of circulation,' July 26, 2003.

The idea of fitting a society into a novel by following an object is an old one. The device was popular in the 18th century, especially after Francis Coventry's satirical novel Pompey the Little (1751). The title of this anatomy of Georgian absurdities is the name of the lapdog whose fortunes Coventry describes. Each owner is a representative character (a fop, a Methodist, a prostitute, and so on). Critics sometimes call such a narrative a "novel of circulation". One of the bestselling novels of the 18th century was another such: Charles Johnstone's Chrysal; or, The Adventures of a Guinea (1760-5), which follows a gold coin through the hands of the great, the vicious and the foolish.

August 3, 2003:
The Guardian "And then he ate the apple..." by John Mullan, a short piece on the language of Underworld, August 2, 2003.

Underworld goes further. It likes verbless sentences and descriptions that merely collect things. While concerned with hidden connections and beguiling conspiracy theories, at eye level it is disconnected. Parataxis performs the disconnection, catching at fragments. No wonder that, for DeLillo's characters, paranoia is such a solace.

Ride the media wave...

Alt-X, Electronic Book Review ran quite an interesting review entitled "Lessons in Latent History" by Steffen Hantke in #7, Summer 1998.

Transatlantic presented an interview in German by Ruth Bender entitled (probably mistakenly) "Basketball und die Bombe" in late 1998, I believe

Der Standard, Austria ran an interview with Don DeLillo and a short review of "Underworld" in its "Album" weekend supplement of its issue of Oct. 30th, 1998.

The interview (23 KB) with DeLillo is the supplement's title story:
"Sprache ist der einzige Fluchtweg" (translated: "Language is the only escape route") by interviewer Peter Koerte.

On the back of the same page there's a short (7 KB) book review: 'Unter weissgeblutetem Himmel / US-Geschichte(n) aus der Vogelperspektive: "Unterwelt" '(translated: Under a sky bleeded white / A bird's-eye view of US history (stories)).

(thanks to Christian Rott)

Seems like the first wave of Underworld critical re-appraisals has begun.

Boston Review "Visions of the American Berserk" by Paul Gediman takes a look at Underworld and Philip Roth's American Pastoral, 1998.

DoubleTake magazine has an article entitled "Don DeLillo's Brave New World" by Sven Birkerts in the the Fall 1998 issue (Vol. 4, No. 14), p. 126.

Raritan "Afterthoughts on Don DeLillo's Underworld" by Tony Tanner, volume XVII:4, Spring 1998. A generally negative rethinking of Underworld.

World Socialist Web Site published "The serious artist and the Cold War: Underworld reviewed" by David Walsh in November, 1998.

The German edition of Underworld is out in October, 1998. Here are some links to articles:

Marabo, "Müll verient dei Menschen" by Anne Ullenboom, December 1998.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Zurich, "Aus der Unter- in die Oberwelt - Ein Gespräch mit Don DeLillo" by Armin von Büchau, 14. November 1998.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Zurich, "Von der Fleischkathedrale ins Mutantenmuseum" by Angela Schader, 10. October 1998, page 67.

Die Zeit, Hamburg, "Mr. Paranoia" an interview by Jörg Burger, 8. October 1998, ZEITmagazin. (English translation

Berliner Morgenpost, Berlin, "Eine Welt, deren Werte nicht mehr die alten sind" by Maria Moss, 7. October 1998, Literaturbeilage.

Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), Munich, "Baseball, Bombe und Müll im nuklearen Zeitalter" by Eberhard Falcke, 7. October 1998.

die tageszeitung (taz), Berlin, "Ball und Bombe - Nostra Aetate" by Erhard Schuetz, 7. October 1998, page 7 Literataz. Incidentally, this article mentions this website: "Auf der Website http://haas.berkeley.edu/gardner/delillo.html findet man ziemlich alles, was man immer schon zu DeLillo wissen wollte. DeLillo ist kamerascheu. [...] Alles weitere auf der Website." Which translates to "On the website http://haas.berkeley.edu/gardner/delillo.html you can find pretty much everything you always wanted to know about DeLillo. DeLillo is reclusive. [...] All further details on the website."

Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin, "Die Flugbahn des Baseballs" by Jörg Drews, 2. October 1998, Literaturspiegel.

The World & I "Apocalypse, Then and Now" by Thomas Deignan (March, 1999).

San Diego Insider published a piece back in November (Nov. 17, 1997).

LM "The aftermath of paranoia" by Henry Joy McCracken (Issue 109, April 1998).

AGNI "Plumbing the Underworld" review of Underworld by George de Man (Web Issue 6, 1998).

Commonweal "DeLillo's surrogate believers" review by Paul Elie (Nov. 7, 1997, pp. 19-22).

New Leader "Stalking the elusive zeitgeist" review by Ben Downing (Sept. 22, 1997, pp. 17-18). Not a favorable review; "If this novel had been written by a hack, I would be tempted maliciously to dub it 'Undercooked' or 'Blunderworld' and to draw snide analogies with Waterworld."

National Review "The Los Angeles of Novels" review by James Gardner (no relation!) (Nov. 24, 1997, pp. 60-61). Refers to the novel throughout as 'Underground.' "A massive post-industrial sprawl with little discernible order and no real center."

Village Voice "One Degree of Separation - Unearthing Underworld's Bouncing Ball" article by Nathan Ward (Sept. 23, 1997, p. 141). Ward writes of a man named John Lee Smith, who claims to have actually seen what happened to the baseball on Oct. 3, 1951.

New Statesman "Don DeLillo: the essential dinner-party guide" (Jan 23, 1998, p. 47). A mock Q&A about DeLillo and Underworld. "Everyone's talking about Don DeLillo. Why? His novel Underworld has just been published. It establishes him as the commanding presence of contemporary American fiction, Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon being his only serious rivals."

New Statesman "The uses of junk" review by Michael Mewshaw (Jan 2, 1998, p. 52). "Now, it seems, he has decided to deconstruct his oeuvre, to atomise and then reassemble it."

Three articles from the London Evening Standard:
"Underworld" a review by Allison Pearson (Jan. 12, 1998);
"Up from the Underworld" a DeLillo profile by Andrew Billen (Jan. 28, 1998); and
"Underworld: over-hyped and over here" an essay by Christopher Hitchens (Dec. 11, 1997).

London Review of Books, Vol 20 No 3, Feb 5 1998, has a review of Underworld by Michael Wood on page 3 called "Post-Paranoid".

Underworld, like Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, is in this sense a post-paranoid novel. When one of DeLillo's characters thinks of 'the paranoid élite', we are meant to catch the friendly irony, the flicker of nostalgia. These are people who believe that the first moonwalk was 'staged on a ranch outside Las Vegas', and then transmitted on television as if from space.

Independent on Jan. 4, 1998 ran a review by Blake Morrison.

Daily Telegraph ran a couple articles: a review of Underworld entitled "The country where history is more inventive than fiction" by Christophey Bigsby on Jan. 3, 1998, and an interview entitled "They're all out to get him" by Mick Brown on Jan 10, 1998.

The Irish Times featured a DeLillo interview entitled "And quiet writes the Don" by Fintan O'Toole on January 10, 1998, and a review entitled "Pitched into the future" by Eileen Battersby on January 8, 1998.
(Thanks to Seamus Heaney)

The British edition of Underworld is officially being published on January 9, 1998 (though copies have been available for a couple months). DeLillo is making an appearance in London on January 15. See the New Additions page for details.

The Guardian "Everything under the bomb" an interview by Richard Williams (Jan. 10, 1998).

The Observer "The course of true life" by William Boyd (Jan. 11, 1998).

The Observer reprinted the DeLillo essay "The Power of History" on January 4, 1998.

The Guardian "Books of discrimination" by Richard Williams (Jan. 8, 1998).

The Sunday Times "Out to get us" by Michael Dibdin (Jan. 4, 1998).

Times Literary Supplement "Hitting the Home Run" by Paul Quinn (December 26, 1997, p. 21).

New Yorker in a piece entitled "Ink" by James Atlas provides a few backstage glimpses of the awarding of the National Book Award (not to DeLillo). (Dec. 1, 1997, p. 39).

Sueddeutsche Zeitung "Das Leben is ein Roman" review by Michael Althen in German (includes a reference to the page as well) (Nov. 22, 1997).

Frankfurter Rundschau review by Peter Koerte entitled "Der Muell, die Bombe und der Homerun" (Monday, Oct. 6, 1997, pg. 7).

Sydney Morning Herald ran two reviews: "DeLillo Hits a Homer" by Alan Attwood (Oct. 25, 1997) and "Cold War and Peace" (Nov. 22, 1997).

The Economist "A less-than-great American Novel" review (Nov. 8, 1997).

Washington Post features an article on DeLillo entitled "Don DeLillo's Hidden Truths" by David Streitfield (Nov. 11, 1997, p. D1).

Details review by Rob Stillman (Nov. 1997, p. 98).

The New Republic Black Noise by James Woods (Nov. 10, 1997).

Miami Herald "Home runs, bombs, toxic waste and thinking the unthinkable" by D.T. Max (Sept. 28, 1997).

Playboy "DeLillo's History of the Underworld" by Geoffrey Norman.

Providence Phoenix How the Waste was Won by Peter Keough (October 2-9, 1997).

New York Review of Books Between Hell and History by Luc Sante (Nov. 6, 1997, p. 4-7).

Underworld nominated for National Book Award! "Finalists for Book Award Named" by Rick Lyman appeared in New York Times on Oct. 16, 1997, page B3 (National edition). The other finalists are Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Diane Johnson's Le Divorce, Ward Just's Echo House, and Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers. The article notes two novels "conspicuously missing from the fiction list," Pynchon's Mason & Dixon and Roth's American Pastoral, and says that the "absence of Mr. Pynchon's colossal work [...] was particularly striking." The awards will be announced Nov. 18, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan.

The Nation "American Jitters" by John Leonard (Nov. 3, 1997).

Underworld as bestseller! The New York Times Book Review chart has had Underworld at:

Harper's includes an article by Vince Passaro entitled "The Unsparing Vison of Don DeLillo" which even includes some mention of this web site (Nov. 1997, pp. 72-75).

Atlanta Journal-Constitution "DeLillo connects history's points for big-picture view" by Steven G. Kellman.

Detroit Free Press "A great American novel" by Terry Lawson (Sept. 28, 1997).

The Mining Company reviews Underworld by Scott Rettberg.

San Francisco Chronicle "The Shot Heard 'Round the World " profile by Blake Green (Oct. 14, 1997, pp. B1, B4).

People in the Picks 'n Pans section (Oct. 13, 1997, p. 33).

Philadelphia Inquirer "We are the underworld" by James Held (Oct. 5, 1997).

New York Times Book Review Survivors of the Cold War by Martin Amis (Oct. 5, 1997).

Vogue review by Tad Friend (Oct. 1997).

Entertainment Weekly review by Tom DeHaven (Oct. 3, 1997).

Hungry Mind Review has published "The American Strangeness: An Interview with Don DeLillo" by Gerald Howard (DeLillo's editor for Libra).

An article entitled "DeLillo's Dilemna" by Mark Feeney in the Boston Globe, Sept. 30, 1997.

Atlantic "An Underhistory of Mid-Century America" by Tom LeClair (Oct. 1997, p. 113).

Harper's Bazaar "Defining Moments" by J. Hoberman (October, 1997, p. 152).

Washington Post "The Blast Felt Round the World" by Michael Dirda, Sept. 28, 1997.

Boston Globe "Blasts from the Past" by Gail Caldwell, Sept. 28, 1997.

LA Times "Dead Souls" by Richard Eder, Sept. 28, 1997.

Salon for Sept. 26, 1997 runs "One Nation Undercover" by Laura Miller. She liked it, but has some reservations.

Philadelphia City Paper ran this review by Nate Chinen.

Time "How Did We Get Here" by Paul Gray (Sept. 29, 1997, p. 89-90).

Slate for Sept. 23, 1997 runs a review by Walter Kirn. Kirn says the emperor has no clothes. He didn't like Mason & Dixon much either.

Chicago Tribune "Below the Surface" by Melvin Jules Bukiet (Sept. 21, 1997).

SF Chronicle (Sept 21, 1997, Book Review page 1, 6) "We Are What We Waste" by David Wiegand. Quite a well-written, perceptive review.

Cleveland Plain Dealer review by Gary Lee Stonum (Sept. 21, 1997).

Spin "The Theory of Everything" by Donald Antrim (Oct. 1997, p. 72).

Newsweek "DeLillo Hits a Home Run" by Malcolm Jones Jr. (Sept. 22, 1997, p. 84-85).

New York Times "Of America as a Splendid Junk Heap" by Michiko Kakutani (Sept. 16, 1997) p. B1, B7. With a big color photo of DeLillo in front of a shop in the Bronx. There's a little reproduction of the photo on the front page. A glowing review: "a dazzling, phosphorescent work of art."

The New Yorker (the "Diana" issue) contains a DeLillo profile by David Remnick (Sept. 15, 1997, pp. 42-48).

Village Voice Literary Supplement, "National Enquirer: Don DeLillo Gets Under America's Skin" by Andrew O'Hagan (Sept. 16, 1997, pp. 8-10).

New York Observer by Adam Begley (Sept. 15, 1997). "This novel will make you fell lucky to be alive and reading."

Mirabella by Will Blythe (Sept/Oct p. 50, 52). "Only the greatest novelists can go down deathward into landfills and bomb shelters, test sites and ghetto basements, down into the underworld, and come back up singing" (52).

Elle by Paul Elie (Oct. 1997, p. 120)

GQ by Thomas Mallon (Sept. 1997, p. 193-4)

New York (Sept. 8, 1997). Short review p. 137.

We're getting very close now.

In the New York Times Magazine, Sept 7, 1997, there is a DeLillo essay entitled "The Power of History." The subject is the novelist's use of historical events. Here's a link to "The Power of History".

In the Sept. 8, 1997 issue of The New Yorker there is another excerpt from Underworld, entitled "Sputnik." This is a "small tribute to Jell-O," or in other words a visit with the Demings.

The buzz is building!

The Fall 1997 issue of Publishers Weekly contains the article "The Ascendance of Don DeLillo" by Jonathan Bing. DeLillo says, "I've never thought about myself in terms of a career. When people ask me a question about my career, I answer, perhaps a bit facetiously, I don't have a career, I have a typewriter. I've never planned anything."

The Sept. 1997 issue of Vanity Fair includes a short article on DeLillo and Underworld entitled "DeLillo's Home Run" by David Kamp. DeLillo says, "The novel is is creating a dream that's an antidote to history's nightmare."

Publishers Weekly (July 14, 1997, p. 67) calls the book "a tightly plotted, massive feat of cultural history" and calls DeLillo "one of our most dazzling chroniclers of the cultural vectors shaping the American fin de siecle."

Kirkus Reviews ran a glowing notice (July '97); here's a tidbit:
"a grand Whitmanesque epic of postwar American life -- a brainy, streetwise, and lyrical underground history of our times, full of menace and miracles, and humming with the bop and crackle of postmodern life."

Salman Rushdie appeared at the University of Pittsburgh and put in a plug for DeLillo. Bob Hoover, in the 18 May Arts section (G-9) of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes:

"Now if you're a bettor, here's a tip from Rushdie: DeLillo's upcoming novel will be the best of the year."

For the sake of completeness:
The May 9, 1997 issue of Entertainment Weekly contains a reclusiveness rating chart on Pynchon, DeLillo and Salinger (page 71).
DeLillo also rates a few mentions in the July 1997 Esquire cover story on J.D. Salinger.
New York magazine had a passing reference to Underworld in its January 13, 1997 issue. It was within a story ("The Naumann Conquest" by Alexandra Lange) on publisher Michael Naumann, who's at Henry Holt.
The Dec. 23 & 30, 1996 issue of The New Yorker contains another Underworld preview. The piece is called "The Black-and-White Ball" and is the story of J. Edgar Hoover's attendance at Truman Capote's 1966 party (begins p. 80).

The Dec. 9, 1996 Newsweek mentions DeLillo in a story on movie rights to novels.
Daily Variety reports on Dec. 4 that screen rights have been sold to Scott Rudin at Paramount.

Hollywood Reporter also on Dec. 4 confirms the Paramount purchase.

Publishers Weekly reports on Underworld in the November 11, 1996 issue (p. 24). They report a release date of October 3, 1997 - the anniversary of the "Pafko" game.

Scribner publisher Susan Moldrow is quoted: "For Scribner, publishers of the greatest American writers of the '40s--Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe--the opportunity to publish this masterwork by Don DeLillo is the perfect way to close a century."

Scribner editor-in-chief Nan Graham believes that "Underworld may increase DeLillo's respectable but admittedly select audience," and is quoted; "There's a level of intimacy in this book that makes it immediately rewarding. Plus, it's funny."

Heard on Nov. 5, 1996 that Underworld was sold to Scribner.
First heard rumor of the bidding for Underworld between the publishing houses on Oct. 25, 1996. The actual bidding occurred on Oct. 29, 1996.
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Last Updated: 15-MAR-2024