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The Lords of Discipline

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A Wall Street Journal Book Club pick • The acclaimed bestseller about upheaval at a Southern military academy, hailed by Larry King as “an American classic,” by the legendary author of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini

In this powerful, mesmerizing, and acclaimed bestseller, Pat Conroy sweeps us into the turbulent world of four young men—friends, cadets, and blood brothers—and their days of hazing, heartbreak, pride, betrayal, and, ultimately, humanity. We go deep into the heart of the novel’s hero, Will McLean, a rebellious outsider with his own personal code of honor who is battling into manhood the hard way. Immersed in a poignant love affair with a haunting beauty, Will must boldly confront the terrifying injustice of a corrupt institution as he struggles to expose a mysterious group known as “The Ten.”

Praise for The Lords of Discipline

“If you are reading another book when you begin The Lords of Discipline, prepare to set it aside.” — The Denver Post

“A work of enormous power, passion, humor, and wisdom [that] sweeps the reader along on a great tide of honest, throbbing emotion.” — The Washington Star

“Few novelists write as well, and none as beautifully.” — Lexington Herald-Leader

592 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1980

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About the author

Pat Conroy

79 books3,340 followers
Pat Conroy (1945 - 2016) was the New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs and seven novels, including The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline. He is recognized as a leading figure of late-20th century Southern literature.

Born the eldest of seven children in a rigidly disciplined military household, he attended the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina. He briefly became a schoolteacher (which he chronicled in his memoir The Water Is Wide) before publishing his first novel, The Boo. Conroy lived on Fripp Island, South Carolina until his death in 2016.

Conroy passed away on March 4, 2016 at his home from Pancreatic Cancer. He was 70 years old at the time of his death.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,615 reviews
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
January 10, 2020
I love Pat Conroy and I don't think I could ever do justice when reviewing any of his books. His writing is always so rich and draws me in with it's vivid imagery and he always somehow manages to convey so much emotion through his writing that I always feel really affected by it even months after reading it. This book was excellent, the characters were deep and complex and the plot line was really heavy but well constructed. He managed to address issues like perceptions of masculinity and social hierarchy and nepotism so well. There aren't many authors who can do that so eloquently, tying in real world issues with a fictional world full of characters who are well developed and a plot line that makes me want to keep reading until I get to the end. Some of this book was really rough though especially the scenes with the hazing but I think it's really necessary to have that visceral reaction to the things happening in the story.
Profile Image for Jesse.
105 reviews20 followers
January 8, 2023
This was my second Pat Conroy book, and I was not disappointed. Set in the beautiful state of South Carolina, we find ourselves thrust into an unlikely foursome. A friendship forged in the fires of the fabled plebe system of the Carolina Military Institute.

Our hero Will McLean. The ever-sarcastic but wise leader of our group. At school on a basketball scholarship and a promise. He couldn't care any less about military rules and regulations.

The honey prince himself descended from Carolina royalty no doubt, defender of class and president of the anti-tacky league, none other than Tradd St Croix.

OINK OINK OINK. Danti Pigente, better known as pig. A Northerner. Defender of Theresa's purity. A Big, dumb, poor Italian that would do anything for his best friends.

Mark Santoro, a yankee who can't quite figure out these southern boys. He is military through and through and loves his friends with all his heart.

The Bear. Colonel Berrineau. Overseer of the institute. Protector of all the little lambs. A cigar-smoking hard ass that you can't help but love.

We follow our rag-tag group of cadets as they navigate the intricacies of the Institute. Their friendship and ultimately their brotherhood is sealed through helping each other survive "the system."

A coming-of-age story wrapped in a mystery with a dash of love and more twists than a 1960s sock hop. Do yourself a favor and read this one!
Profile Image for Jana.
1,096 reviews445 followers
April 2, 2016
I'm a bit scared that I won't be able to describe how much I love this book and that I’ll screw up this review. Every time I have the same problem with Conroy. Every time when I finish reading ''him'' I have this properly deep ache. I get spoiled and I find myself measuring almost everything I’ve read so far.

I even get angry because I know it will take a long and thorough research to find book(s), author(s) that could replace this Pat Conroy feeling. And I never do find them, I never managed. The major problem is - I always fall in love with his characters. On the other hand, he is so intense and if I were reading only his books and books of this caliber (which is again, impossible to find), I would only read four books per year. To give myself a little break from exhaustion.

But when I start writing what I love about The Lords of Discipline, I am not able to stop. Conroy makes his story true and maybe this is over the top statement, but most of the time I feel like I am inside, like I’m in the book, feeling a bit embarrassed because I'm watching what is happening with his characters. BUT, luckily I've read enough reviews to know that I'm not alone in this.

To add even more spice to this essay: it's a goddamn military book!

I think the main reason why so many people relate is because it seems like you alone are experiencing all the things that are written inside. It really is that real. And scary. And you’re sad and lonely when the book ends, because you miss all of them.

It’s a story about South Carolina Military Institute * aka The Citadel, in Charleston, in the fall of 1966. The main character is Will McLean, senior in that college, and he is one of the most amazing and best developed male characters I have ever come across in any novel.

Will McLean hates the Institute, but he gave a promise to his father that he would graduate. During four extremely brutal and agonizing years he was psychologically, physically, emotionally and morally humiliated, degraded in every possible way a human can tolerate, or not tolerate, because plebe system during the first year makes you swallow blood and expect nervous breakdown. Final result if you survive is a satisfaction of becoming a Complete Man.

Will is an Irish descendant, an athlete, majoring English (only pussies major languages), with brilliant dry sarcastic humor that is his shield against those who torture him. He is introspective and opinionated, but he has unimaginable sense for justice and fairness and he is wise beyond his years. He is shivering afraid of his demons and yet absolutely not afraid to point and admit them in a place where you have to hide everything. But, his major qualities are his morality and loyalty. He’s not the strongest, nor the toughest, and intellectually he could give a lot more if he only cared, but those vulnerable soft spots that he has as a character make him irresistible. He cares too much about people, and he thinks too much, and goes into such deep and complicated monologues where he tears himself apart that you as a reader push your limits as well, and this is what kills him. In a way he's a full circle person. This character is growing with each page and you grow with him. I had a serious crush on him. Obviously.

Institute is the nest of hate, racism and cruelty and they have to accomplish their mission of developing the Complete Man without flaws, so it's vitally important to have somebody who will represent comfort, loyalty and security. Will has three best friends: Tadd, who comes from the wealthiest and oldest Charleston family, Pig, the strongest of all the seniors and Mark, Italian descendant. They are roommates and blood brothers. Off campus Will is less sure of himself, in his romance with peculiar and snobbish Annie Kate Gervais, a native of the beautiful city Charleston.

Conroy knows how to put us on paper. He wrote 500 pages long poem to this Ashley river based city and those parts where he talks about Charleston are probably, if that is possible, the best parts of the book. It’s his love letter to Charleston and I often read passages out loud. But he is not a drunk writer, he doesn’t just praise and splendor it without giving it any flaws: he examines the beauty of the old South while he along the way harshly addresses racism and classes.

From the beginning this book was intense but Will is just so powerful and attractive character that you live with him during the reading. He doesn’t trust himself at all and interrogates himself even more brutally than the plebe system does, but he has you on his side constantly, because you trust him from the start. And that’s f*cking rare. To find in real life, let alone to get yourself mesmerised by somebody 'who' is called - a fictional character.

There is so much more to this book than my words could describe. It’s a masterpiece. Painful, insightful, heartbreaking, inspiring and stunning. It’s an ode to humanity, friendship and love. True masterpiece.
May 29, 2022

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I understood for the first time why the punishment for Lot's wife was so severe. There were times when it was unforgivable to look back (88%)

This is a dark and edgy book that explores the same themes of innate violence and tribal belonging as LORD OF THE FLIES. Set in a Southern military college, THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE is about a young Irish Catholic boy named William McLean. Since he's the most liberal and cynical boy in the academy, he's given the task of protecting the new black recruit who's entering the school as a result of desegregation. Their school, Carolina Military Institute, is well known for its "plebe" system and brutal hazing methods of incoming freshmen, culminating in something called "Hell Night." Will needs to make sure that Tom Pearce isn't run out of the school by racists who use that hazing to exert sadistic and bigoted revenge.

Unfortunately, hazing and Hell Night aren't the worst thing about the school. There's whispered rumors of a secret society called "The 10," filled with influential and powerful boys, who will stop at nothing to purge the school of anything that they deem damaging to the Carolina Military Institute's honor code. And if Will McLean does his job and protects Tom, he might come under fire, too.

This was so good, you guys. Even though it's 500+ pages, I finished it in just two days. It's brutal and twisted and violent and awful, and has all kinds of dark themes, but it says powerful things about honor and friendship and pride and loyalty and what it means to really do the right thing. I'm a huge sucker for secret society and boarding school stories, and when you throw revenge, friendship, and plotting into the mix, I'm sold. This book didn't fail to deliver, either. The hazing scenes are so disturbing and the stakes in this book are so, so high. There's a lot of grief and suffering.

THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE is why I feel the need to read old books that nobody else has heard of. This is an excellent story that I would have loved to have read in college, and I think it's got a story in it that a lot of my friends would be interested in reading. It says a lot of bad words (the F-word, the N-word), and has a lot of tough themes running the gamut from torture and assault (sexual and physical) to teen pregnancy and suicide, but it's such a powerful read that I feel like it's worth the struggle. The only reason it doesn't get a full five stars from me is because the writing can be a bit clunky and hard to get into, but man, the story is totally worth that bumpy, dumpy ride.

4 to 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews182 followers
May 2, 2021
This book is set at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, which was fictionalized as the Carolina Military Institute. The story starts when our main protagonist, Will McLean, reports to school after summer furlough for his senior year. The flashback narrative gives insight to the hazing and Fourth Class System endured during Knob Year. The story intertwines the bond with his classmates, a love affair, basketball, and his dealings with The Ten. I felt Pat Conroy was a master of the English language: his writing, his prose, the flow of the story, and poetry with a pen kept me captivated throughout the whole story. This is Pat Conroy at his finest in my opinion.

I have read The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, My Losing Season, and The Death of Santini, yet this one still remains my favorite. While I attended The Citadel, I knew many cadets that read this and I didn't want to out of lack of curiosity. I read it only the summer after graduating and wished I had read it sooner. I enjoyed it from the beginning to the very end. Thanks!
Profile Image for George.
37 reviews35 followers
April 21, 2012
This would be the 3rd unforgettable book I've read by Mr. Conroy in the past year, and to date. I just love reading his work. There is no other way to put it. He just simply writes, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful sentences I have ever read. He has an unflinching capacity to be so brutally honest it often hurts. But it is the greatest pain one can recieve from a great novel. The amount of passion, pain, and pure adrenaline within the pages of this book will not let the reader put this one down. I promise!
Profile Image for Brian.
707 reviews354 followers
January 22, 2016
"The Lords of Discipline" is one of the best novels dealing with male love and friendship that I have ever read. Mr. Conroy has created as realistic a portrait of young adult companionship and comradely as I have found, to date, in literature. This long novel has many themes and characters, but the text is really about its narrator, Will McLean, and his years at a military college, known as "the Institute."
The strengths of the book are many, but here are a few that come quickly to mind. The voice of its protagonist, Will, is one of the novel's most enjoyable features. Will is articulate, sarcastic, and funny as hell. He is also inwardly shy, unsure of his place at the Institute, in his own circle of friends and relationships, and a man capable of great decency and gross baseness. In short, Will is a boy learning how to become a man. Like all of us, it is Will's interior life that is the most honest and interesting, and it is his moments of introspection where the novel really achieves greatness. However, Conroy has interwoven this high literature with one of the best suspense stories I have seen in recent years. I could not stop reading once I hit the last 150 pages. The novel propelled me along to its conclusion. I had to keep reading, even when at times I did not like what was happening in the text.
Another profound element in the novel is Conroy's evocation of Charleston SC. After Will, Charleston is the most developed character in the text, and it is easy to feel and see the city that plays such an important part in the lives of the characters.
Every once in a while I found Conroy's prose to be flowery to no real purpose, but it doesn't detract that much from the novel, and at times it was breathtakingly beautiful. Another weakness was that the ending lines of the book are straight out of a clichéd film. But it was what the reader wanted, and needed, as a conclusion for this intense novel.
When I left the world this novel created I missed it characters. I think about them, I find myself revisiting them. In this sense, Conroy has created a triumphant work.
Profile Image for Brian Eshleman.
839 reviews104 followers
February 22, 2020
I should have been a tough audience for this one this time. I read it eight years ago, and I don't typically reread. What's more, I'm even more dismissive of most fiction than I was then. This one was a five-star, jaw-dropping experience then in a way that is not typically repeatable, especially with more jaded places in my heart than I had then.

Is the irrepressible exception, the affirmation of life as a man, maybe especially a southern man, with all of its pain in all its beauty. Whatever books I don't get to until Heaven, whatever mysteries I don't get to solve by mastering a set of facts on an issue pressed between two covers, I'll be back to this one. It's a checkup for the soul.
Profile Image for Negin.
629 reviews150 followers
November 24, 2019
My favorite read of the year! Pat Conroy wrote beautifully. I’ve read a few of his books and have loved them all so far. This one is probably my favorite, or at least a close tie with Beach Music.

This is the story of a cadet at the Carolina Military Institute in Charleston during the turbulent 1960s. It’s based on Conroy’s own experiences at The Citadel.

I read that when Conroy first published this book, his alma mater shunned him for thirty years. While reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the story is based on fact. Just to prove how great of a writer he was, military stuff would normally not interest me one bit. This book had me hooked!

The friendship between the protagonist, Will, and his three roommates is just lovely. Parts of the story are truly painful and raw at times, especially all the awful and monstrous freshman hazing rituals. Those descriptions are not for the faint of heart. They’re intense and gruesome. After all that, the story is incredibly powerful and moving.

Conroy’s rich descriptions of Charleston make me want to visit there more than ever before.

“Though I will always be a visitor to Charleston, I will always remain one with a passionate belief that it is the most beautiful city in America and that to walk the old section of the city at night is to step into the bloodstream of a history extravagantly lived by a people born to a fierce and unshakable advocacy of their past. To walk in the spire-proud shade of Church Street is to experience the chronicle of a mythology that is particular to this city and this city alone, a trinitarian mythology with equal parts of the sublime, the mysterious, and the grotesque.”

“No city could be more beautiful than Charleston during the brief reign of azaleas, no city on earth.”

I’m sad that I finished this book and can’t stop thinking of all the characters. They seemed so real. As with most fabulous books, whatever I read next will likely pale in comparison.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Honor is the presence of God in man.”

“… the world needs more roses far more than it needs more basketball players.”

“Young girls have an infinite capacity for being attracted to the wrong sort of men.”
Profile Image for Bob Mayer.
Author 185 books47.9k followers
July 17, 2018
As with all Conroy books there are many plot lines in the story. So many, that when they made the movie, they left out the main one! Nevertheless, a writer like Conroy can handle that many stories with his superb prose.
As a graduate of West Point we always wondered why people went to the Citadel to be abused. I still wonder although it is an ingrained part of society in that part of the country.
Conroy was never afraid to take on difficult topics and his frank look at the racism might even be understated.
An excellent read.
1 review2 followers
October 4, 2015
“The objects you valued defined you.” (Page 376, The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy).

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.” The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy is able to demonstrate this with meticulous detail. It focuses on Will McLean’s dark experiences in his last year at the Carolina Military Institute, a school where administration turns the other cheek to vicious hazing practices designed to produce “real men.” This is a story about love and hate, and how these two values we associate with everyday objects, ultimately shape who we become.

In this novel, the reader is put in the shoes of Will McLean, a senior at the Carolina Military Institute. He is able to endure and survive the brutal tests of “plebe year,” through his humor and wit. However, in his last year at the institute, Will is assigned to assist the institute’s first black student, Tom Pearce, in overcoming his “plebe” or freshman year. It is during this process that Will comes face to face with a sinister organization, the driving force behind the hazing culture of the institute, which singles out and targets specific individuals they consider outside their notion of "ideal graduates." Through this turbulent journey, Will experiences the realities of institutional racism and other social hierarchies. While struggling through these bitter experiences, Will also finds the first love of his life. She adds beauty and purpose to his life, counterbalancing the ever-growing struggles at the institute.

The book’s intent is to reflect on the brutality of society, and the plebe system is a perfect illustration of the vicious social hierarchies that are embedded in society. The casual use of profanity as a means of degrading people shows how Pat Conroy does anything but sugarcoat the realities of the military academy. To some, this extreme use of lewd language may seem morally objectionable. However, I personally believe such details are integral to the books theme. These expressions of extreme hate and love are very real, and abstracting away from them would dull the stark message of the book.

The plot was slow to develop, but once established, it was impossible for me to put the book down. Pat Conroy’s use of detail immersed me deep into Will McLean’s life. The use of vivid details forced me to become closely attached to the characters, their struggles and their emotions at every turning point in the story became mine.

I believe this book has particular value for the two extremes of the social spectrum. I would recommend it to those struggling to come to terms with who they are, since this book serves as a support in their isolation by giving accounts of those who have overcome their isolation. This book is also an important lesson for those in position of authority, it would show them the profound effect their actions can have on the lives of those around them.

In conclusion, The Lords of Discipline is an insightful read. It presents a non-fairytale version of the society we are all a part of. We must all deal in some way or another, with the truths this book features, in order to truly value that which we love and hate.
Profile Image for David.
Author 1 book30 followers
January 1, 2022
The Lords of Discipline was extraordinarily accurate and well written. I was a Citadel cadet at the time in which Conroy set his novel. I never knew Conroy. He was one year behind me. By the time he arrived, I had stupidly begun another plebe year at West Point. So, I had two plebe years in a row. That made me in several ways as tough as nails and in other ways it evacuated my soul--for a while.

At West Point I made even better friends than I had made at The Citadel. That was the joy of both places underneath a sky of turbulent blackness and red lightning--bonding with total strangers from different backgrounds and regions. But two grueling plebe years back-to-back made you either a compliant military puppy with bad judgment or a rebel in a slave rebellion with bad judgment.

The Citadel began in the early part of the 19th Century as an institute to train young men of South Carolina to preserve the system of the slave-owning class. I was a Texan, so what was I doing there?

In the second semester of my senior year in high school, we all had to talk to the academic advisor, a lady in her sixties with blue hair (a sexy style then for those headed for the pasture) . She asked me where I planned to go to school. I told her the Air Force Academy or West Point, which I had only thought about one month before. She only knew me as an athlete and was unaware of my fairly good academic record; so she told me that I could never get into those schools. She was right in one way: I should not have gone to either The Citadel or West Point. But I did for no good reason really. And glad I did—sort of, I guess, in hindsight, maybe. I was strategizing in the fog of most teenage thinking that if I got into a school like The Citadel first, I might get to make it into West Point via that route. And that worked.

In Lords of Discipline, Conroy writes so well about how my friends and I dealt with each other and how we dealt with the daily and nightly tension of having to deal with upperclassmen who were often cruel martinets. He made me feel as if I were reliving that part of my life.

If you like this sort of genre, you might like Rick Atkinson’s “The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966” which was more of a non-fictionalized scenario about life at the military academy. (By the way, I strongly recommend Atkinson’s trilogy about the history of World War II.) Then I tired of the stupid life I was leading and went back to Texas to regroup.

Honors be damned. I wanted my youth back--like driving a car, going out with girls, reading whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, taking odd jobs, traveling, going to dances and parties and going out with girls. In short, living a short life to the fullest of one's ability. Only people over 50 should fight wars anyway since they are the ones who usually start them.
Profile Image for Rich.
291 reviews26 followers
December 3, 2020
Wow what a long and deep based book on character study. This was the first book by this author that I have read. I saw parts of the movie along time ago lol. I thought it was a very good book. I am glad I read it. The story moved at a good pace except every once in a while he did get a little flowery with his writing but it was not often or that bad. This whole book for the most part is character driven which is a talent . I Liked the main character and almost all of the secondary characters. The dialogue was very sharp , crisp and good. This book brought about the same feelings that another book I read eons ago in high school and that was a Seperate Peace. The last quarter of the book went by at a very good clip. I thought the ending was good but thought maybe it could have had a little bit more of a bite to it but I am not certain on that. I do think the book could have been tighten up a little bit. I thought maybe the scenes with the girlfriend were to many and I also thought the basketball scene was long. I debated whether it would go on my favorites shelf and I decided it fell a little short. I do not give out 5 stars often and this one earned it. I say go out and give this book a big spin..
Profile Image for Barnabas Piper.
Author 11 books942 followers
February 2, 2019
This was the first of Conroy’s novels I ever read. Since that time I have read all of them (there aren’t many, about a half dozen). Lords of Discipline is as forceful a novel as I have read. To describe the plot would not do it justice, but here is the gist. Will Maclean is a cadet at Carolina Military institute (a fictional school in Charleston, SC based largely on The Citadel where Conroy attended). He is asked to look out for the first black incoming freshman in school history and see him through his plebe year, a year that breaks and washes out numerous incoming cadets. It is a story of race, southern culture. the majesty of Charleston, friendship, betrayal, and so much more. And it is rough.

Conroy pulls no punches, minces no words, and hides nothing. He writes with a sort of angry, pointed, sad, beautiful force I have found in few other novelists. His books deal in the complexity of the ugly – the ugliness of history, family, mental and emotional health, relationships. But they deal in the beauty of those things too. Pat Conroy is one of my favorite novelists and stands alone in style.
Profile Image for Buck.
Author 1 book4 followers
February 16, 2010
I was introduced to this book at Pat Conroy by my high school algebra teacher. She was reading the book just after it came out and suggested that we all read it. I think I may have been the only one who did.

I immediately fell in love with this work. Conroy's descriptions of Charleston are priceless. Some of my favorite quotes come from this book.

I return to this work yearly to explore my old friends once more and with each reading I find a nuance that I had overlooked in the past.

From the opening passages where Will McLean says that "walking the streets of Charleston in August is like walking through gauze or inhaling damaged silk." To the tragic, yet triumphant ending this book remains a fascinating snapshot of a period in southern history that is both specific and timeless.

A wonderful primer on the love/hate relationship many intelligent and progressive Southerners have with their own beloved part of the world.
Profile Image for SoulSurvivor.
803 reviews
July 16, 2020
I already reviewed this book , but for some reason the review appeared under the book 'The Water is Wide' , a book I have never read , even started ? Here is that review of The Lords of Discipline , Book recommended to me by Charlie Donlea .

To not give this book 5-stars and add it to my 'favorites' list would be denying my 60 year quest of finding and reading great literature . The author's range of vocabulary had me checking on word definitions in every chapter . His descriptive powers of bringing you to the scenery , culture and society of Charleston , South Carolina were spot on , and made me wish I had spent more time in that city when I traveled in the Southeast .

I had a good friend that was a fellow lover of great books that died in an accident over four years ago , and I couldn't help thinking about how much he would have appreciated this read . It certainly helped that the main character was a freshman at a military institute in 1966 , the same year I started my college years . It was a coming-of-age remembrance in many respects for me , but I would suggest this book to any avid reader . Some might consider it a piece of fiction for men , but I believe anyone with an appreciation for fine writing would savor it .
Profile Image for ✨Susan✨.
926 reviews183 followers
September 3, 2017
Wow this is a rough Read. Interesting what was expected or accepted during the Vietnam War. There was no room for the week. These young men were put through rigorous and demeaning torture that was definitely the actions of ruthless young men that had a history of violence or abuse in their younger lives. The power hungry, older officers should have been charged with Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman. On the flip side there was a group of friends that were very loyal to each other...or were they? Good writing, characters and narration.
Profile Image for Anne  (Booklady) Molinarolo.
620 reviews180 followers
December 4, 2017
Pat Conroy has done it again! He drew me into The Lords of Discipline both visually and emotionally. I thought I was right there with Will McLean.

"I wear the ring.

I wear the ring and I return often to the city of Charleston, South Carolina, to study the history of my becoming a man. My approach to Charleston is always silent and distracted, but I come under full sail, with hissing silk and memories a wing above me in the shapes of the birds...

But to me, Charleston is a dark city, a melancholy city, whose severe covenants and secrets are as powerful and beguiling as its elegance, whose demons dance their alley dances and compose their malign hymns to the side of the moon I cannot see..."

He goes on to say that he's not a good person, and we won't like him after he finishes telling us his story. Oh, Mr. McLean, how you are wrong, sir! I liked you at the beginning and loved you at the end. You were brave, maybe a little narcissistic. But you absolutely did the right thing. However, I did wonder about you and your judgement when you said this:

"Anyone who knows me well must understand and be sympathetic to my genuine need to be my own greatest hero. It is not a flaw of character; it is a catastrophe. I have always been for the underdog and I’ve pretended it was because I was sensitive and empathetic, but that’s not it at all. It was because I wanted the adoration of the underdog, the blind approval that the downtrodden so gratefully bestow on their liberators. It was all paternalism, my insatiable desire to be the benevolent tyrant dispensing tawdry gifts and moldy foodstuffs to the subjects who stumbled into the spiritual famine of my sad kingdom."

And that's when you chose to be friends with Mark Santuro, Dante "Pig" Pignetti, and Mr. Tradd St. Croix. I was leery of the "Honey Prince." All 4 of you had become blood-brothers, but not all of you had y'all's best interests in his heart. The Ten and Charleston have those secret and beguiling covenants.

The Lords of Discipline is set in Will McLean's Senior year at the Carolina Military Institute in 1966-1967. The Viet Nam War is beginning to ratchet up. The boys who enter the Institute, leave as men. Shaped by a code that is strict and what the secret organization, The Ten, believes a man should be.

“The Ten are selected to preserve the purity and integrity of the Corps of Cadets. They take an oath to uphold the traditions of the Institute at any and all costs. I was told that The Ten has a powerful lobby in the state legislature, that they are influential in contributing money to any political candidate deemed favorable to the Institutes interests, and that they watch individual members of the Corps carefully to make sure that no one graduates who is unworthy to wear the ring.”

Before you start thinking this is good, stop. Boys are hazed horribly. They are abused to their breaking point, so they're empty. That emptiness is refilled with discipline, physical strength, pride, worthy to wear the ring.

"I will take you down my own avenue of remembrance, which winds among the hazards and shadows of my single year as a plebe. I cannot come to this story in full voice. I want to speak for the boys who were violated by this school, the ones who left ashamed and broken and dishonored, who departed from the Institute with wounds and bitter grievances. I want also to speak for the triumphant boys who took everything the system could throw at them, endured every torment and excess, and survived the ordeal of the freshman year with a feeling of transformation and achievement that they had never felt before and would never know again with such clarity and elation."

Will takes us back to his Freshman year, when he was a knob or Plebe. He and his 3 roommates were subjected to a stiffer Plebe system that bordered on torture with a capital T. Then the second 2/3's of the book is devoted to what happened in his Senior Year. If Bear hadn't asked Will to look out for the first black cadet of the Institute, this year would have been much different. Or would it have been? There would still be the coming of age story, loyalty, betrayal, first love, Charleston's prejudice. But would all 4 have survived?

The Ten was a vile group of human shit that looked and walked like Cadets and Men of Power. Beware of the dog who has had enough of its Master's abuse - it will attack, going straight for the jugular.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews709 followers
May 20, 2014
Oh wow, just wow.....I know that I should be the president of the "I love Pat Conroy fan club", but this book was just in a word fantastic. I went through the gauntlet of emotions while reading this story. Mr Conroy remains in my mind the consummate story teller. He lays his emotions out in the open and fills his characters with such reality that you would know them if they walked into a room in which you were seated.

This book about a young man's coming of age while enrolled in Southern military schools, was filled with pathos, love, and an understanding that it is more than a uniform that makes one a man. Will was a wonderful protagonist, a young man full of the joy and wonder of being part of tradition. He always managed to overcome those who seemed against him often using wit and later a shrewdness that would come from the many heinous things he witnessed and was subjected to while he was was attending the Institute.

While some might say that Conroy is an emotionally overwrought author, I believe him to be brilliant. He touches my spirit in so many ways and makes me always want to savor his novels. I am devastated when they end and I am left floundering trying to find something that could possibly measure up to what I have just read.
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
688 reviews
December 11, 2019
This is the book that started my love affair with Pat Conroy's writing. I read it when I was young and idealistic. The story is much different from what I remember with one exception. It is still one of my all-time favorite novels.

My thanks to Lawyer and all the folks at the On the Southern Literary Trail group for giving me the opportunity to read and discuss this and many other fine books.
Profile Image for Matt.
Author 18 books1,052 followers
June 18, 2023
Searing, humane, tragic, beautiful. One of the best novels I’ve ever read.
Profile Image for Justin.
159 reviews21 followers
May 3, 2023
I had to warm up to this one, as Conroy's prose can be overwrought, and I felt as though McLean, the protagonist, was a projection of the author, what with his perfect comebacks, basketball skills, and a cool and knowing mien. But it's a great story, very moving and well put together, if a little unbelievable in parts. Conroy is a good world builder here; the city of Charleston is one of the best characters in the book. And I love and appreciate that at the heart of the novel is devoted male friendship, a theme that has come in this our enlightened age to be distorted, denigrated, or altogether dismissed.
Profile Image for Glenda.
825 reviews71 followers
June 13, 2018
All the stars! I read this for a challenge I'm doing. This fulfills the category of reading a book published the year you turned 18/graduated high school. What a fantastic find!

The Lords of Discipline tells the powerful story of Will McLean, a senior who attends the prestigious South Carolina military school, also known as the Institute. Will elaborates on the traditions at the Institute and the harsh reality of his freshman, or “plebe” year. Will quickly learns that to get through the years, he needs the help of his 3 bestfriends, who are also his roommates.

The Book is focused around Will being selected to become a “protector” of the schools first African American student named Pearce. Will goes to great lengths to provide protection and make Pearce feel safe. By doing this, Will uncovers dark, dirty secrets about the school and some of his closest friends. Will also makes himself and his friends an enemy of “The 10”, who will stop at nothing to keep their existence hidden. This requires Will to build friendships with unexpected characters, along with break bonds with people he loves.

The vulgar language used by the upper classmen along with the torture and abuse the freshman endure make this a hard book to read at times. I personally believe this was necessary to fully tell the story and emphasize just how cruel these guys were to each other. Conroy also called out social classes frequently throughout the book, especially since Will’s family named was looked down upon by many of his friends. This is crucial to the story line because of the time period the setting of the book is based off of.

Conroy's love for Charleston clearly shows through in his flowery and poetic descriptions of it and the South. It makes me want to visit someday. I also feel smarter after reading this because of Conroy's use of advanced vocabulary. That's always a plus.
This is a beautifully written and moving story of Will McLean and his transition from boy to man. It is moving to my list of all time favorites. I highly recommend it.

"My education at the Institute was finished. I knew what I had to do now and what I had to watch out for and whom I had to fear. I could write my own Blue Book now and its rules and codicils would be my own. I would think my own thoughts, not theirs."
Profile Image for Bill.
948 reviews316 followers
February 10, 2017
54% in and I just can't do it anymore.

Hard to believe this is the same guy who wrote The Prince of Tides, and I'm so thankful I hadn't read Lords of Discipline before that because there is no way I would have read Pat Conroy again.

The Prince of Tides was immensely readable. Fantastic characters, and an even narrative that made it such an absorbing read. While Lords of Discipline had fine characters, the narrative was, at best, uneven, and in dire need of a good editor.

Sprawling and highly repetitive descriptions of Charleston are thickly spread throughout the novel (well, at least for the first 54%). After you've wallowed in the descriptive mire, you are once again rewarded with dialogue. The term staged dialogue came to mind as I was reading this. It was awkward, and at times corny, particularly where Pig was concerned. Speaking of Pig, the character he immediately brought to mind each time someone said something inappropriate in the presence of his picture of his girlfriend Ethyl Theresa, was Moose from the Archie comics.

The only thing that kept me going as far as I did was Conroy's spectacular storytelling skills in Prince of Tides. Unfortunately, the redundant descriptive prose and corny dialogue were too much to get through. My tolerance finally eroded and I had to put it down and move on to something I would fully enjoy.

What a let down. It'll be a while before I read him again.
Profile Image for Steffany Cartellone.
26 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2008
I love Conroy's humor in this book, the way he uses it to diffuse some incredibly raw scenes. I cried so hard when Pig walks down the line and the men turn their back on him. And then the train. Ugh. It absolutely broke my heart. I love all of Conroy's books for their descriptions, for introducing me to the beautiful South, and for his characters. He has strong people with strong issues which makes them real. And the men are vulnerable and strong and that's not something you see in many books. Thank you Pat Conroy.
Profile Image for LemonLinda.
859 reviews90 followers
July 19, 2018
I got so much more from this book than I expected. I had expected to hear a story of hazing and tough military discipline. And I knew that the main character was loosely based on Conroy and his years at The Citadel because I had read about his tenuous relationship with his alma mater for years and read about the reconciliation and his returning to the college to deliver what I think was a commencement address.

I did not, however, expect to read a story of a whole and complete person, one who commands so much more respect than the majority of the "officers and gentlemen" in positions of authority at the college. I really fell in love with Will McLean. He is someone that I would have been proud to call my friend. He treated others with respect and valued friendship and was a "whole man" of true integrity in spite of rather than because of the four years at "Carolina Military Institute ".

There is so much to this story and so many characters. But be careful as Charleston society's and the military's insistence that only one type of gentleman/cadet is acceptable should put you on your guard.

As an aside I am left wondering how much of the hazing and "taming" was real. I realize that hazing to an extent was rampant during this time frame even in the fraternities of other colleges and universities. But what was described here was almost beyond comprehension.
Profile Image for Michael.
79 reviews
May 19, 2008
I read this book over the course of two days in September 2000. I could not put it down. It was recommended to me by a friend who attend The Citadel. I rarely read books as fast as I read this one. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Bay Gross.
94 reviews12 followers
May 31, 2021
Striking novel, won’t forget soon
5/5 story
5/5 style
3/5 themes and breadth (a narrow genre piece, but so fun!)

contains spoilers

- Set at the Military College of S.C. (aka: “The Institute” aka: “The Citadel”) which is conroy’s own alma mater.
- 1960’s at the height of Vietnam tensions, w/ racial integration pressure first hitting the campus.
- Follows the undergrad experience of Will McLean and his three misfit roommate friends ('paisans'). Pig the muscled bruiser italian, Mark our second italian and equal fighter, and Tradd St Croix the gentle effeminate child of local Charleston wealth. A legacy-admit following the footsteps of his bigoted military father.
- Will is an outsider from the start. A jock (basketball), anti-military (there to fulfill his father's dying wish), a liberal (more or less) and most of all, a deep cynic who struggles to identify with the romanticism of school traditions and uses humor to cope.
- First half details the brutality of their plebe year hazing. (psychological and physical abuse etc)
- Second half is a mystery plot, unraveling a shadowy campus society known as the Ten who sit behind all the hazing, pulling puppet strings, and trying to keep the Institute racially ‘pure’. Will and his friends try to chase this group down in order to protect the first Black student on campus from being run out.
- Huge tension build and a great set of twists.

- Conroy spends a lot of time developing his characters, and it pays off. Plot is strong but really only takes the wheel in the final few chapters, the majority of the book is relationship- and character- driven.
- He has a strong, at times lyrical, literary style. Beautiful and rarely over the top in the moment. (Although he waxes on Charleston’s vibe too often and that gets repetitive).
- Fast, witty dialogue. Will’s repartee with his teachers, his girlfriend, and his roommates have the energy of a screenplay and pull you right into the scene. Very funny.
- Heavy, twisting, mystery plot. Pulls you along at a healthy clip, I was palpably nervous and had to take a break on multiple occasions.
- “He possesses equal fluency in the literary classics and in the viciousness of boys and men.” h/t Max Nova

Other notes
- The mystery plot was nearly perfect. But a few logical inconsistencies (mostly around how simultaneously obvious and yet hidden the Ten were).
- Ending is climactic but a bit unfulfilling, needed a bit more catharsis.
- The Bear is the dean-of-students in effect; cigar smoking, calls will Bubba, is his main male role model
- The basketball game against VMI was completely out of place and could have been cut from the book, but was a lot of fun and loved Will's mutual respect and banter with the opposing point guard
- Annie Kate the pregnant, shamed, girlfriend
- The ring, wearing the ring.

- Patriotism vs cynicism
- Class and bigotry
- Camaraderie vs institutional loyalty
- Toxic Masculinity vs Sensitivity
- Manhood, self-respect, and independence of thought.

Compare to:
- A Secret History: for campus mystery, intrigue, and witty class posturing
- Different Seasons: (Steven King) for the dark plot and energy


He returned to Savannah as a wounded hero in 1944, went to work for Belk’s department store, and married a girl from Dahlonega, Georgia, who worked in the perfume department after a brief stint in notions. I liked neither the Corps nor Belk’s nor my father, but grew up worshiping the black-haired woman from the perfume department.
My mother blamed my father’s temper on Iwo Jima, but I entertained the heretical thought that he was a son of a bitch long before the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor.
When he was dying of cancer, he made me promise to attend and graduate from Carolina Military Institute, and through tears, I promised. He told me to stop crying and act like a man and I did. Then he made me promise I would be a pilot when I entered the service, that he didn’t want any son of his getting killed on some godforsaken beach like Iwo Jima, especially a son he loved as much as he did me. Eight hours after he told me he loved me for the first time, he died of melanoma and left me a prisoner of his memory.
At first, I thought I had wasted my college years, but I was wrong. The Institute was the most valuable experience I have ever had or will have. I believe it did bring me into manhood: The Institute taught me about the kind of man I did not want to be. Through rigorous harshness, I became soft and learned to trust that softness.
The rest of South Carolina has a keenly developed inferiority complex about Charleston, a complex that Charlestonians feel is richly deserved.
In Charleston, more than elsewhere, you get the feeling that the twentieth century is a vast, unconscionable mistake.
What do you hold sacred, Will? And do you have a single belief you’d die for?
“You might try to find other pursuits, Father. Other avocations. Only vulgarians and Methodists watch football games with such fanaticism.”
If looks alone could make generals, Durrell would have been a cinch. He was built lean and slim and dark, like a Doberman. A man of breeding and refrigerated intelligence, he ordered his life like a table of logarithms
Approaching the age of twenty-one, I was the most preachy, self-righteous, lip-worshiping, goody-goody person I have ever known. I had seen others who approached my level of righteousness but none of them was really in my league.
The second poem was an evocation of spring, a highly original topic, rare among young poets, and the conclusion any fair-minded reader might draw from scanning those twelve meager lines was that if I had really appreciated springtime I would never have debased its memory with that poem.
“Will, did you ever get laid this summer?” “No,” I answered, rolling over to go to sleep and hoping that the gesture would end the conversation. “Did you try?” Mark insisted. “Sure,” I said. “I’m in a perpetual state of trying. I came close, though. One girl let me walk her home after a movie, and we shook hands at the front door.”
Looking up at me she took my face in her hands. She studied me with the fine dancing eyes of a girl who has been well trained in the art of looking at a boy.
We talked excitedly about the fight, each of us recounting the event in four separate and distorted narratives of the exact same events. By the time we had reached the city, the fight had become fiction, the truth divisible in four distinct incongruent ways.
“I was scared to death to get in that ring. Physical courage has never been my forte. I go in for moral courage, because with moral courage you don’t get your face beat in or your eyes gouged out. By the way, Tradd, that was a brave thing you did.”
No matter how brutal the Institute was in its rites of initiation and passage, there was always a heartbreaking romanticism in all the ceremonies and forms of the military.
I had been hurt my first time out, the first time I had ever given my love completely, without holding back and without reservation. I had been hurt and I would survive it. I had given her the whole banquet, the whole shy feast of boyhood, and Annie Kate, as was her right, had decided that she did not want it.
“It never occurred to me that I might be a better man than you ever were, General. And that I would meet many far better men here at the Institute.”
I had not thanked the boy for his capacity for astonishment, for curiosity, and for survival. I was indebted to that boy. I owed him my respect and my thanks. I owed him my remembrance of the lessons he learned so keenly and so ominously. He had issued me a challenge as he passed the baton to the man in me: He had challenged me to have the courage to become a gentle, harmless man
Profile Image for Patricia Kurz.
150 reviews8 followers
July 2, 2012
Only because it's Conroy is it 3* -- else 2...

I know that this book is the foundation for most of Conroy's story telling, but I have to say, that perhaps because of his immaturity in his writing career at that time, it is poorly edited and a bit self-inflated.

The descriptions of some of the initiations of the military school were so repetitive, so boring, that after a while, one did not experience the horror any longer. The plight of the African American kid could have been so much more deeply mined but he was just another among the ranks.

Pat Conroy is one of my favorite contemporary writers, but I find one thing I consistently dislike in his stories. He (the protagonist) is ALWAYS better than everyone else in the book. He is NOT a racist, he will NOT participate in the torture of plebes, he is smarter than everyone in school, he is the most well liked and the most morally tortured of all the boys.

There is a psychological aspect to this consistency, I believe. I think that we write so that life is as we wish it were. I think we write to show how things could've should've been. But all of Conroy's protagonists take the high road about 90% of the time, which means either 1) that to align ourselves with the protagonist we are condescending to the other, less morally straightlaced than we are or) that Conroy is rewriting his personal history and portraying a character he wishes he had been. I am not indicting Conroy for any of this, not accusing him or being judgmental. I am trying, as a reader, to understand where he wants me to end up when the story is done.

Pat Conroy is a treasure, a tremendous and emotional writer. I should do so well myself. I am trying to understand where his dreams come from and how he translates his own history into his characters.

On the other hand, how do we know which of his characters a writer is using to portray himself... maybe it's not the protagonist who represents the writer. Maybe it's the monsters that appear in all the others.
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