US novelist, journalist, and essayist whose life and work show a preoccupation with themes of violence and masculinity.
Mailer was born in New Jersey and grew up in New York. He graduated from Harvard in 1943 and spent two years in the Pacific with the US army during World War II. During his career as a writer, he has assumed several roles, including commentator on US politics, poet, and film writer and producer.
His first novel was the highly successful The Naked and the Dead (1948), drawing on his own war experiences; it was followed by Barbary Shore (1951), his Hollywood novel The Deer Park (1955), and a series of existentialist essays, Advertisements for Myself (1959). A recurrent theme of Mailer's work is war and the effects of violence on the relationships between younger and older men. In his early writing, loyalty and comradeship provided a positive view of humanity, but these relationships are depicted with increasing pessimism in such later books as Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967). Equally apparent is a consistent strain of social criticism that centres on the inevitable sacrifice of personal integrity in the pursuit of material success, notably in the black comedy An American Dream (1965). The Armies of the Night (1968), which won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, is a personal account of the 1967 peace march on the Pentagon. His subsequent books include Of a Fire on the Moon (1970), concerning the Apollo II moon landing; The Prisoner of Sex (1971), his response to the women's liberation movement; Marilyn (1973), on the life and death of Marilyn Monroe; The Executioner's Song (1979), a fictionalized account of the execution of a real-life murderer that won him a second Pulitzer Prize (1980); Ancient Evenings (1983); Tough Guy Don't Dance (1984; filmed 1988); Harlot's Ghost (1991); and The Gospel According to the Son (1997), a retelling of the Gospel story. In 1998 he published The Time of Our Time, a retrospective collection of his essays and journalism.