Jones was born and raised in Robinson, Illinois. He enlisted in the Army at age 18, and was thrown right into the middle of the Big War, which would give him quite a bit to write about. He witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to his first published novel, From Here to Eternity. The Thin Red Line reflected his combat experiences on Guadalcanal. His last novel, Whistle, was based on his hospital stay in Memphis, Tennessee, recovering from his wounds received on 'Canal. (These three books are frequently referred to as his "war trilogy.")
His second published novel, Some Came Running, is a very thinly disguised autobiographical novel of his experiences in Robinson after World War II. He actually wrote it before Eternity, but it was released later.
Both Eternity and Running were made into critically acclaimed films during the Fifties (both starring Frank Sinatra; he won an Oscar for Eternity), and The Thin Red Line was put to film in 1964, then again in 1998 by Terence Malick, who was inspired to get off the bench after 20 years of inactivity by Jones's novel.
- From Here to Eternity (1951)
- Some Came Running (1957)
- The Thin Red Line (1962)
- Go to the Widow-Maker (1967), Jones's "underwater novel" about skin-diving
- The Ice-Cream Headache and Other Stories (1968, short stories)
- The Merry Month Of May (1971), about the 1968 student revolutions in Paris
- A Touch of Danger (1973), a murder mystery
- Whistle (1978)
Tropes featured in his work:
- An Aesop: Is war hell, or is it glorious?
- Author Filibuster: Jones starts Running with a too-long disclaimer that the fictional Parkman, Indiana is not his hometown of Robinson. To which anyone who lived there (especially if they were portrayed not-too-positively in the book) said, "Yeah, right."
- Creator Cameo: Jones has a cameo in the film adaptation of Some Came Running as one of the protagonist's opponents in a poker game.
- Down on the Farm: Some Came Running
- Expy: His books share many characters in common without them actually being the same characters. "Prew" Prewitt (Eternity) is essentially the same character as Witt (Thin Red Line); Winch (Whistle) is similar to Welsh (Thin Red Line); etc.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: most notably Thin Red Line, but only to a slightly lesser extent in Eternity and Whistle.
- Military and Warfare Tropes: with the possible exception of Hot Sub-on-Sub Action, Jones's trilogy will touch on every single one at some point. He was good like that.
- Posthumous Collaboration: Jones did not live to see the completion of his last novel, Whistle. It was finished to his instructions by Willie Morris, who would go on to write My Dog Skip in addition to a fond biography of Jones.
- Real Person Cameo: Jones is one of the poker players in the film adaptation of Running.
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Prewitt in Eternity, and Witt (the similarity of name is intentional) in Thin Red Line.
- Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Running features intentional misspellings and punctuation errors, a conscious effort by Jones to replicate the rural characters and setting. This does not apply to his war trilogy.