This summer will be the 150 year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the deadliest periods of the Civil War. The three days saw record causalities and is also considered one of the turning points of the war. Instead of breaking out a dusty nonfiction tome, consider The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This fiction book does a good job at adequately describing the events that did occur, but shines at getting into the heads of the major players. We meet Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain and start to understand their thoughts, positions, opinions and fears as they prepare and head into battle. This is well researched, and really readable. The maps give you a good visual perspective as well.
One of the things I love most about history is not only learning the outcomes and the details of the events that took place, but investigating the other possibilities, thinking about the what-ifs, and figuring out the decisions that went into what really happened. Read more »
I read a review of Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden’s first novel of World War I, which mentions that this isn’t necessarily an anti-war novel. I had to read the sentence in that review several times to make sure I wasn’t misreading or misunderstanding. Does a war novel have to come out and specifically declare a stance?
Really, Boyden includes anti-war elements right up to the breathtaking ending: senseless killings, madness, morphine addiction, shortsighted military leadership, dehumanization, and the day to day terror. The characters in this book do seemingly impossible and horrible things in the name of combat. Is that not stance enough? Is it even important?
It is true that this book is about more than the descent into the hell of trench warfare. It is a really poetic story of Xavier Bird and Elijah Whiskeyjack, Cree Indians who have grown up in Canada near Hudson Bay. They have spent their childhood patiently hunting, skills which serve them well as snipers in some of the worst battles of World War I, including around Vimy Ridge and the Somme. Maybe it needs to be said, but being good at killing moose to survive the winter is different than being good at killing Germans. Xavier and Elijah react differently, but equally destructively, to war. Read more »
My question of the week - Do women read war novels? I don't mean to ask this in a polarizing and dramatic way, but out of genuine interest.
I recently finished the excellent Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, a novelization about the Vietnam War. Marlantes is a highly decorated Marine who served in Vietnam and this 600 page book was 30 years in the making. The book is technical and almost solely set in Vietnam. There isn't room for families, girlfriends, or real life. This book is intense - filled with racial tensions, horrifying wounds, tigers, leeches, jungle rot, thirst, hunger, diarrhea, boredom, bad language and inept military structure. I probably lost some of the technicalities of the military maneuvers, but in the end you really care about the characters. At times, reading this was stressful but the pain and longing seems universal and touching. Read more »
Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers is a 10 part mini-series focusing on Easy Company of the 101st Airborne division of the Army during WWII. This true story follows the young men who volunteered to join this division from basic training through the end of the war. Easy Company took part in some of the most intense battles of the war, including the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. The length of the mini-series allows focus on historical detail and procedures, as well as an in-depth look at the varied responses of the men to the horrors of war- running the gamut from fear and compassion to confusion and cruelty. Read more »
This six part documentary produced by the BBC looks not only at the horrors that took place in Auschwitz; but at the developments, both political and technological that resulted in what many consider the worst of all the Nazi internment camps – Auschwitz, along with its immediate aftereffects. I can’t say that this documentary was a pleasure to watch but it was educational, important, and horrific. Read more »