Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book review - No Less Than Victory.

For Christmas my in-laws gave me No Less Than Victory, a novel about World War II. This is the latest book in Jeff Shaara's series and follows The Steel Wave, finishing the war in Europe. The book keeps some characters from the previous volume, drops some, and adds new ones. As is expected by now, Mr. Shaara's writing is intense, gripping, and historically accurate.

The book starts off with a bombing raid on Berlin from the perspective of one of the airmen involved. It then moves into a discussion among the Allied high command of the next step to take now that the German army has been pushed out of France and most of Belgium. Of course the Germans have other ideas and they launch the offensive that came to be known as the Battle of The Bulge. The book follows the offensive's course and the downward spiral of Germany's fortunes as the Third Reich stumbles towards its doom.

Mr. Shaara does an excellent job recreating the war from the American side. The British and Germans have smaller but equally well-done voices. The Russians are a force beyond the horizon, a rumor to be pondered and shuddered at. This technique adds to the reality of the American soldier's view. Once again the characters are convincingly drawn in a way that clearly shows their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and fears.

There is a warning though. As the Allied forces advanced into Germany they uncovered the true consequences of Adolf Hitler's mad dream. The descriptions of German war atrocities are chilling. The description of the liberation of a concentration camp shook me to my core.

You must read this book as well as the rest of the Shaara series. Mr. Shaara has a gift and he uses it. This is not a textbook, it is history coming alive. If you think history is boring you owe it to yourself to read this book and as many others of the series as you can track down. It won't be boring when you're done. No Less Than Victory easily scores an unreserved two thumbs up.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Book review - Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Wow! Been awhile since I wrote. Sorry about that. Holiday traveling and all. Have finished two books in the past few weeks. The first is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. This interesting 446 page book is subtitled "An Indian History of the American West." I had long heard of Mr. Brown's work and looked forward to reading it. While it did not totally live up to expectations it was still a very good read. The book was well-written and moved along quite smoothly. The documentation seems to have been as good as the circumstances allowed.

Mr. Brown begins his narrative in 1860 and follows white expansion across the plains of the United States until 1890. The story is told from the perspective of the American Indians rather than the settlers and soldiers. This aspect alone makes the book worth reading. As tribe by tribe fight and fall it is clear to see the divisions and gut wrenching decisions that they underwent. Treaties were broken and atrocities committed by the United States military. Whole peoples were forcibly removed from their homes. Hearing about these events from the view of the people who underwent them is enlightening and somewhat sorrowful.

In spite of all the good points to the book, Mr. Brown did stub his toe several times. He accused the whites of magnifying Indian atrocities while minimizing their own. He then proceeded to do just the same thing in reverse. In like manner he (and the tribesmen of which he wrote) holds the United States accountable for the actions of rouge officers and free-lancers even while complaining that the whites all too often held the Indians accountable for the unsanctioned actions of hot-blooded young braves. Mr. Brown also condemns Philip Sheridan's statement that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. However, I was unable to ever find a good white man in the book.

Overall Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is an interesting and well-written read. If one keeps in mind the obvious double-standard frequently displayed there is much knowledge to be gleaned from the pages. I give the book one and a half thumbs up.