Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest

As good a rifle company as any, Easy Company, 506th Airborne Division, US Army, kept getting tough assignments--responsible for everything from parachuting into France early DDay morning to the capture of Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden. In "Band of Brothers," Ambrose tells of the men in this brave unit who fought, went hungry, froze & died, a company that took...

Title:Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
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Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest Reviews

  • Melody

    AMAZING. I was cold when they were cold, tired with them, hungry with them, and relieved when they left the front lines. I felt like I was there the entire time and could not stop turning the pages. A historical, true, and educational book. Very insightful as to war and the minds of soldiers. Lots of specific military movements, language, and actions. And, of course, violent, bloody, and most everyone dies either in war or in old age.

  • Dan

    This was so good! Two thumbs up and a booya. I'd give it 6 stars if I could. I saw the HBO series and loved it so I decided to read the book. The book was great too because it gave more information on the war and the men involved. If you have not seen the series, watch it. Then you can call me and tell me how awesome I am for recommending it to you. The really great thing about the show and the book is that it is not all about war. It is the (very accurately) true story about the men of E compan

    This was so good! Two thumbs up and a booya. I'd give it 6 stars if I could. I saw the HBO series and loved it so I decided to read the book. The book was great too because it gave more information on the war and the men involved. If you have not seen the series, watch it. Then you can call me and tell me how awesome I am for recommending it to you. The really great thing about the show and the book is that it is not all about war. It is the (very accurately) true story about the men of E company and the bonds they formed, and I'm not even all about forming bonds with dudes.

  • jennifer

    If you want a good summary of E Company's experience in WW2 that also follows the HBO series fairly closely, this is an interesting, not overly tactical read.

    Though, you should be warned that Ambrose editorializes quite a bit throughout the book, e.g., "because we were a democracy, we had better trained soliders and won the war..." and so forth. Statements like that smack a bit of triumphalism to me.

    It's also very coarse prose--no elegantly written passages in Band of Brothers. In fact, there a

    If you want a good summary of E Company's experience in WW2 that also follows the HBO series fairly closely, this is an interesting, not overly tactical read.

    Though, you should be warned that Ambrose editorializes quite a bit throughout the book, e.g., "because we were a democracy, we had better trained soliders and won the war..." and so forth. Statements like that smack a bit of triumphalism to me.

    It's also very coarse prose--no elegantly written passages in Band of Brothers. In fact, there are quite a few typos--glaring typos in some instances. You'd think after all the books Ambrose authored, and the fact that he's a high-profile historian/author, that he'd have a halfway decent editor and proofreader. Not the case!

  • Matt

    As a history lover, and as someone who loves not getting flamed on Goodreads, I am loathe to say what I am about to say. However, as someone who finds it impossible not to say what I feel like saying, I’ll just go ahead and say it: I don’t like Stephen Ambrose.

    No, no, no! Not like that.

    I didn’t know him personally, but he seemed like a nice man, a good husband and father. Moreover, he did History an incredible service by collecting the stories of ordinary men. The living memory of World War II

    As a history lover, and as someone who loves not getting flamed on Goodreads, I am loathe to say what I am about to say. However, as someone who finds it impossible not to say what I feel like saying, I’ll just go ahead and say it: I don’t like Stephen Ambrose.

    No, no, no! Not like that.

    I didn’t know him personally, but he seemed like a nice man, a good husband and father. Moreover, he did History an incredible service by collecting the stories of ordinary men. The living memory of World War II is fading fast, and it is due to the efforts of historians, biographers, and researchers like Stephen Ambrose that we will have so many incredible stories, even after that generation has passed into memory.

    But here’s the thing: I think he’s a crap writer.

    I’ve tried very hard in the past to enjoy Ambrose books. When I read the flaccid

    , I told myself that

    was at fault, not the famed Ambrose. Then, I read

    , and noticed that entire pages were copied almost verbatim from Royal Hassrick’s

    . Still, I gave him a pass, knowing that sometimes writers make mistakes when it comes to citing sources. Even so, I had to take a break. The relationship had become strained.

    Later on, I watched HBO’s miniseries

    , which was executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Once it came out on DVD, I bought the DVD and watched it again. When it came out on the History Channel I watched it again, and again when it came out on Spike TV. I spent an enjoyable Thanksgiving watching it on the couch. When

    was released as a Blu-Ray set, I bought that too, and watched it yet again. I love

    ; whenever it’s on, at whatever point, I will watch it. It is the greatest time-suck in my life.

    Finally, after the 20th viewing, I decided to read the source material:

    by Stephen Ambrose.

    is a grunt’s eye view of history. War as it was seen by the men who fought it. It stands on a continuum of anecdotal histories by such luminaries as Walter Lord, who gave us oral histories of Pearl Harbor (

    ) and Midway (

    ) and Cornelius Ryan, who brought us intimate portraits of D-Day (

    ) and Arnhem (

    ).

    Ambrose attempts to replicate, on a smaller scale, the feats of Lord and Ryan. In Easy Company of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne, he has an incredible subject: an elite group of soldiers who – like the mythical platoon of Samuel Fuller’s

    – find themselves in just about every important operation in the European Theater, from D-Day to VE-Day.

    The problem, though, is that Ambrose is no Walter Lord, and he’s no Cornelius Ryan. He’s barely serviceable. His prose is blunt, ugly, and disjointed. There is tortured grammar and a noticeable lack of editing. There is not a smidgeon of grace or elegance to be found. Ambrose’s shortcomings as a writer are put in stark relief whenever he quotes from the writings of David Webster, a Harvard-educated English major who was part of Easy Company. Webster, unlike Ambrose, writes in vivid prose that is alive with acute perception.

    Most of the enjoyment I received from reading

    came from the fact that I’d seen the miniseries (more times than is healthy, probably) and was interested to compare and contrast the various characters. When I tried to imagine being a reader who hadn’t seen the miniseries, I found it hard to understand the universal acclaim.

    First, there is absolutely no tension or drama in the story. Instead of taking oral histories and spinning them into a narrative, Ambrose elects to directly quote the men he has interviewed. Now, I’m sure this saved him a great deal of time when it came to actually writing, but it tells you right away who lives, and to a lesser extent, who dies. Furthermore, there was no vividness, no you-are-there-ness to the story.

    Ambrose’s style also feeds into a participant’s bias, in that the men who talked to Ambrose are lifted to the heights of Achilles or Hector, while those who did not participate, or who died, recede – for the most part – into the background. This is not history as it happened, but history as told by some limited viewpoints. (And this limited viewpoint is why Ambrose is criticized so often – by other veterans – for utterly screwing up the facts. He only listens to one side and seldom takes the time to corroborate).

    Another problem I had was Ambrose’s lack of objectivity when it comes to his subjects. And by lack of objectivity, I mean abject hero-worship. Here, once again, lest I be digitally mobbed, I wish to interject that yes, the men of Easy Company were heroic. They were young men who sacrificed their youths to do a dangerous job that their country asked them to do. There is a place for a flag-waving, chest-thumping, drum-beating homage to “the greatest generation.” Indeed, God created Tom Brokaw for just this purpose.

    However, it’s not a historian’s place to wave the flag or thump his chest or beat his drum. And Ambrose has always claimed to be a historian. In

    , he is not. Instead, he’s more like a cheerleader, or a proud father, or a guy who secretly feels guilty that he never joined the army and fought a war. He is hyperbolic in his descriptions of Easy Company’s exploits, he is quick to take sides and defend his interview subjects at the expense of men who weren’t interviewed, and he gives a wink-wink nudge-nudge to myriad war crimes committed by those soldiers, including numerous executions of P.O.W.s, the murder of an alleged SS officer after the war was over, and enough looting and pillaging to make Genghis Khan envious.

    (These are war crimes, aren’t they? Or am I being obtuse? I mean, if the Germans had done this to us – killed our prisoners, as they did at Malmedy, or looted homes and businesses, as they did all over Europe, wouldn’t we consider them crimes? Didn’t we? Did we not try and execute or imprison Germans for these very things?).

    Ambrose’s blinders leads him to continually make silly and unsupportable statements about how “citizen soldiers” and “democratic soldiers” were eminently superior to the Nazis forces of totalitarianism and darkness. This is a sweeping, simplistic, reductive, and jingoistic statement that is better placed on a 1940s war bonds poster. It’s also patently untrue. Far from being an inferior fighting force, the German armies were far better, man-for-man, than any other army in the world. By 1944, when Easy Company finally got in the war, the Wehrmacht had been fighting for five years. They’d destroyed Poland and France, nearly crushed England, and pushed Russia to the brink. After all those years and all those casualties, they still managed to scrape together one hell of a defense after Normandy. By the way, I hate the Nazis and everything they stood for. I’m just saying they could rumble.

    Ambrose’s failure is in using an exception to prove a rule. On the whole, the American armies in North Africa, Italy, and Europe didn’t perform especially well. This isn’t some kind of indictment on our fighting men, only a reality that comes from a mass draft, a hurried mobilization, and an army of citizens, not soldiers.

    Easy Company was an exception. They were an elite group. They were volunteers. They were well trained (again, so well trained that they didn’t actually get into the war till 1944; meanwhile, their fellow Americans invaded North Africa and Guadalcanal in 1942). The men of Easy Company were fit, mobile, ambitious, motivated, well-armed, strongly conditioned killers. They deserve their accolades. They are not, however, representative.

    The consequence of Ambrose’s tight focus on Easy Company, and his ill-conceived extrapolation of their experience, makes

    into something rare: a pro-war book. This is the anti-

    . Rather than ruining lives and shattering psyches, Ambrose presents a portrait of war as a great adventure, and men who only became fully actualized by combat. It’s almost an advertisement: Go to War; Make Great Friends; See the World and Steal Some Nazi Silverware! To bolster this fact, Ambrose’s afterward stresses how many of Easy Company’s men became rich!

    That is what I took from Ambrose’s writing.

    Of course, that’s not the reality. Thanks to the miniseries and the accompanying documentary, you can actually listen to these men talk about their experiences. They don’t sound like the soldiers Ambrose presents in his book. They are somber and reflective. Their eyes glisten and their voices crack and waver. They hint at reservoirs of jumbled memories that combine the fear of battle and the horror of death and the pain of lost friends with the love of their brothers. To see and hear them is an experience far more touching and real than the pastiche of direct quotations and patriotic slogans that Ambrose stitched together for his book.

  • Riku Sayuj

    The last few chapters were truly unbearable in their intensity. As the soldiers discover for the first time what the real cost and cruelties of the war they fought was, we too are forced to try and understand this unimaginable thing called war that can never be understood even by the ones that fought in it, let alone by posterity looking back.

    There are some things in life that can only ever be expressed in one way - silence - a deep and anguished silence that cries primievally in disbeilieving d

    The last few chapters were truly unbearable in their intensity. As the soldiers discover for the first time what the real cost and cruelties of the war they fought was, we too are forced to try and understand this unimaginable thing called war that can never be understood even by the ones that fought in it, let alone by posterity looking back.

    There are some things in life that can only ever be expressed in one way - silence - a deep and anguished silence that cries primievally in disbeilieving defiance. War - a devastating but eerily beautiful thing that is an embodiment of the worst of mankind but still brings out the best in men.

    So much better than the TV series. No timeline tricks, no visual trickery to distract you, but the pure unbridled horror of war and thrill of danger and strategy. The book manages to take you into the thick of the action, into the ditches and the gun fire better than the show.

  • 4triplezed

    FINAL REVIEW.

    I was a little forgiving early but it got too much. I have just had to write about a few of the many absurdities of this book.

    130 pages in and will finish this but if it does not improve it will be lucky to get a 2 star rating. This author called the German soldiers Jerry, babbled about the British army taking tea and attempted to put on a affected accent.

    On page 172 it reads "The Germans managed to achieve surprise on a scale comparable with Barbarossa in June 1941 or Pearl Harb

    FINAL REVIEW.

    I was a little forgiving early but it got too much. I have just had to write about a few of the many absurdities of this book.

    130 pages in and will finish this but if it does not improve it will be lucky to get a 2 star rating. This author called the German soldiers Jerry, babbled about the British army taking tea and attempted to put on a affected accent.

    On page 172 it reads "The Germans managed to achieve surprise on a scale comparable with Barbarossa in June 1941 or Pearl Harbour" Or? and not put a date to Pearl Harbour? Or even why put a date to Barbarossa? Not trust your readers to know what Barbarossa was?

    Easy Company is forgiven with a boys will be boys attitude when they have their leave pass's revoked for appalling behaviour, on the other hand others? No such leeway.

    Page 172 and 173. Apparently "The surprise was achieved, like most surprises in war, because the offensive made no sense. For Hitler to use up his armour in an offensive that had no strategic aim, and one he could not sustain unless his tankers were lucky enough to capture major American fuel dumps, was foolish.

    The surprise was achieved, like most surprise in war, because the defenders were guilty of gross over confident"

    Later

    "....(the American generals in the Allied camp had no experience of defending against a German offensive)" It gets worse. Consider the above comments on the Battle of the Bulge and then later on page 191, after the Siege of Bastogne is broken we get lots of further Pop History for Patriots with some nonsense about the US army lacking man power because they did not raise enough Infantry Divisions to fight seemingly "lavish deferments" ( I kid you not) by the Germans pre-war in the areas of Industry and Farm Labour, and Fathers!!!

    But previously he had praised Eisenhower (who is nearly always referred to as Ike, nearly but not always) who ".......blasted Hitler's assumptions by bringing into play his secret weapon." Trucks and trailers over the still majority horse drawn German Army. "Ike ordered them to drop whatever they were doing and start hauling his reinforcements to the Ardennes" We are reliably informed that the "response was incredible" It was "mobility with a vengeance". It actually reads as if he had ordered the trucks and trailers themselves the writing is that poor.

    Back to the Pop history for Patriots on page 191 we then get that "it was all a question of timing" because ".....Monty, commanding the forces (all American) on the Northern shoulder of the bulge, stalled and shivered and made excuses, so it did not happen" Contradictory statements and a poor delivery are making this one of the worst books I have ever read. Did this really get such a high 4.1 rating here on Goodreads? Is this how forgiving we are of so called popular history?

    Page 181. "The men looked like George Washington's army at Valley Forge, except that they were getting fired upon, had no huts, and warming fires were out of the question"

    Page 182. "The bullet his Gordon in the left shoulder...." Many of these errors. Though instead of thought. My copy of this absurd book is 9 years after release and all of these errors should have been corrected. Did they not employ an editor?

    Sergeant Christianson is called Christianson throughout except for a sentence on page 185 when twice he just becomes plain old Chris.

    Page 205. Ambrose writes that "The Germans sent over some mail" This "mail" is in fact a "shell" and it is a "dud". Apparently "Lipton just looked at it" and Mann lit a cigarette.

    Page 210 Ambrose writes "Back in '42 the question was, Can a citizen army be prepared well enough to fight Germans in a protracted campaign in Northwest Europe? Hitler was not the only one who answered no."

    Also on Page 210 Ambrose writes "At this moment Speirs arrived, breathless. He managed to blurt out to Dike 'I'm taking over'. Sergeant Lipton and others filled him in. He barked out orders, 2d platoon this way, 3d platoon that way, get those mortars humping, all-out with those machine guns, lets go. And he took off, not looking back, depending on the men to follow. They did" I actually snorted out loud at this. My snort then become uproarious laughter after "No one could locate one guy especially, who had stopped movement at a corner with two hits. Then Shifty Power, the man who spent so much of his youth spotting for squirrels in the upper tree trunks in the Virginia mountains, called out 'I see 'em' and fired" I suppose spotting for squirrels in the upper tree trunks in the Virginia mountains in your youth was bound to be useful for something one day and as Popeye Wynn made comment "You know, it just doesn't pay to be shootin' at Shifty when he's got a rifle"

    Page 213 and Monty had apparently done a bit of "shilly-shallying" but Eisenhower ordering Taylor to attack and then Taylor ordering the rather tired Easy Company to attack because of Eisenhower's order but because of the lack of troops due to there being no reserves because of "limited mobilisation" that caused there not being enough troops to go round Easy Company are paying the price. Well something like that anyway.

    Page 219 Ambrose writes of the victory of US forces over the Germans and at the end a long rambling rhetorical paragraph we learn that this victory was all a "superb feat of arms".

    The next line then states "The Americans established a moral superiority over the Germans" I would suggest that moral superiority over Nazism is a given prior to the war anyway. To actually imply that this was only "established" after a victory late in the war is nonsensical. This is one of the most idiotic points of view I have ever read in any book I have read about WW2. He has followed this up with "moral superiority" also being based on better methods in training, selection for command and democracy producing better soldiers than Nazi Germany. Considering the authors willingness to make excuses for previous setbacks this is just hypocritical. Also recall that at this point in time Nazi Germany was also fighting on the eastern front as well as in Italy. In fact it was being beaten by a Stalinist regime on the eastern front that Ambrose could hardly consider "Moral" or "Democratic". But if the truth be told the less than moral and hardly democratic Stalinist regime made a larger contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany than any other Allied nation.

    Lets just say that what Ambrose has written is possibly debatable. He actually kills off any point in his absurd "Moral superiority" nonsense in the next paragraph alone by forgetting what he had previously written. He supports this "Moral superiority" by quoting Sergeant Rader who says "I almost killed a Kraut prisoner for laughing at me after I got to the town, only to have someone grab my M-1 and shout 'Sarge, he has no lips or eyelids!' He lost them on the Russian front, frozen off" This is an absurd analogy. Sergeant Rader admits that he would have killed the prisoner if not for the missing lips and eyelids. In fact it took a comrade to take the M-1 off him to stop the possible killing of the prisoner. Add to this that Ambrose had previously discussed the killing of German POW's AND one member of the company, Liebgott if I recall, was kept away from prisoners because he could not contain himself.

    I would like to make it clear that I make no judgement as to the rights or wrongs of Easy Company, "Ike" "Monty", General Taylor or military tactics etc. I do make a judgement on Stephen E. Ambrose ability as a historian. This is an appalling book. Easily one of the worst history books I have ever read. In fact forget history alone as a subject, this is one of the worst books I have read period. I am genuinely staggered as to how this book is popular. Maybe the TV series? Many relate to the characters portrayed, visualise them? Is that it?

    Interestingly I have wondered if it was just me that found this all too much. That I was missing something and that it was really a good book and I was just being too picky. I decided to research this book a bit further and there are accusations of plagiarism. Some have done deeper research into the specifics of Easy Company at war and there are seemingly many mistakes made by Ambrose to be pointed out. It seems that at a more academic level, shall we say, there are some who are very uncomfortable with what is presented in this book. I for one am not surprised. I am no historian, a lay reader only with a general love of history. With that in mind if someone as far down the food chain such as myself can spot an utter lack of objectivity, to say the very least, those with far more ability than me will be able to tear this book to shreds and tear it to shreds some have done. Rightfully so I say.

    I have about 100 pages to go and will finish it. I suppose having not seen the TV series except for the first two episodes I want to know what happens. I also have Ambrose's D-day book and am considering reading it (as a form of personal mental torture) side by side with another D-Day book, maybe Beevor's, just to compare. I am not going to write anymore about the content of this book. All I can do is warn reader beware. The word appalling hardly does justice to this abysmal piece of work. I am giving this a begrudging 1 star, if I could give it less I would.

  • Jason Koivu

    Little good comes from war, however it does tend to create heros and leaders and show people how to love and depend upon their comrades. The bonds built upon the catastrophic ruin that was World War II is the basis of Stephen E. Ambrose's

    .

    After watching the television miniseries a couple times through and really enjoying it for its humanity, I thought it was time I gave the book a go. There isn't much difference between the two. The timeline and events depicted in the series sta

    Little good comes from war, however it does tend to create heros and leaders and show people how to love and depend upon their comrades. The bonds built upon the catastrophic ruin that was World War II is the basis of Stephen E. Ambrose's

    .

    After watching the television miniseries a couple times through and really enjoying it for its humanity, I thought it was time I gave the book a go. There isn't much difference between the two. The timeline and events depicted in the series stay fairly true to the book, showing the birth of the legendary Easy Company as it goes through basic training, enters the war and fights through an almost endless array of seemingly impossible missions until the European theater came to a close.

    Where the book and show differed was in the amount of detail and backstory that the book provided over the show. It's not a lot of extra detail - the stories of a few soldiers that had to be passed over for brevity's sake, as well as further personal details of the soldiers mainly focused upon - but if you're a big fan of the show, you're a candidate to read

    , an admirably penned work that squeezes what good it can out of some dark days indeed.

  • Aleksandr Voinov

    I'm shocked to learn that Ambroses taught history. The military history/analysis is pretty poor to appalling. He's good when he talks about Easy Company and relates stories. (Though he states that the book is "very much a group effort" with the men from E Company, so how much of that credit goes to them is anybody's guess, and some events were anonymised and possibly left out to protect people.)

    Whenever he attempts military analysis of the actual way/battles, his thoughtless "MURRIKA!" propagand

    I'm shocked to learn that Ambroses taught history. The military history/analysis is pretty poor to appalling. He's good when he talks about Easy Company and relates stories. (Though he states that the book is "very much a group effort" with the men from E Company, so how much of that credit goes to them is anybody's guess, and some events were anonymised and possibly left out to protect people.)

    Whenever he attempts military analysis of the actual way/battles, his thoughtless "MURRIKA!" propaganda grates like hell. His core thesis appears to be that "democratic soldiers" (what he terms "citizen soldiers") necessarily outfight those under fascist/totalitarian systems - which obviously flies in the face of the fact that it was the Red Army that broke Nazi Germany's back - not exactly a democratic system to be found anywhere. Not a hint of irony or awareness in his thesis. I guess it would wrinkle his propaganda too much.

    What I found interesting was the amount of looting and casual violence in Germany, which gels with other sources I've read. What I found even more interesting is how Ambrose condemns Germany's mistreatment of people, but totally excuses similar behaviour from his subjects (looting for fun and profit, shooting of unarmed, surrendered POWs). Not a hint of applying the same critical measurement to all sides.

    Ambrose nicely feathers his wooden, lacklustre account with liberal quotes from a number of decent to good military historians who are far more insightful than he is (such as Keegan).

    Overall, the show does a great job putting all this on the screen, so you can skip the book. What the show left out it usually left out for good reasons. I read this book for any gems that were left by the wayside, but it's not worth it, in my opinion.

    The has another big flaw that rankles me especially. All the German is wrong/misspelled. If you can't be bothered to get it right, just leave it out. Parading around badly-spelled, agrammatical German is doing nobody any favours.

    I'm giving further books of his a pass.

  • Dimitri

    How many historians does it take to write a bad book that translates into a great TV series ?

    While the deeds on Easy Company, encompassing the most famous American battles in the ETO, are a goldmine, mr. ambrose fails to preserve the thrill in print. The participants don't come to life, even tough they are introduced with the standard sort of pre-war bio in the body of the text and rounded up with a post-war bio. The heat of battle, ironically, is only felt in the icy cold of an Ardennes winter.

    How many historians does it take to write a bad book that translates into a great TV series ?

    While the deeds on Easy Company, encompassing the most famous American battles in the ETO, are a goldmine, mr. ambrose fails to preserve the thrill in print. The participants don't come to life, even tough they are introduced with the standard sort of pre-war bio in the body of the text and rounded up with a post-war bio. The heat of battle, ironically, is only felt in the icy cold of an Ardennes winter. What it has instead in abundance is an overkill of American gung-ho. As a companion to the series (most post-2001 readers presumably watched it before turning to the book) it barely manages to clarify or connect what the scenarists compressed or left out.

    Does it do anything right ? Two things, perhaps.

    People go in and out of focus as they are killed or transferred. There is hardly a 'main cast' that is in the thick of the fighting from Normandy to Berchtesgaden; Winters was promoted to Batallion level, others take months to recover from wounds. This feeling of blurry anonimity is best felt during basic training, when they're still jumps away from being anelite individual wearing Airborne wings.

    Secondly, it shows that even the great WWII was ultimately only a few years out of a human lifespan of 70, albeit influential ones. Some men made a military career that saw them in action in Korea and in command in Vietnam. Many profited from the GI bill to pursue a college degree & a succesful professional life, markedly within the fields of construction and teaching, which share a goal : to improve people and the physical world they inhabit. It's a noble sentiment. On the other hand, some men closed the book on the army and did not stay in touch through veteran associations. A few died bitter, a few let their demons pull the trigger.

    There is no Greatest Generation. Only great people within a generation that took part in a large war. And all the losers and assholes great people share every generation with as well as a draft. And yes, that captain Sobel was one of those.

  • Tristan

    Rare indeed are the occasions in which I am forced to proclaim an adaptation of the source material to be not just superior, but vastly so. And here we are, with me feeling duty bound do do exactly that.

    Let me be frank right at the start: Ambrose's deficiencies on display as both a writer and historian are truly baffling to behold, and become glaringly obvious once one manages to detach these from the ad

    Rare indeed are the occasions in which I am forced to proclaim an adaptation of the source material to be not just superior, but vastly so. And here we are, with me feeling duty bound do do exactly that.

    Let me be frank right at the start: Ambrose's deficiencies on display as both a writer and historian are truly baffling to behold, and become glaringly obvious once one manages to detach these from the admittedly inspiring nature of the subject treated.

    And that is in essence the problem, the dilemma if you will. The only thing that does somewhat "save" this book IS the subject: the story of the elite military outfit -exclusively composed of volunteers - of Easy Company, which played such a crucial part in the Western European theatre of war. It performed the function of Johnny-on-the-spot in the most significant operations during WW II : D-Day, Operation Market Garden, The Battle of the Bulge and, as icing on the cake, the capture of Hitler's own Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgarden. They went through abject hell, suffered enormous casualties, and many who came out at the other end alive would remain scarred both physically as mentally. Without such a grand tale to work with, I can't imagine Ambrose ever having gained the prominence that he had.

    Naturally, it would be grossly unfair to him to put him down too severely. He seems like a nice, decent man, and well-meaning. His effort in looking up surviving Easy Company men, interviewing them, and collating all that information was and remains invaluable. What is irksome though is that I firmly believe someone else should have actually written this book.

    A first obstacle is Ambrose's prose, which comes up short. It's blunt, stilted, disjointed and lacking in elegance. This becomes especially obvious whenever he quotes directly from one of the men of Easy Company, David Webster, a Harvard man and aspiring writer at that time. Webster's prose is alive, vibrant and perceptive, unlike Ambrose's, which is just serviceable on the whole, and really quite terrible in certain passages. Additionally, the book is bereft of any tension or drama. It has no narrative momentum, no vividness. How you don't manage to make this at least somewhat exciting, I have no idea.

    As a great admirer (and repeat rewatcher) of the Hanks-Spielberg helmed HBO miniseries, it was interesting to compare and contrast, but while going through the book a nagging thought kept interjecting: why was this considered a great, universally acclaimed book even before the miniseries existed? Am I living in an alternate dimension or something? What am I missing? Frightful experience, let me tell you.

    And now we come to its value as a work of military history (Ambrose was a historian in a professional capacity), arguably the most important element. Again, not a pretty picture. Hero worship, jingoism, inaccuracies, contrived extrapolations and conclusions riddle the text. Ambrose's perspective is just far too skewed. It reads like an officially sanctioned hagiography, which no self-respecting historian should ever want to be associated with. A suspicious hint of this is inadvertently given in the book's afterword (would putting it in the foreword have scared off the serious military history enthusiasts?):

    So there we have it. Gone is detached objectivity, relegated to a black hole of oblivion. In fear of not wanting to offend his subjects (one supposes, by then, having become his friends) Ambrose gives way to their own vision of what his book should be, and compromises the integrity of the work as a result. Unforgivable.

    One other, final, thing that made me cringe was its pro-war rhetoric, which I am particularly sensitive to. Ambrose seems to have no problems with presenting a portrait of war as a somehow adventurous undertaking, where boys turn to so they can become "real men". Needless to say, this is a childish notion. I'm personally friends with a retired, very experienced paratrooper who was in Rwanda during the brutal '94 genocide, and I can't imagine him ever uttering such a foolish statement. In fact, he would slap me to the head were I to do so. And I wouldn't reproach him at all for it. Dangerous sentiments of that kind have gotten a lot of young, naive boys needlessly killed since the dawn of humankind.

    Not all is lost, however. For those interested in the story of Easy Company , I would direct you to the excellent HBO miniseries and its poignant accompanying documentary if you have not already seen it, as there you can see and listen to these men describe their experiences directly. A marked contrast with the soldiers described in the book. In front of that camera they are somber, pensive, meditative. Their sense of loss, pain and regrets patently noticeable by the catch in their voices, their revealing mannerisms.

    It is an infinitely more touching, meaningful experience than the one Ambrose managed to deliver.


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