Tag Archives: WWII

Review: “D-Day: June 6, 1944” by Stephen E. Ambrose

Title: D-Day: June 6, 1944–The Climactic Battle Of World War II
Author: Stephen E. Ambrose
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Simon & Schuster, 1994

Well, this is awkward. I was all set to tell you how Stephen Ambrose was one of the greatest historians of the Second World War still living, and then tell you to read this book. Except that in looking up tidbits of fact to sprinkle in here and whet your fancy, I discovered two things. First, he died twelve years ago. Secondly, and more important, his reputation is not now as glowing as I had believed it to be. It seems that several of his books are riddled with improper citations and, in a couple places, even inaccuracies. Sentences or even paragraphs lifted almost verbatim from other sources, given a citation but not acknowledged within the text. An easy mistake to make, perhaps, but a rookie level one. Ambrose was one of the leading WWII scholars in the nation, even the world. You would think that indicated a level of care and professionalism that would preclude such sloppiness. (You can read about that whole mess here.) More troubling is the recent discovery that his relationship with General-turned-President Dwight D. Eisenhower was not exactly as he had described. Instead of Eisenhower approaching him to write his biography, Ambrose approached the former president. Instead of the hundreds of hours they allegedly spent talking before Eisenhower’s death, the meticulous records kept by Eisenhower’s secretary and assistant show only five. Some of the interviews cited by Ambrose take place at times Eisenhower was recorded to be elsewhere. Later-used citations are vague as to the date and time, simply cited as “Interview with DDE.” (You can read that story here.) This saddens me, for I had intended to consume his entire bibliography. Now….now my plan is to still read his WWII histories (Pegasus Bridge, Citizen Soldiers, re-read Band Of Brothers) which are less controversial, but I doubt I’ll push beyond that. We’ll see when the time comes I suppose.

But you know what? I’m still recommending this book. It was incredibly engaging and well-written–even his harshest detractors admit that he was one heck of a writer. With two lone exceptions (discussed below), there is no controversy concerning the facts as Ambrose relates them here. There may be a few spurious interview bits from Eisenhower buried in the passages he cites from his own books, I can’t check the whole chain of citation since I only have this one book on hand, but across the board his sources for this one seem legit. Would I use this as a source for a scholarly paper? Maybe not, at least without doing some more serious digging, but that’s really not a question I think most of my readers are concerned with. So far as I can tell, most of my readers are simply concerned with finding good books to fill their reading time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. History degree or not, I’m under no delusions that my review blog is a scholarly source. So, let me be clear as to what this is: Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day is an incredibly compelling study of arguably the single most crucial operation in the Second World War, told mostly by the men who were there and survived the experience. It is a tale of incredible human ingenuity, courage, and resolve, and it is very much worth reading.

In the wee hours of the morning, June 6th, 1944, the Allied nations launched the single greatest amphibious assault in the history of warfare. Hitler had spent years fortifying the French coast against this day, certain that it would have to come eventually, and the network of fortifications he had ordered constructed were intended to be impenetrable. Had any one of a hundred different factors played out differently, they may well have proved to be. Had the fortifications been better staffed, had Hitler proved more decisive and/or less inclined to micromanaging troop dispositions, had his staff even proved willing to wake him up when the invasion started so that he could give the proper orders, it would be a very different book I’m reviewing here. Had the invasion failed, what would the world look like today? That’s a question far too large for me to answer, at least here, but Ambrose believes that Berlin would have suffered the eventual fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, it’s no spoiler seventy years on to tell you that the invasion of Normandy was successful, if incredibly costly. I urge you to read this book and see the operation through the eyes of the men who were there.

I think I’ve pretty adequately communicated that I think you should read this. I’ve touched on how well it’s written, and how despite the controversy surrounding the author nobody really takes issue with this particular work, with two exceptions. First, Ambrose portrays the pilots ferrying the airborne troops to their dropzones as untrained for the degree of AA fire they were taking, and blames this factor (and, by extension, their fear) for how scattered the paratroopers became. These pilots take offense to this portrayal and have repeatedly lobbied for changes in this and other books that make the same claim. The second minor controversy concerns an incident occurring off of Omaha beach, where a landing craft skipper wanted to abort and the infantry captain aboard forced him to make the run in anyway at gunpoint. A fine story, a compelling anecdote, and properly sourced to boot. Ambrose didn’t simply make this up–it comes from a 1960 article in Atlantic Monthly, and is a story that has been much repeated in a number of other works since. The problem? The sole survivor of that landing craft denies it ever happened. Either way, Ambrose acted in good faith here, though I do somewhat question the reliability of Atlantic Monthly as a reliable source of historical fact. So do with that what you will. But read the book.

CONTENT: Some R-rated language, depending on how the veterans being interviewed censored themselves and their stories. Some graphic depictions of violence, especially in the accounts from Omaha beach. No sexual content.

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Review: “Anno Dracula: Johnny Alucard” by Kim Newman

Title: Johnny Alucard
Author: Kim Newman (His site here.)
Series: Anno Dracula #4
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Titan Books, 2013

At last! The long awaited final* novel in Kim Newman’s excellent vampire pastiche series is here! And it was superb, let me tell you. Only the original novel was better, in my humble opinion. Maybe it was because I got more of the references this time without resorting to Google, given that I’m not an expert on WWI literature and films or post-WWII Italian cinema whereas this time the action was mostly set in the USA and within the last forty years. Still not really my era (I wouldn’t even have been reading yet when the novel ends), but the setting was still much more familiar than the last couple have been. The format this time was a little different, instead of doing a straightforward novel Mr. Newman has been teasing his fans for the past decade with shorter novellas carrying the story forward. Now they’re finally gathered in one place, ostensibly edited a bit so they fit together better, and with the last couple finally seeing the light of day. Or night, if you’re nosferatu.

In Anno Dracula, that vampire prince forcibly pulled the nosferatu out of the shadows of the world forever when he seduced and married Queen Victoria. London became a veritable safe haven for the undead, and they flocked there from the far corners of the world. Newborn nosferatu swelled in numbers, spurred not only by Dracula himself but by countless other literary and film vampires, from Orlok to Lestat and everyone in between. Eventually Dracula’s reign was ended, and he was forced to flee the country, landing in the Austro-Hungarian Empire where he became a close adviser to the Kaiser. During WWI he engineered a program to transform The Bloody Red Baron and other German flying aces into an unbeatable vampiric air force before being thwarted by the Allies and once again fleeing his pursuers. During Hitler’s purge of all nosferatu whose bloodlines he deemed “tainted,” Dracula forged an uneasy alliance with his former enemies and fomented revolution in Transylvania in order to open up another front against the Axis. For his services, he was given a castle in Italy after the war and forced to quietly accept his exile. In Dracula Cha Cha Cha (1959) Dracula was destroyed on the eve of his wedding, seemingly ending the epic saga of his life and leaving the world to wonder who if anyone would assume his mantle as unofficial (yet undisputed) leader of vampire-kind. Many have tried, and thus far all have failed. Johnny Alucard (as he will come to be known) intends to succeed…but not quite how anyone expects.

Whereas previous entries to the series have focused in tightly on one event or short period of time, Johnny Alucard covers a broad range, tracking the course of Johnny Alucard from 1976 in Transylvania to 1991 in Hollywood. Observe with Kate Reed Francis Ford Coppola’s seemingly-cursed attempts to forge a big-budget Dracula film in a third-world country!** Catch up with Genvieve as she assists Philip Marlowe in rescuing a young girl from the cult of Scientology Immortology! Revisit Penny in New York as she serves as assistant to the infamous artist and vampire Andy Warhol! Watch with the world as Kate Reed enters the besieged Transylvanian embassy, overtaken by terrorists/freedom fighters who want to see Transylvania become a dedicated homeland for the undead! See Orson Welles’ doomed attempts to make his own Dracula film! See the US military’s vampire corps unseat the Ceausescu regime! See the climax of Johnny Alucard’s machinations as the world watches events transpiring at the Concert For Transylvania! Featuring cameos (as well as more substantial roles) from such historical personages as Coppola, Warhol, Welles, and countless Hollywood folk, as well as literary and film characters from “The Dude” to Blade and Hellboy. Like I said above, I really enjoyed this entry in the series, more than any of the two previous sequels. To explain further would be to spoil the overarching plot (all that above was mostly backdrop), and I’ll firmly resist that urge. Just ask yourself, how does Dracula constantly keep coming back in the movies despite being destroyed at the end of each?

CONTENT: R-rated language. Strong violence, vampiric and otherwise. Quite a bit of sexual innuendo (not usually explicit), including prostitution. Drug content, if that offends you. Also…vampires. Some would consider that occultic, although Newman’s vampires have very little magic about them aside from some telepathy and an inexplicable lack of reflection.

*So far, anyway…I’m not convinced we’re done. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking….
**Yes, this replaces Apocalypse Now, complete with all the attendant disasters on set.

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Review: “American Vampire, Vol. III” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Sean Murphy

Title: American Vampire, Volume III
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque & Mateus Santolouco
Series: American Vampire (Volume III, Issues #12-18 + Survival Of The Fittest miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2012

And now we come to the third volume of Scott Snyder’s Vertigo comic series, American Vampire. Due to the nature of reviewing a series, this review will unavoidably contain spoilers for Volume I and Volume II, so be forewarned.

For the bulk of this book we are firmly set in the 1940s, exploring the vampiric undercurrent to the Second World War. But first, we spend an issue following Skinner Sweet in Strange Frontier as he takes the time to visit a traveling Wild West show a la Buffalo Bill. This particular show has his showdown with Jim Book as one of the moments it dramatizes, and after realizing that his old girl is part of the show Sweet decides to have some fun, even some old scores for himself and others…. In Ghost War we follow Henry Preston and Pearl Jones as they face  the Pacific theater, where there are worse things than Japanese soldiers to worry about. Preston joins a secret mission for the Vassals Of The Morningstar to combat a new breed of vampire on Taipan, soon to be overrun by American troops. Along for the ride is Skinner Sweet, out to settle old scores…. Lastly, Survival Of The Fittest follows Felicia Book and Cash McCogan on a mission behind Nazi lines in search of a supposed cure for vampirism. What they find instead could destroy us all…..

This is every bit as awesome as you would expect it to be after reading the previous two volumes of the series. Snyder continues to keep things fresh and exciting. Albuquerque’s art is a perfect fit for the series, rough and unrefined yet at the same time clearly communicating the action and proving to be surprisingly beautiful at times. Sean Murphy does a credible job of matching Albuquerque’s style, keeping a continuity to the artwork that can’t be easy to achieve. If you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning, by all means don’t stop now! I very much look forward to seeing where this goes in future volumes, as soon as I can find a way to get my hands on them. This is the last one my library has in it’s collection…..

Content: Same as before, R-rated language, violence that is occasionally gory and disturbing (what do you expect? It’s a vampire book!), and occasional sexual content/nudity. I keep telling you folks, Vertigo comics aren’t for kids…..

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Review: “No Silent Night” by Leo Barron and Don Cygan

Title: No Silent Night: The Christmas Battle For Bastogne
Authors: Leo Barron & Don Cygan
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: New American Library, 2012

I received my copy of No Silent Night as part of the Goodreads FirstReads program. This has no effect on this review, except to ensure that I was able to get a copy of the book. New purchases are being kept to a minimum for budgetary and storage reasons at the moment…..

In December of 1944, Hitler’s Third Reich launched its last-ditch effort to stop the Allied advance–Wacht am Rhein, or the offensive that would lead to the famed Battle of the Bulge. While this battle was more than overflowing with moments of drama and heroism, one of the most fascinating elements was the battle for the small crossroads town of Bastogne. As the German offensive was once more dependent on Blitzkrieg tactics, good roads were going to be essential for moving their armor, troops and supplies quickly to where they needed to be to support the frontline’s advance deep into Allied territory. Quickly taking crossroads towns like Bastogne would be essential to the German advance–a fact that was not lost on the commanders of either side. While the German flood swept towards Bastogne, the Allied command hurriedly installed the 101st Airborne and any other stray troops they could find in defense of the town and its outlying villages, creating an island of Allied resistance that was quickly surrounded. If the defenders of Bastogne could hold out long enough, they could seriously impair the German offensive. If they failed, the Germans would have a direct supply line for their forward troops. Poorly supplied and seriously outnumbered, the defenders of Bastogne were in for a Christmas they would never forget…….

This book first caught my eye because I was passingly familiar with the story–it was featured in the stellar HBO/BBC miniseries Band Of Brothers (if you haven’t seen that, go do so immediately!) Historical narratives have a reputation (not always deserved) of being dry and uninteresting for the non-historian, but I was pleased to find this was not the case with this book. The authors tell the story of Bastogne’s defense from both sides, following both the American defenders and the German besiegers, and the style is very engaging. While the book is a secondary source, I suspect intended more for the general public than for academia, the authors have done quite a bit of original research including interviews with several of the key characters. I will undoubtedly mine their works cited section for some other works on the subject when I get the chance–several of the memoirs they cite look quite intriguing.

This is the first book either author has written, and I had never heard of either of them before, but the book was quite good. According to the dust jacket, Leo Barron has served in the 101st Airborne in Iraq, holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in history, and trains military intelligence officers for the US Army. Don Cygan is a history teacher and journalist.

Content: PG-13 for language and violence. Soldiers’ language can be a bit salty, and this is a narrative about war. On the whole its not too gruesome, but there are a couple occasions that are a bit disturbing and illustrate the horror of war.

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