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Review: The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin

22 May

Title: The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War
Author: Richard Rubin
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Over the past decade, Richard Rubin sought out every last living American veteran of World War I–and uncovered a forgotten great generation, and their war. World War I was so cataclysmic that every town in America built a memorial to our doughboys, in the hope that they would never be forgotten. And yet today, thanks to the passing of nearly a century and an even more cataclysmic World War, they are. Ten years ago, Richard Rubin set out to interview every last living doughboy–several dozen, aged 101 to 113. They shared with him, at the last possible moment (they are all gone now) the story of America’s Great War, and of the generation that raised the “Greatest Generation.” They were nineteenth-century men and women living in the twenty-first century: self-reliant, humble, and stoic; never complaining, still marveling at the immensity of the war they helped win. A decade in the making, “The Last of the Doughboys” is a sweeping new look at our forgotten World War, and a moving meditation on character, grace, aging, and memory

Via GoodReads

Even since I read my first Studs Terkel, I’ve been a fan of the oral history sub-genre. A book filled with letters will put me to sleep but a book where people talk is one I will pick up in the bookstore. I was especially interested in the subject matter because, given how large WWII looms in the American public consciousness, I was excited to see a book that gave a nod to WWI veterans in the same way that WWII veterans have already been acknowledged.

I think WWI and WWII are viewed very differently. It is hard to come up with a war more justifiable than one against Adolf Hitler. The justifiable nature of WWII often turns WWI into a forgotten child. There is a great Studs Terkel book called “The Good War” but not equivalent oral history of WWI.

This book was written right before it was too late. This book could not be written today, as none of the veterans of WWI are still living. It could be argued that this book was written too late, that some of the weaker sections are due to the lack of available interviews, but I chose to applaud the work done instead of focus on how much fuller a picture could have been painted if this book at been written in 1975. It wasn’t and there is no point bemoaning that fact.

I had an issue with the use of first person narration. First person is becoming increasingly widespread in popular history and is rarely effective for me. I would speculate that part of the reason it was used in this case, and it was used heavily, was because the smallish number of veterans in the book simply did not say enough or remember enough to fill more of this book. I think this book was about finding the stories but it was also about finding the men and women who had these memories and meeting them before they were gone from the earth. An event is different when there are no more living witnesses to it. This book was about meeting those witnesses and hearing as much of their stories as possible. First person narration is a good choice for “meeting” the veterans even if it weakens the oral history sections.

The book was rounded out by the author’s research. This research is especially strong in the chapter on Tin Pan Alley and the forgotten music of WWI. A weaker section was the section on the lives of African-American soldiers. This may be a function of the dearth of both research information and the few living subjects that the author was able to interview. I understand why it was included in the book but the chapter was certainly very thin on the ground. I hope someday more work on this issue can be done.

I was very glad I read this book and “met” these veterans. Over the years, I have been trying to expand my reading of WWI. This book was important enough, and interesting enough, that I am glad to have read it.

A egalley was received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Thursday Pretty: Liu Wen by JumboTsui for Ok! China April 2013

25 Apr






Feature and Follow Friday 4/19/13

19 Apr

If you could hang out with any author (living) who would it be and what would you want to do?

I am totally going to cheat on this question and pick two authors who was alive for most of my life but are no longer living. Kurt Vonnegut and Studs Terkel. I so enjoy Vonnegut’s nonfiction and his command of irony. Terkel was simply a master at oral history and his books reflect his ability to put a story together with other people’s words. That might sound like faint praise but I think that is insanely difficult.

Oh, Grace Coddington wrote a book so I guess the living author I would most like to hang out with would be Grace Coddington!

FFF is brought to you by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read

Stacking The Shelves 4/13/13

13 Apr

Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier (could not finish)
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (egalley via Netgalley. Thanks Houghton Mifflin!)

Pink in Paris lipstick by YSL

Shoes Lusted After:
sparkly espadrilles by Franco Sarto

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews

Feature and Follow Friday 4/12/13

12 Apr

Question of the Week: We are about to see a lot of posts & tweets about reader conventions, RT, BEA, ALA and many more are starting soon. Which one would you love to attend? Where and why?

Is there a convetion in Paris because I would be at that one ASAP. Otherwise, I think I am a little too new to book blogging to feel comfortable at a convention. Maybe someday!

Hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee

Thoughts On…What Makes A Book Readable To Me

6 Apr

The main character: I want a main character or narrator that I can empathize with and that, on a very basic level, I like. I know it means I miss out on a lot of great books with less than loveable narrators but life is too short to read books I don’t like!

Linear Storytelling: I know it speaks to my lack of reading sophistication but I simply can’t enjoy non-linear storytelling because it requires too much work to parse the narrative. There are a few exceptions to this with authors who do non-linear storytelling exceptionally well but I simply can’t deal with it when it is done poorly.

Setting: I have a special place in my heart for fantasy/sci-fi/horror. One of my favorite sub-genres is post-apocalyptic fiction. I see a lot of dystopia on the market right now and it isn’t a terrible substitute for post-apocalyptic fiction but it isn’t quite the same. I am also fond of road trips, especially road trips that involve space travel.

World Building: I want a world that is noticeably different from this one and a world that is fully formed. I don’t require a Tolkien-esque language but a world that is truly unique can make or break a book for me.

Feature and Follow Friday 4/5/13

4 Apr

Have you ever read a book that you thought you would hate — ? Did you end up hating it? Did you end up loving it? Or would you never do that?

I spent almost a year staring at a copy of “The Sparrow” at a local bookstore. I didn’t end up reading it until 10 years later and it is now one of my favorite books.

I resisted Harry Potter as it became bigger and bigger. I finally purchased the four books that were available at the time (GOF had just been released) and became a huge Potter fan. I read Goblet of Fire on a plane ride to San Francisco BEFORE E-READERS. I think this is illustrative of how into the series I was since I was carting around a book the size of a brick. Deathly Hallows is now one of my favorite books and I cry every re-read. So I was wrong about Harry Potter.

Finally, I thought The Passage by Justin Cronin would be too scary for me. Don’t get me wrong – that book was literally spine-tingling – but I loved that book even though horror is not usually a favorite genre.

I’ve definitely absorbed the lesson that I shouldn’t judge a book by its genre. I still judge books by their covers though!

Feature and Follow Friday is via parajunkee and Alison Can Read