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The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945

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The vivid voices that speak from these pages are not those of historians or scholars. They are the voices of ordinary men and women who experienced--and helped to win--the most devastating war in history, in which between 50 and 60 million lives were lost. Focusing on the citizens of four towns-- Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Al The vivid voices that speak from these pages are not those of historians or scholars. They are the voices of ordinary men and women who experienced--and helped to win--the most devastating war in history, in which between 50 and 60 million lives were lost. Focusing on the citizens of four towns-- Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama;--The War follows more than forty people from 1941 to 1945. Woven largely from their memories, the compelling, unflinching narrative unfolds month by bloody month, with the outcome always in doubt. All the iconic events are here, from Pearl Harbor to the liberation of the concentration camps--but we also move among prisoners of war and Japanese American internees, defense workers and schoolchildren, and families who struggled simply to stay together while their men were shipped off to Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa. Enriched by maps and hundreds of photographs, including many never published before, this is an intimate, profoundly affecting chronicle of the war that shaped our world.


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The vivid voices that speak from these pages are not those of historians or scholars. They are the voices of ordinary men and women who experienced--and helped to win--the most devastating war in history, in which between 50 and 60 million lives were lost. Focusing on the citizens of four towns-- Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Al The vivid voices that speak from these pages are not those of historians or scholars. They are the voices of ordinary men and women who experienced--and helped to win--the most devastating war in history, in which between 50 and 60 million lives were lost. Focusing on the citizens of four towns-- Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama;--The War follows more than forty people from 1941 to 1945. Woven largely from their memories, the compelling, unflinching narrative unfolds month by bloody month, with the outcome always in doubt. All the iconic events are here, from Pearl Harbor to the liberation of the concentration camps--but we also move among prisoners of war and Japanese American internees, defense workers and schoolchildren, and families who struggled simply to stay together while their men were shipped off to Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa. Enriched by maps and hundreds of photographs, including many never published before, this is an intimate, profoundly affecting chronicle of the war that shaped our world.

30 review for The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    I haven't actually seen Ken Burns' PBS series The War to which this is a "companion book." The written work survives alone, but it did, at times, feel scattered. It's intended to give you a variety of perspectives from "everyday" people from across the United States, and it does manage to capture a wide range of voices. It's a good book (three stars is, after all, more than half), especially if you're looking for something short and sweeping. However, having recently read the likes o I haven't actually seen Ken Burns' PBS series The War to which this is a "companion book." The written work survives alone, but it did, at times, feel scattered. It's intended to give you a variety of perspectives from "everyday" people from across the United States, and it does manage to capture a wide range of voices. It's a good book (three stars is, after all, more than half), especially if you're looking for something short and sweeping. However, having recently read the likes of Cornelius Ryan's The Last Battle: The Classic History of the Battle for Berlin , I found Burns' work to be lacking in the 'oomph' department. Some interesting things I learned and/or had not previously considered: 1. Decoy Tanks We used them. I think I remember hearing about this before, but there's something that seemed so human to me about the use of this type of warfare. It's at once classic misdirection (Sun Tzu has a thing or two to say about deception in The Art of War), and something I imagine Wile E. Coyote doing. However, Operation Fortitude played no small part in the success of the 1944 Normandy landings. 2. Clash of Commanders So I wouldn't necessarily say that that the leaders of the allied military forces were coming to fisticuffs (though Bernard Montgomery and Eisenhower had more than a few heated debates), but the sheer size (larger than life most would say) of figures such as Douglas MacArthur and George Patton that struck me this time around. From MacArthur's dramatic speech (I couldn't bear to excerpt it, so check out the link) to the people of the Philippines, to Patton's stopping to urinate in the Rhine River, these men came across as individuals of epic proportions. 3. Knowing Thy Enemy and the Saipan Suicides There's little I can really say about the death of hundreds of Japanese civilians and soldiers off of Suicide Cliff in Saipan. Though pop culture has long-remembered the Bushido Code, there is something different about hearing of women throwing their children into the abyss rather than face captivity at enemy hands (though, my recent Ryan readings are a good reminder that there is nothing uniquely Japanese about this). Bonus Round/Obscure Archer Tie-In With the macabre humor often used to get through life on the front lines, American soldiers took to calling the German Schrapnellmine or S-mine , which would detonate and spray shrapnel (going about one click per second) at what Burns tastefully refers to as "groin height," Bouncing Betties . The S-mine, of course, was a precursor to the American-made M18 Claymore Mine which should, among other things, always have its front toward the enemy if you don't want a thousand steel balls to shred [your] genitals.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

    I listened to the audio version of this book on eight CDs. It's abridged, but I wouldn't have known it if it didn't say so on the case. This book gave me a very thorough education about World War II, "The Big Picture." I've read a lot about the war before, but it was usually about specific areas only. This book gave me a clear understanding of what was happening on all the different fronts (including the home front). It switches back and forth from Europe to the Pacific (and a little of Africa), I listened to the audio version of this book on eight CDs. It's abridged, but I wouldn't have known it if it didn't say so on the case. This book gave me a very thorough education about World War II, "The Big Picture." I've read a lot about the war before, but it was usually about specific areas only. This book gave me a clear understanding of what was happening on all the different fronts (including the home front). It switches back and forth from Europe to the Pacific (and a little of Africa), so I was able to see how all the different pieces fit together within the same time period. I also understand for the first time why our leaders felt it was necessary to drop "the bomb" on Japan. Not that it was right, but I see now how stubborn the Japanese leader was about refusing to surrender. The soldiers had to kill THEIR OWN women and children rather than allow them to surrender!

  3. 4 out of 5

    James

    Wonderfully done - informative, sometimes heartbreaking. The companion to the Ken Burns video documentary, which is every bit as good as the one he made on the Civil War almost a generation ago. As the title indicates, and like that earlier work, this tells the story of the war primarily from the point of view of the ordinary men and women who served in it and their families rather than of the heads of state, generals, and admirals on whom histories have more often focused. In this case, unlike Wonderfully done - informative, sometimes heartbreaking. The companion to the Ken Burns video documentary, which is every bit as good as the one he made on the Civil War almost a generation ago. As the title indicates, and like that earlier work, this tells the story of the war primarily from the point of view of the ordinary men and women who served in it and their families rather than of the heads of state, generals, and admirals on whom histories have more often focused. In this case, unlike what was possible for The Civil War, the story is enriched by extensive interviews with surviving participants, where the passage of time left only letters and photographs for the earlier war. This is somewhat in the philosophical tradition of Studs Terkel's "The Good War," and like that book, it presents the war as necessary while emphatically putting the quotation marks around "Good War" by showing the tragedy and brutality of it and making the point that there has never been a good war, although there have been wars like this one that were necessary and were the least of the available evils. I can't recommend this book and the documentary it accompanies strongly enough for anyone who wants to understand the most influential period of the 20th century for this country, and that should include all of us. If more history was presented this way, more people would take an interest in it, and we wouldn't live in a culture where more young people know who Madonna is than know whose side we were on in this war.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bert Hopkins

    Sobering account of World War II and its impact on four American cities/towns. We current Americans have no comprehension of the duration and suffering our forefathers endured during World War 2. My dad, Bert Crawford, participated in the Battle of the Atlantic, Invasion of North Africa, Invasion of Sicily, and the Invasion of Okinawa! His ships were the USS Earle, DD-635 and the USS Vestal, AR-4.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is reverse of the normal sequence as the book is actually based on the Ken Burns video series of the same name. The content and the quality of both is excellent. It follows some specific individuals and their experiences during the War in Europe and Asia. As expected, the book closely follows the movie series. Using this technique we get a look at how WWII started and ended and follows fighting men and POWs both military and civilian. A somewhat detailed overview of the entire war recommend This is reverse of the normal sequence as the book is actually based on the Ken Burns video series of the same name. The content and the quality of both is excellent. It follows some specific individuals and their experiences during the War in Europe and Asia. As expected, the book closely follows the movie series. Using this technique we get a look at how WWII started and ended and follows fighting men and POWs both military and civilian. A somewhat detailed overview of the entire war recommended for any WWII buffs.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    I can't imagine not giving this book anything less than 5 stars. Very moving and informative. I didn't want it to end. I wanted more information, more data, a bigger understanding of how this war touched the lives of these servicemen and their families. I can't imagine not giving this book anything less than 5 stars. Very moving and informative. I didn't want it to end. I wanted more information, more data, a bigger understanding of how this war touched the lives of these servicemen and their families.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Dawson

    The pictures were the best part. Other than that, nothing to write home about.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    This is a book about people. It is about the people who saved the world, but also the people and families behind the obvious historical monument. The first line of this book should be; I don’t know what you thought about those who obligated themselves and sacrificed to save the world but… It is books such as this, that grant a view of the humanity behind the history, that should be read and reread by all generations. Much of what occurs today is fashioned by those ignorant of the actual contributi This is a book about people. It is about the people who saved the world, but also the people and families behind the obvious historical monument. The first line of this book should be; I don’t know what you thought about those who obligated themselves and sacrificed to save the world but… It is books such as this, that grant a view of the humanity behind the history, that should be read and reread by all generations. Much of what occurs today is fashioned by those ignorant of the actual contributions individuals felt compelled to follow. It is of sacrifice and hardship, in the face of true evils and often moving forward even when the individual knows securing the world from tyrants and murderers, might very well cost them their chance to live in it themselves. This is of the people who did what had to be done, even when fear was greater than life. Do not miss this story, and other stories like it. They are essential to the soul.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    This book blew me away. I don't know what your American History classes were like in high school, but by the time June rolled around in my class, we hadn't made it past the Great Depression. Blame it on snow days or slow-witted students, but I know next to nothing about post-1930s history. Thank goodness a work project required me to read this book. THE WAR goes far beyond its service as a companion book to Ken Burns's upcoming PBS documentary—poring through startling photographs and unforgettab This book blew me away. I don't know what your American History classes were like in high school, but by the time June rolled around in my class, we hadn't made it past the Great Depression. Blame it on snow days or slow-witted students, but I know next to nothing about post-1930s history. Thank goodness a work project required me to read this book. THE WAR goes far beyond its service as a companion book to Ken Burns's upcoming PBS documentary—poring through startling photographs and unforgettable (and sometimes stomach-churning) first-hand accounts, I learned for the first time about what it was really like to live through "the good war." I almost can't believe it all happened, and I was left wondering what lessons could be learned from that war that can be applied to our current war. As far as I am concerned, this book should be considered required reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jack Lehnen

    A very good book and gives great individual insight into mens personal war as well as the larger picture. Missed the PBS series but it is coming out in CD soon . I watched the cD and was glad I read the book first. The book has things in it the CD series does not, and the CD goes a bit too fast through such important points and events in history

  11. 5 out of 5

    Forrest

    I believe the vast unfathomable carnage and ruin of this war surpassed all other wars in recorded history. I think the author does a great job illustrating this based on the journals and letters of a few GI's and civilians. This book is both sad and sobering. It offers a clear warning of the realities of war. I believe the vast unfathomable carnage and ruin of this war surpassed all other wars in recorded history. I think the author does a great job illustrating this based on the journals and letters of a few GI's and civilians. This book is both sad and sobering. It offers a clear warning of the realities of war.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Decent narrative of the war, interspersed with vignettes to make it more interesting/ personalized. But over all, mediocre. Abbreviated and very much failed to capture the same feeling, poignancy of the televised series. So, I say skip the book and watch the documentary instead.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I recently started a volunteer position that is about an hour away from my house, so I am delving into the world of audio books. This is apparently an abridged version of the book, but you wouldn't know that without being told. Ken Burns narrates, with guest appearances by others, this 8 hour reading. It told the story of WWII through the lives of 4 people. It focused on their experiences, and the experiences of their families and people around them. They can be understood to represent the large I recently started a volunteer position that is about an hour away from my house, so I am delving into the world of audio books. This is apparently an abridged version of the book, but you wouldn't know that without being told. Ken Burns narrates, with guest appearances by others, this 8 hour reading. It told the story of WWII through the lives of 4 people. It focused on their experiences, and the experiences of their families and people around them. They can be understood to represent the larger experience of America. Admittedly, it is not entirely representative and would be impossible to try to fit all of WWII into one book. For example, the experience of African Americans is touched upon only briefly, women's experiences weren't explored in depth, but, the people chosen to follow were from various regions of the U.S. and I think they were trying to capture a geographical representation to a degree. It felt as much like a memorial, honoring those who fought and lived through the War as much as a history book. Specifically, it focused on the soldiers. Rather than portraying the "Great Men/Great Events" story of the war-following the heroics of generals, it showed the flaws of the Patton, MacArthur, and the rest, and the affect their choices had on the men they were commanding. I generally prefer the history of the "every man" to the GM/GE versions.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I've had this book for over a decade, but somehow never got around to reading it. I haven't seen the TV series, unfortunately. I finally decided to read it when I looked in it hoping to find a map (which I didn't) and decided I had to read it because of the amazing photos. I've read quite a bit of fiction on WWII as well as non-fiction. This book is amazing in the way it helped to integrate the two theaters fought in the war by telling of what happened in each consecutively rather than telling al I've had this book for over a decade, but somehow never got around to reading it. I haven't seen the TV series, unfortunately. I finally decided to read it when I looked in it hoping to find a map (which I didn't) and decided I had to read it because of the amazing photos. I've read quite a bit of fiction on WWII as well as non-fiction. This book is amazing in the way it helped to integrate the two theaters fought in the war by telling of what happened in each consecutively rather than telling all about the war in Europe and then the war in the Pacific. It also humanizes the war by following several ordinary soldiers, internees and some of the news people in a town in the U.S. were reading. The human cost of the war was brought home to me in a way that no other book has done. It doesn't take as long to read as the dates I started and finished might indicate. During that period my husband and I made two 9-day road trips and it was too big to lug around.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Don Heiman

    In 2007 Alfred Knopf published “The War: An Intimate History 1941-1945,”. This work is a written documentary that tells the story of World War II from the perspective of 40+ individuals who experienced the war as American pilots, infantry combatants, and media correspondents. The book underpins a 14 hour TV documentary film that captures the impact of war on the lives of Americans living in Sacramento Calif, Lucerne Minn, Waterbury Conn, and Mobile Ala. “The War’s Intimate History” will long inf In 2007 Alfred Knopf published “The War: An Intimate History 1941-1945,”. This work is a written documentary that tells the story of World War II from the perspective of 40+ individuals who experienced the war as American pilots, infantry combatants, and media correspondents. The book underpins a 14 hour TV documentary film that captures the impact of war on the lives of Americans living in Sacramento Calif, Lucerne Minn, Waterbury Conn, and Mobile Ala. “The War’s Intimate History” will long influence my understandings about the horrors of WW 2 and the effect it had on my grandparents, parents, and their baby boomer generation. The highly acclaimed book and TV series took 6 years to produce.

  16. 4 out of 5

    BT Philips

    This close following of the Second World War from the soldier's perspective is a great work that gives the reader a front-seat to history. The collection of memoirs in this book that come from American soldiers and civilians tell an epic tale of the Greatest Generation. Ward and Burns offer so much more than any conventional history book because of the way they personalize history with a magnificent patchwork of individual stories. Although I haven't watched the twin documentary to this book, th This close following of the Second World War from the soldier's perspective is a great work that gives the reader a front-seat to history. The collection of memoirs in this book that come from American soldiers and civilians tell an epic tale of the Greatest Generation. Ward and Burns offer so much more than any conventional history book because of the way they personalize history with a magnificent patchwork of individual stories. Although I haven't watched the twin documentary to this book, this book reminds me so much of the format of other Burns documentaries that are excellent at bringing new life to old history. Overall, I was very pleased with this book and appreciate the new perspective it gave on one of my favorite historical subjects.

  17. 5 out of 5

    William

    I felt this book didn't match up to the spellbinding excellence of The Vietnam War by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns. However, that might be because Americans tend to be much more familiar with World War II than the Vietnam War. There are so many primary school lessons, books, movies, and video games on WWII but relatively few about Vietnam. Additionally, I listened to the audiobook of The War, and I felt not having maps, pictures, and a glossary of names at my disposal really impacted my reading. I felt this book didn't match up to the spellbinding excellence of The Vietnam War by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns. However, that might be because Americans tend to be much more familiar with World War II than the Vietnam War. There are so many primary school lessons, books, movies, and video games on WWII but relatively few about Vietnam. Additionally, I listened to the audiobook of The War, and I felt not having maps, pictures, and a glossary of names at my disposal really impacted my reading. I also felt the audiobook performance in The Vietnam War was superior. That all being said, I am thankful Ward and Burns captured the important testimony of a few who lived through that time for prosperity, and I am glad to have read this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    Listened to the audio, which I'm sure was abridged. Not really a history of the war, and if I hadn't already had a good fix on what happened when, I'd have been lost. Much, no, most, of the war just isn't covered, although it likely was better covered in the unabridged version. But what the book did very well was to use first person accounts of the battles and war experiences to highlight just how awful it was. For us today, the outcome of WWII seems to never have been in doubt. But this book ma Listened to the audio, which I'm sure was abridged. Not really a history of the war, and if I hadn't already had a good fix on what happened when, I'd have been lost. Much, no, most, of the war just isn't covered, although it likely was better covered in the unabridged version. But what the book did very well was to use first person accounts of the battles and war experiences to highlight just how awful it was. For us today, the outcome of WWII seems to never have been in doubt. But this book makes clear that for those who fought, it was.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kimball

    This book was decent. Gave a general glazed overview of the war without too much detail. At the time of this writing, 1000 veterans of WW2 were dying each day. Both England and America agreed that if America entered the war they we need to attack Germany first and eliminate them because of their size and strength and only be on the defense against Japan until Germany was eliminated. 1 out of 5 Navy men died off the coast of Okinawa of the entire war. That Bataan Death March sounded like the worst I This book was decent. Gave a general glazed overview of the war without too much detail. At the time of this writing, 1000 veterans of WW2 were dying each day. Both England and America agreed that if America entered the war they we need to attack Germany first and eliminate them because of their size and strength and only be on the defense against Japan until Germany was eliminated. 1 out of 5 Navy men died off the coast of Okinawa of the entire war. That Bataan Death March sounded like the worst I need to learn more about what happened there.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A must-read for any history buff, especially those wanting to learn more about the U.S. entrance to, participation in, and catalyst for the end of WWII. You will learn a lot in this book, and much of it, given what is currently happening in Ukraine, will be very difficult to read and look at. The war is told through the involvement of 4 relatively small towns/cities in the United States (Waterbury, CT; Luverne, MN; Mobile, AL; Sacramento, CA) and its citizens and their sacrifices made to help th A must-read for any history buff, especially those wanting to learn more about the U.S. entrance to, participation in, and catalyst for the end of WWII. You will learn a lot in this book, and much of it, given what is currently happening in Ukraine, will be very difficult to read and look at. The war is told through the involvement of 4 relatively small towns/cities in the United States (Waterbury, CT; Luverne, MN; Mobile, AL; Sacramento, CA) and its citizens and their sacrifices made to help the U.S. win the war.

  21. 5 out of 5

    P.S. Winn

    This is a great book and well done. The authors have brought to life a time in history that should never be forgotten. The pictures are amazing and the great information gives knowledge to all. Whether you lived through war, have family members that have, or are lucky enough not to have done that this book is one to grab.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Vardeman

    This audiobook is truly terrible. The narrator tried to dramatize every. single. sentence. and it was insufferable. I will be watching the documentary and not rating what is actually an excellent book, because I can't remain unbiased about the narrator and simply rate content. Thank you and goodnight. This audiobook is truly terrible. The narrator tried to dramatize every. single. sentence. and it was insufferable. I will be watching the documentary and not rating what is actually an excellent book, because I can't remain unbiased about the narrator and simply rate content. Thank you and goodnight.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Hearn

    I listened to the audio book version of this, read by Ken Burns, and as usual, it is well written and comprehensive. It was not as good as watching the series, and much as I love Mr Burns and all his works, reading aloud is not necessarily his forte. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    Watched this series on DVD, while reading "Conduct under Fire", "Undefeated: America's Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor" and "The Pacific" . The DVD series put images to the stories from the other books, and provided an excellent timeline of events. Watched this series on DVD, while reading "Conduct under Fire", "Undefeated: America's Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor" and "The Pacific" . The DVD series put images to the stories from the other books, and provided an excellent timeline of events.

  25. 5 out of 5

    El Guapo

    Magnificent. "To forget such events would be both a travesty and immoral." Too bad it's hardly spoken about in schools anymore. Hope our future does not repeat the past. Would read again & again. Magnificent. "To forget such events would be both a travesty and immoral." Too bad it's hardly spoken about in schools anymore. Hope our future does not repeat the past. Would read again & again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wood Duck

    This is not technical or comprehensive. You will not find every general, an analysis of strategy, or the tension of politics in wartime. What you will find is the story of people in the wat. This book raised the problem of killing and what that does to the killer in the chaos of the battlefield.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dash

    You have to read this book! It puts into perspective the plight if war. We must never forget!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jacki

    It was interesting would love to watch the series now... great learning experience

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Winkelman

    The audio book, read by Ken Burns, told compelling stories but was never gripping.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christi

    I ordered a personal copy for myself before I even finished this.

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