2012 Military History Roundup: With Ten Additional Reviews

By LJ book reviewers


Berman, Larry. Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2012. c.528p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780061691300. $29.99. BIOG

Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt was one of the more colorful, beloved, and perhaps controversial figures in recent U.S. naval history. Berman (Univ. of California, Davis; Planning a Tragedy: Lyndon Johnson’s War) provides an insightful look into Zumwalt’s life and career. Zumwalt spent 32 years in the navy, including serving as the leader of all naval forces in Vietnam, before concluding his career as the youngest chief of naval operations (1970–74), for which he is largely credited with integrating and modernizing the navy. Later, Zumwalt was active in promoting veterans’ issues, especially the fight for those exposed to Agent Orange, a struggle that was deeply personal when his son succumbed to illnesses related to exposure (and the subject of Zumwalt’s My Father, My Son). VERDICT Berman presents a well-researched study, although far stronger on the details of Zumwalt’s naval career and political battles than on his personal life. This will appeal to those interested in 20th-century naval or political history or the Vietnam War in particular.—MM

Taylor, Stephen. Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain. Norton. Oct. 2012. c.320p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393071641. $28.95. BIOG

Edward Pellew (1757–­1833) was one of the few British officers during the age of sail to rise from a commoner’s roots to reach flag rank. Although considered the finest seaman of his time, as demonstrated by both his athletic prowess aboard ship and his exemplary command of his vessels, he was not without his faults. Pellew had a knack for favoritism, namely directed toward friends and family, which, though not unheard of among other officers, left a mark on his career, harming political relationships as he sought favor from lords and nobles. Pellew, who later became Lord Exmouth, was often compared to his contemporary, Horatio Nelson, who undoubtedly had greater political ability. Yet Pellew was the better seaman, and probably the better captain; he was the likely model for Jack Aubrey, the protagonist of Patrick O’Brian’s series of novels. VERDICT An objective account and worthy read for all fans of naval history, particularly the Nelsonian era.—MJW


Bellesiles, Michael A. A People’s History of the U.S. Military: Ordinary Soldiers Reflect on Their Experience of War, from the American Revolution to Afghanistan. New, dist. by Perseus. 2012. c.400p. index. ISBN 9781595586285. $29.95. HIST

The author of the discredited Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000), Bellesiles (history, Central Connecticut State Univ.) here uses the letters, diaries, and memoirs of mostly common soldiers from 1775 to 2011 to convey the history of America’s wars. He also contends that behind America’s routine praise for its soldiers was actually little appreciation of their service, poor postwar care of the wounded, and a failure to fulfill promised war service pensions (with the major exception of the post-World War II GI Bill). He argues that after the early U.S. wars especially, fears were expressed that returning veterans would overthrow the government and establish a dictatorship. But these citizen soldiers continued to fight America’s many wars while hoping that their sense of equality and shared sacrifice would be recognized when they returned to civilian life. VERDICT A People’s History is strongly sympathetic toward veterans and very critical of their treatment historically. Veterans, those unhappy with America’s frequent wars, and those interested in U.S. military history will be attracted to this book.—MJ


Martines, Lauro. Furies: War in Europe, 1450–1700. Bloomsbury Pr., dist. by Macmillan. Jan. 2013. c.336p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781608196098. $28. HIST

Many historians of war focus on generals, rulers, and tactics. Martines (Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Renaissance Florence) seeks to diversify the study of war by chronicling the plight of the common people during wartime. Chapters devoted to the sacking of cities, plunder, sieges, arms, and soldiers vividly describe the starvation, disease, and brutality that soldiers and civilians faced during 250 years of war. Much of the book’s descriptive power is due to its excellent case studies drawn from primary sources. Additionally, Martines intertwines a discussion of the economic realities of warfare into the narrative, showing that inadequate financing and logistical considerations often contributed to the harsh conditions. The religious aspects of the wars are addressed and considered but are downplayed in favor of secular elements. Furies closes with a thoughtful discussion of warfare in the context of the state in early-modern Europe. ­VERDICT Highly recommended for any reader seriously interested in the history of early-modern Europe.—RK

Roberts, Andrew. Love, Tommy: Letters Home from the Great War to the Present Day. Osprey. 2012. c.272p. illus. index. ISBN 9781849087919. $25.95. HIST

Drawn from collections housed at London’s Imperial War Museum, this volume brings together missives by British and other Commonwealth service personnel from World War I to the current war in Afghanistan. Roberts (The Storm of War) offers introductory essays that summarize the conflicts in an admirably concise way as well as biographical information about each letter writer. The letters have a running theme of missing home and longing for family and creature comforts, whether the writer is in 1914 France or 2004 Iraq. Some are surprisingly mundane given the writer’s circumstances, and others touchingly poignant. Photographs of some of the letter writers are welcome and add to the reading experience. One woman, a nurse in Aden (now Yemen) in 1965, is represented. Other letters here were written during the Malayan Emergency, the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, and the Falklands War. (No examples from the conflict in Northern Ireland, however.) VERDICT For general readers interested in the more personal side of war.—MHF

O’Connell, Aaron B. Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps. Harvard Univ. Oct. 2012. c.388p. illus. index. ISBN 9780674058279. $29.95. HIST

A Marine reservist, O’Connell (history, U.S. Naval Academy) argues that the Marines waged a culture war from World War II through the mid-1960s. He attributes the rise of the Marines from a tiny, unpopular 1941 corps to preeminent armed service in 1965 to the success of the Marine Corps’ public relations campaign. Marines perceived themselves as unique and better but felt threatened by the other services. The Marines’ famous PR machine, says O’Connell, was its response to its perception of being besieged, and made them seek alliances with politicians, journalists, and the public. The threat of obsolescence in the age of nuclear war also drove the Marines to transform their mission from amphibious troops that only seized beachheads to a seaborne multi-purpose, global quick-reaction force. But the corps sometimes violated the law and norms in its political activities. And in the ranks there was a price for this success: propensity to use violence outside military norms, and stress on family. VERDICT This insightful cultural history is recommended for those interested in U.S. military history and modern U.S. history.—MJ

Ricks, Thomas E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2012. c.532p. index. ISBN 9781594204043. $32.95. HIST

This is a collective biography of American generals from World War II to the present, as well as an organizational history of the U.S. Army, and public policy prescription. The biographies are brief, separate portraits; the prescription is essentially that generals should be allowed to fail without it meaning the end of their careers. Ricks (Fiasco) attributes the institutional culture of the 1940s army to Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall, who ruthlessly sacked underperformers but often left open the possibility of a second chance. Overall, Ricks contends, Marshall created a cadre of solid but colorless commanders; the emphasis on teamwork and level-headedness created a culture of careerism and risk-aversion. Ricks also examines the effects, for good or ill, of such generals as Douglas MacArthur, William Westmoreland, and Tommy Franks on army culture. VERDICT Ricks’s editorializing may be jarring to a reader looking for straight history, but the book is superbly researched and written. This is for all readers engaged in studying military history, particularly relating to political-military relations.—RF

Witt, John Fabian. Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History. Free Pr: S. & S. 2012. c.512p. illus. index. ISBN 9781416569831. $32. HIST

Questions about military commissions, who is a prisoner of war, and how prisoners should be treated, etc., have been active issues especially since 9/11. This volume reviews the background of U.S. laws of war. Witt (history & law, Yale; The Accidental Republic) examines the laws of war in the 18th and 19th centuries from the French and Indian Wars to the Spanish American War. The focus is on the Civil War, where an entirely new rulebook on the laws of war was drafted by Franz Lieber and approved by President Lincoln. Witt demonstrates that this code was immensely influential, being adopted by the European powers and becoming the basis of the Geneva Conventions on POWs. VERDICT A specialized, well-researched book that will be appreciated by students of American history and those interested in current American foreign policy.—ME


Andrlik, Todd. Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News. Sourcebooks. Nov. 2012. c.400p. illus. index. ISBN 9781402269677. $39.99. HIST

Newspapers served as the primary method by which people in the 18th century learned about current events, wars included. Andrlik, a marketing professional interested in 18th-century journalism, has used newspapers from his personal collection to create this distinctive volume on how the American Revolution was presented at the time. The introductory essays discuss the newspaper business of the period and place in context the various events and battles covered. Reprinted excerpts from the era’s newspapers supplement the essays. Concluding the volume are further essays on the impact of the revolutionary press and the research value of such primary sources. VERDICT While not a comprehensive history of 18th-century journalism, the format and presentation provide a useful supplement for those interested in the American Revolution in general or Revolutionary War newspapers in particular.—MJW

Rice, James D. Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America. Oxford Univ. 2012. c.272p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780195386950. $24.95. HIST

In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led a rebellion against Virginia’s Colonial governor, William Berkeley. Fueled by colonists’ fears of Indian attacks, Bacon and his followers used disputes between frontier settlers and Doeg Indians to rationalize an offensive against other nearby tribes. Berkeley’s preference for a more measured approach became justification for a political and military rebellion against his rule. Rice convincingly argues that this critical event in American history helped to create the Old South and the convergence of slavery, westward expansion, and issues of race. Tales from a Revolution compares favorably with Wilcomb E. Washburn’s classic The Governor and the Rebel, which is now more than 50 years old. VERDICT Any collection catering to scholars and fans of colonial American history will find this a worthy addition.—MJW

war of 1812


Cecelski, David S. The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway & the Slaves’ Civil War. Univ. of North Carolina. 2012. c.352p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780807835661. $30. HIST

Cecelski (The Waterman’s Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina) tells the story of Abraham Galloway, a slave who escaped from the South before the Civil War. He became a prominent figure in the abolitionist movement and the struggle for black equality. He served as a spy during the first part of the Civil War, then as a political organizer and state senator representing Wilmington, North Carolina. VERDICT Cecelski’s book is important because it shows how slaves were not “given” their freedom by Union armies and politicians, but that they fought for and earned that freedom. Unfortunately, the historical record has left huge gaps in the record of important portions of Galloway’s life, and Cecelski is forced into conjecture based on the recorded experiences of individuals in similar circumstances. Nevertheless, this portrait of an important American will appeal to those with an interest in African American political history during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras as well as those with an interest in North Carolina history.—MF

Coddington, Ronald S. African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album. Johns Hopkins. Oct. 2012. c.384p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781421406251. $29.95. HIST

Coddington (assistant managing editor, Chronicle of Higher Education) adds to his previous Civil War volumes, Faces of the Civil War and Faces of the Confederacy, with this new book focused solely on African Americans. The men featured were mostly soldiers and sailors or served the war effort in other ways, e.g., as personal servants to officers. The 77 images are drawn from library and private collections, and include Nicholas Biddle, known as the first person injured in the war; Robert Holloway, Col. Ambrose Burnside’s personal servant; and many from the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry, even the 13-year-old drummer boy. The photographs are accompanied by profiles that, while brief, clearly represent considerable research in personal papers and government records. A foreword by J. Matthew Gallman (history, Univ. of Florida) gives a short history of the carte-de-visite format of photography prevalent in the Civil War era. VERDICT With the plethora of Civil War books that focus on battles, regiments, and the famous, this volume’s subject matter and format are a welcome counterpoint.—MHF

Cooper, William J. We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860–April 1861. Knopf. 2012. c.352p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781400042005. $30. HIST

Cooper (history, Louisiana State Univ.; Jefferson Davis, American) posits that the Civil War came about because Lincoln and Republican radicals refused to engage in serious compromise efforts with Southern moderates and “fire-eaters,” referring primarily to the Southern demand for the territorial expansion of slavery. In fact, Lincoln and the Republicans consistently stated that they were willing to compromise over every other divisive issue except slavery in the territories. Cooper contends that the territorial expansion of slavery wasn’t practically important because slavery would not exist in Western climates and, therefore, Republicans should not have been so intransigent. This only leads to the question, why did the South demand it if it was unimportant? Further, Cooper argues that Lincoln should not have used force to coerce Southern states back into the Union and should instead have sought reconciliation by giving in to all Southern demands. It’s difficult to see how Lincoln could have survived politically if he had completely abandoned the platform on which he was elected. Nor does Cooper explain how reunion could have taken place since secessionists made clear that the break was permanent. VERDICT Most pro-Confederate books downplay the role of slavery in the conflict. Cooper calls slavery a moral wrong, while making it the central issue. Objective historians may want to read this book, but they are likely to find that Cooper’s argument uses flawed logic.—MF

Gindlesperger, James & Suzanne Gindlesperger. So You Think You Know Antietam?: The Stories Behind America’s Bloodiest Day. John F. Blair. 2012. c.234p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780895875792. pap. $19.95. HIST

Following in the footsteps of their similarly titled book on Gettysburg, James and Suzanne Gindlesperger have provided another detailed guide to a Civil War battlefield. Replete with color photographs, the chapters detail Antietam’s various landmarks and sites. Rather than telling the story of the battle itself, the authors instead relate the histories of specific locations and the meaning behind each monument. Chapters begin with MapQuest maps that contain numbers for each site mentioned in the text. Following are snippets of the day’s events in that area, then the stories behind each location. Included are appendixes that contain Gen. Lee’s lost orders, orders of battle for both Confederate and Union forces, and the names of each of the battle’s Medal of Honor recipients, along with the citations describing their actions. VERDICT Civil War history buffs and reenactors eager to know more about the battlefield itself should find this a worthwhile addition.—MJW


Symonds, Craig L. The Civil War at Sea. Oxford Univ. Oct. 2012. c.256p. illus. maps. ISBN 9780199931682. $17.95. HIST

Lincoln Prize–winner Symonds (Lincoln and His Admirals) examines naval strategies and tactics as illustrated by the Civil War, rather than presenting a history of the naval war itself. He tells three basic stories. The first details how technology changed the way navies fought in the Civil War. The most important technological developments included rifled guns and explosive shells, protective iron plating, and advances in steam propulsion with screw propellers. Second, Symonds analyzes Union blockading efforts and Confederate responses as well as Confederate commerce raiding and Union responses, devoting special attention to the effectiveness of overall strategy. The third story, over the last three chapters, is about combined actions and cooperation with ground forces, with accounts of action around Charleston, Mobile, and Wilmington. VERDICT Symonds has a gift for making complex and technical issues easy to understand, and his straightforward style makes for enjoyable reading. This book will appeal to general readers interested in either U.S. naval history or naval aspects of the Civil War. His thematic structure allows readers to understand the big picture of naval tactics and strategy without being overwhelmed by minutiae.—MF

Von Drehle, David. Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year. Henry Holt. Oct. 2012. c.480p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780805079708. $30. HIST

Von Drehle (editor-at-large, TIME) tells the stories of Abraham Lincoln’s personal and public lives month by month during 1862. The personal side includes the death of Lincoln’s son Willie, Lincoln’s difficult marriage, and his personal and political friendships. The public side of the story focuses on Lincoln’s development as a military leader, the formation of the Emancipation Proclamation, and his relations with his cabinet. While traditionally the monumental events of 1863 are seen as the turning point in the Civil War, Von Drehle makes a strong case that Lincoln’s remarkable development both as a military strategist and as a political genius occurred during these 12 months, laying the groundwork for eventual Union triumph. The author’s assessment of Lincoln is primarily positive, although he addresses controversial issues such as Lincoln’s complex views on race and speculation about Lincoln’s sexual orientation, though he does not really investigate that topic himself, and it may come across as irresponsibly handled on the author’s part. VERDICT Von Drehle’s polished style and sense of drama will appeal to general readers interested in this formative time in American history.—MF


Westfall, Matthew. The Devil’s Causeway: The True Story of America’s First Prisoners of War in the Phillipines, and the Heroic Expedition Sent to Their Rescue. Lyons: Globe Pequot. 2012. c.432p. photogs. maps. ISBN 9780762780297. $26.95. HIST

In 1899, shortly after the American victory that made the Philippines a U.S. protectorate, the USS Yorktown sent 15 sailors to free Spanish soldiers besieged by Filipinos in a remote area on Luzon’s east coast. The sailors rowed into an ambush; four died, and the rest were imprisoned. U.S. Army troops with Filipino guides eventually caught up with the POWs, but it was a harrowing circus caused by an incompetent launch commander, short-tempered insurrectionists, the media, the U.S. Army, grand strategy, and American politics. The determined captives, a bloodthirsty insurrection commander, crusty Civil War veterans, headhunters, priests, and deranged Spanish soldiers all make appearances. Documentary filmmaker Westfall has collected much primary source material, from which he has teased remarkable detail about a forgotten episode of empire making. ­VERDICT Although he sometimes inserts his characters’ thoughts and words into the narrative, Westfall has brought to life the people and societies that clashed at the end of a century when America was determined to build a worldwide empire.—EBB

Yorke, Edmund. Rorke’s Drift 1879. Trafalgar Square. (Battle Story) Nov. 2012. c.160p. illus. index. ISBN 9780752464008. $17.95. HIST

York (military history, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; Zulu!: The Battle for Rorke’s Drift 1879) revisits the famous clash in a short history for the publisher’s “Battle Story” series. The victory of 140 British soldiers over 4000 Zulu warriors, Yorke argues, was a particularly ably and heroically fought battle from a purely military perspective. The triumph of the tiny British force deterred the Zulu from attacking the British South African colony and proved that a fortified defense was the best counter to Zulu tactics. Regarding domestic British politics, Yorke maintains that this victory counterbalanced the news of the Zulus’ almost total annihilation of 1700 British soldiers at the Battle of Isandlwana one day before the Rorke’s Drift battle. ­VERDICT Yorke’s short introductory history is readable and well-illustrated, recommended for those interested in British colonial history, South African history, and the military context.—MJ



Nelson, James Carl. Five Lieutenants: The Heartbreaking Story of Five Harvard Men Who Led America to Victory in World War I. St. Martin’s. Nov. 2012. c.384p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780312604233. $26.99. HIST

Nelson (The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War) makes extensive use of primary sources to tell the story of five men from different backgrounds, all Harvard educated, who served as officers in the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I France. He draws on their “voluminous” and, more important, uncensored letters and diaries to paint a larger picture of the experience of war. The soldiers describe the misery of life in the trenches in vivid detail, but there are also notes of humor and depictions of strong friendships. The officers’ roles in the Battle of Cantigny, the first American offensive of the war, are prominently featured. ­VERDICT Nelson’s habit of putting thoughts in his subjects’ heads (e.g., “He…detect[ed] no sound but his own heartbeat”) may not be for every reader, and more traditional endnotes would have been welcome, but this is a well-researched and touching work that should please World War I history buffs.—MHF


starred review starBeevor, Antony. The Second World War. Little, Brown. 2012. c.880p. photogs. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316023740. $35. HIST

This latest work by prize-winning historian Beevor (D-Day: The Battle for Normandy) is magisterial in both scope and breadth. Many one-volume World War II histories fail either to grab the attention of the reader or to provide new insights; this is not the case here. Covering both theaters of the war, the causes of the conflict, and some of the immediate aftermath, Beevor provides a strategic overview of the war while adding personal stories and details that keep the book fresh. His approach considers World War II as the global conflict it was (e.g., his discussion of the Russo-Japanese battle of Nomohan), rather than as simultaneous yet separate conflicts, as so many other authors have presented it. He begins with the tale of Yang Kyoungjong, a Korean national who ended up fighting in the armies of Japan, the USSR, and Germany. VERDICT Beevor provides a stimulating and informative book recommended for all general readers.—BKD

Brzezinski, Matthew. Isaac’s Army: A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland. Random. Oct. 2012. c.496p. index. ISBN 9780553807271. $30. HIST

While Poland’s Jewish community was being exterminated by the German and Soviet occupiers, a network of Jews resisted. Isaac Zuckerman, who survived to settle in Israel after the war, left a detailed memoir of the experience. Brzezinski (Red Moon Rising) found other survivors and interviewed them to produce a detailed record of much of the daily life of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and other parts of Poland that had become Germany’s eastern Reich. He discusses the policy changes, social situation, and strategic environment that resistance workers had to deal with, and humanizes the extremely difficult situations these young men and women faced, including the “trade-craft” involved in operating in a rigidly controlled and murderous state. VERDICT Although the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto has been covered before, the author successfully integrates personal and societal elements into a compelling narrative that greatly supplements existing works.—EBB

Dobbs, Michael. Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman—From World War to Cold War. Knopf. Oct. 2012. c.448p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307271655. $28.95. HIST

Dobbs persuasively locates the beginning of the Cold War in the period roughly between the Yalta Conference of February 1945 and the Potsdam Conference in July, when the victorious Allies met up against the intractable problems of reconciling their divergent interests and war aims. The later confrontations of the Cold War, he says, were adumbrated by early tests of will that took place even before the end of war. The end of the war in Europe, and the prospect of an atomic bomb, accelerated the wartime Allies’ desire to consolidate and improve their respective positions before Japan surrendered. Using many primary sources, Dobbs sketches vivid portraits of the leaders who shaped events, or neglected to do so, and ably conveys the tension and uncertainty of the era. ­VERDICT Recommended for serious and lay military historians, and all readers seeking an understanding of the origins of the Cold War.—RF

Downing, Taylor. Spies in the Sky: The Secret Battle for Aerial Intelligence During World War II. Trafalgar Square.Nov. 2012. c.416p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781408703625. pap. $19.95. HIST

Aerial photography, crucial for military strategy and operations, came of age during World War II with advances in cameras and film technology. Writer and documentary filmmaker Downing (Churchill’s War Lab) offers an appealing and well-documented popular military history. He focuses on the primarily British operation that looked down on Nazi Europe, discussing the well-known preparations for Operation Sea Lion (Germany’s plan to invade the UK), the D-day invasion, the hunt for Germany’s V-weapons, and the bombing campaigns. The real heart of the book is its descriptions of the painstakingly detailed work required of the photo interpreters and the dangerous flights undertaken by the intrepid reconnaissance pilots, with ordinary and elite classes thrown together in a high-pressure environment with enormously high stakes. VERDICT Recommended to all readers interested in World War II intelligence operations, the air war, and the European theater.—DKB

Keane, Michael. Patton: Blood, Guts, and Prayer. Regnery History, dist. by Perseus. Oct. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9781596983267 $27.95 HIST

Kean (national security fellow, Pacific Council on International Policy) reveals the World War II general as a man of faith who believed he was favored by God for an important destiny, a soldier deeply familiar with the Bible who considered fear of death an enemy to be conquered to achieve eternal salvation. After surviving close calls in combat in both world wars as well as negative publicity as a result of having slapped a shell-shocked soldier in 1943, Patton grew increasingly confident in his sense of himself. He believed that “wars are fought with weapons but won by men” and that only through prayer would men find the courage and the strength to win on the battlefield. Keane includes passages from Patton’s papers, including deeply religious poetry that he wrote. He read widely in religion, across faiths, and believed in reincarnation. ­VERDICT An accessible read for armchair readers of military biography, especially for those of faith.—PM

Kershaw, Alex. The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau. Crown. Nov. 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9780307887993. $28. HIST

Like many of his generation, Felix Sparks did not seek glory on the battlefield but dutifully accepted the responsibilities of being a soldier. Kershaw (The Longest Winter) details Sparks’s service in the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Division of the U.S. Army as he rose from second lieutenant to colonel in the European theater from Sicily to the liberation of German concentration camp Dachau. But Kershaw is not writing a biography so much as a regimental history, although Sparks’s legacy deserves fuller attention. After the war, he served Colorado as a state supreme court justice and became a gun-control advocate. Kershaw could have gone on to use the war as a backdrop for how Sparks handled further challenges. VERDICT As historical narratives, Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle and Michael Hirsch’s The Liberators offer better understanding of the Italian campaign and the liberation of the concentration camps, respectively, but general readers may consider this as well.—JS

Koster, John. Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor. Regnery History, dist. by Perseus. 2012. c.256p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781596983229. $27.95. HIST

U.S. Army veteran Koster (Custer Survivor) here says that Harry Dexter White—an economist in the Treasury department, not at the White House—at the direction of the Soviet secret police (NKVD), encouraged war in the Pacific to reduce Japanese pressure on the USSR while it was fighting the Germans on the eastern front in Europe. However, Koster does not provide enough documentary evidence to prove this, and none of the many other important factors and actors involved in America’s stance after Pearl Harbor are elaborated here. While it would be appropriate to discuss the activities and influence of communist agents in Washington at the time, Koster spends most of his book rehashing the well-known military and diplomatic history leading up to Pearl Harbor, contrary to the implication that White’s story will be central to his argument. VERDICT Conspiracy theorists and those interested in any discussion of Soviet infiltration of the U.S. government may wish to consider.—DKB

starred review starLudewig, Joachim. Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944. Univ. Pr. of Kentucky. (Foreign Military Studies). 2012. c.496p. ed. by Maj. Gen. David T. Zabecki, AUS. photogs. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780813140797. $40. HIST

The two-month period after the Allied breakout from Normandy was one of constant withdrawal (Rückzug) for the Wehrmacht. Ludewig, an officer in the German Army Reserve, presents an excellent operational study (here in uncredited translation from the German) of how the weakened German units managed to pull back while under attack, form defensive lines, and temporarily halt the enemy. He asserts that if the Allies had been better organized, they might have been able to drive across the Rhine River in late 1944, as the Germans feared, possibly ending the war several months earlier. The German withdrawal was characterized by better military doctrine, training, and experience of German officers and troops at all levels, while the Allies had logistical problems, political concerns, and a wider area to cover. VERDICT Extensively documented from German sources, with this English edition edited by retired U.S. Army Major General Zabecki, this superior work is for all serious students of World War II military maneuvers.—DKB

Macri, Franco David. Clash of Empires in South China: The Allied Nations’ Proxy War with Japan, 1935–1941. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. (Modern War Studies). Nov. 2012. c.512p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780700618774. $45. HIST

The role of China in World War II is often overlooked, with many books depicting the Chinese primarily as passive victims of Japanese aggression. Macri (postdoctoral fellow, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Hickam AFB, Hawaii) seeks to dispel this impression by demonstrating that Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek in the years before the Pacific war deliberately sought to spur outsiders, particularly the British, Americans, and Soviets, to action against the Japanese. However, Macri’s efforts are hampered by his use almost entirely of English-language sources, with little reference to Chinese, Japanese, or Soviet documents that could have led to more nuanced discussion. VERDICT This work is better appreciated as an Anglocentric discussion of the role of the British and the colony of Hong Kong during the years in question. It would best be read in tandem with other works on the topic such as Donovan Webster’s The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. Suggested for enthusiasts or academics in the field.—CH

Meder, Patricia Chapman. The True Story of Catch-22: The Real Men and Missions of Joseph Heller’s 340th Bomb Group in World War II. Casemate. 2012. c.240p. maps. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781612001036. $32.95. HIST

Meder’s father, Colonel Willis F. Chapman, the 340th Bomb Group’s commander, was the model for Colonel Cathcart in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Using her father’s papers, interviews with bomb group members, and correspondence with Heller himself, she reveals the actual individuals and events behind Heller’s antiwar novel. She juxtaposes passages from the novel with comments made by those involved in the real events to demonstrate the extent to which Heller transmuted fact into fiction. Heller’s satiric caricatures are here shown to have stemmed from patriotic, courageous, highly decorated airmen who daily performed heroic wartime feats against overwhelming obstacles. The log of George Wells (Captain Wren in Catch-22), who flew a record 102 missions in his B-25, is included in an appendix. VERDICT Less concerned with Heller’s novel than with the history behind it, Meder’s book will appeal more to readers of military history than to literary fans of Catch-22, who can follow Heller’s war years in his autobiography, Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here or in Tracy Daugherty’s biography, Just One Catch.—WG

Neiberg, Michael. The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944. Basic Bks: Perseus. Oct. 2012. c.352p. illus. index. ISBN 9780465023998. $28.99. HIST

Neiberg’s book about the final days of German-occupied Paris is in some ways a retelling of the story by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre four decades ago in Is Paris Burning? But Neiberg adds a depth that the earlier work deliberately omitted. Collins and Lapierre opted for a journalistic, moment-by-moment account of events, whereas Neiberg offers a more panoramic view of events, placing them in the context of the relations among the respective Allies, which had different tactical and strategic aims during the campaign in France. Neiberg also focuses on the rivalries and competing postwar visions of the varying French Resistance factions and the Free French military and political leadership. Neiberg clearly does not intend to supersede or replace the earlier book, which he draws upon often, but his work makes an excellent companion to Is Paris Burning? ­VERDICT This book is as engrossing and fast paced as its predecessor, and, while targeted to the nonacademic reader interested in World War II, it could easily find a place among academic titles.—RF

Neitzel, Sönke & Harald Welzer. Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing, and Dying. Knopf. 2012. c.448p. tr. from German by Jefferson Chase. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307958129. $30.50. HIST

Neitzel (international history, London Sch. of Economics & Political Science) made a remarkable discovery in the British National Archives in 2001, and later at the U.S. National Archives: previously unnoticed transcripts, recently declassified, of covertly recorded conversations among German POWs. With Welzer (social psychology, Univ. of Sankt Gallen, Switzerland), Neitzel examines these conversations from a historical and psychological perspective and analyzes the sometimes casual and pitiless brutality present throughout. What were the states of mind of the prisoners? How did they see the course of the war, or of National Socialism, and what did they say when the talk turned to women, Jews, technology, or politics? VERDICT In some ways this book should be grouped with genocide studies, yet it is also a more general study of the individual attitudes of participants in wars and how the individuals reacted to killing and dying. A powerful and often wrenching approach to the World War II experience, this book is recommended for advanced World War II and military psychology collections. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/12.]—EBB

Selby, Scott Andrew. The Axmann Conspiracy: The Nazi Plan for a Fourth Reich and How the U.S. Army Defeated It. Berkley Caliber: Penguin. 2012. c.320p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780425252703. $26.95. HIST

This book details a successful operation by the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) in postwar Germany. Selby (coauthor, Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History) refers to a cabal of former Nazi officials who conspired to form a political movement and, he contends, sought to resurrect the Third Reich. Unfortunately, the book never quite makes good on its promise. The conspiracy seems to have been rather thin, half-hearted and disorganized, easily infiltrated by CIC, and no real threat to the postwar order. Artur Axmann, the Nazi fugitive whose name is in the book’s title, barely figures in the actual drama until his capture at the end of the account. In its favor, Selby uses some German primary sources (perhaps uncritically), and records of the CIC investigation. ­VERDICT The book is well paced; the story is colorful, and the author conveys the havoc of occupied Germany immediately after World War II. Selby does his utmost to deliver a cracking yarn and can be entertaining, but some readers may find that the title oversells its premise.—RF

Smith, Craig B. Counting the Days: POWs, Internees, and Stragglers of World War II in the Pacific. Smithsonian Bks., dist. by Random. 2012. c.264p. photogs. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781588343550. $27.95. HIST

Using hours of interviews, diaries, military records, and onsite visits, Smith crafts a read-in-one-sitting narrative of six men and women whose lives were changed by the war in the Pacific: one young woman of Japanese descent who found herself in an internment camp; a Japanese sailor who had the misfortune of being the first American POW; a Japanese soldier who emerged from the jungles of Guam 15 years after war’s end; a European couple in the Philippines on the run from both the unpredictable cruelty of the Japanese and Filipino guerrillas; and a marine captured at Guam who spent the war as a POW in horrific Japanese camps. ­VERDICT These narratives, and Smith’s interpretive framework, capture the determination and spirit of their subjects and what they endured to survive and share their stories. Those interested in the human toll of war will want to read this book.—PM

Weale, Adrian. Army of Evil: A History of the SS. NAL Caliber: Penguin Group (USA). 2012. c.464p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780451237910. $28.95. HIST

This is neither a combat history of the Waffen SS nor a history of the Holocaust. Instead, using newly released intelligence files and photographs, and describing the organization’s history, ideology, and decision-making processes, Weale chronicles the evolution of a ragtag group of political intimidators into a criminal organization responsible for the Holocaust. He effectively argues that the Holocaust neither was perpetrated by psychopathic sadists (more often than not the perpetrators were career opportunists), nor was the Waffen SS an elite military formation whose guilt for crimes against humanity was by association only. Particularly interesting is that Weale rejects the idea that the Waffen SS were an elite force. Standards for recruitment were often low (criminal elements were admitted), often based on favoritism, and efforts to recruit foreign volunteers were by and large useless. The organization was but an arm of the SS that was never strong enough nor intended to counterbalance the German army and, ultimately, was a drain on valuable resources. ­VERDICT Intended for general readers, and best for them.—PM


Pash, Melinda L. In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War. New York Univ. Nov. 2012. c.344p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780814767696. $35. HIST

The Korean War is often referred to as the “Forgotten War.” Pash (history, Fayetteville Technical Community Coll.) describes the lives of Korean War veterans before, during, and after the war, examining the reasons they enlisted, their range of experiences, and the consequences of their service upon their lives. Her main argument is that the Great Depression and World War II created a culture among young Americans that prepared them to accept the sacrifices demanded of them during the Korean conflict. The author is particularly thorough in her examination of socioeconomic, gender, and race issues. ­VERDICT Although Pash doesn’t make a strong case for her thesis on the influences upon these veterans, she presents fine descriptive analysis that’s especially strong when discussing veterans’ experiences during and after the war. Recommended for those with an interest in the war and its human dimensions, or for those new to the subject.—CH


Allison, William Thomas. My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War. Johns Hopkins. (Witness to History). 2012. c.184p. index. ISBN 9781421406442. $49.95; pap. ISBN 9781421406459. $19.95. HIST

On March 16, 1968, the U.S. Americal Division’s Charlie Company attacked Son My (My Lai) village to root out enemy troops reported to be hiding there. No Communist forces were found, yet more than 500 villagers, mostly women and children, were raped and murdered. Allison (history, Georgia State Univ.) describes the massacre, the military and government investigations, and the trials that followed. The army first concluded that Capt. Ernest Medina and Lt. William Calley conducted a successful military operation. However, continuing rumors and the persistence of a few soldier witnesses led to the formal military inquiry; both officers were charged with hundreds of murders. Calley was sentenced to life in prison, but on appeal served only three years; Medina was acquitted on all counts. Allison concludes that the massacre was in part caused by vague orders, poor leadership, and a mindset that all rural peasants were potential enemies. VERDICT Although Michael Belknap’s The Vietnam War on Trial: The My Lai Massacre and the Court Martial of Lieutenant Calley is a more thorough account, Allison presents an overview for today’s students that will also appeal to general readers.—KH

Branson, Douglas M. Three Tastes of Nuoc Mam: The Brown Water Navy & Visits to Vietnam. Hellgate: PSI Research. Oct. 2012. c.312p. illus. ISBN 9781555717087. pap. $19.95. autobiog

Branson (law, University of Pittsburgh) is a veteran of the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, where he served in Phan Thiet, Vietnam’s nuoc mam (fermented fish sauce) capital. He made two subsequent trips to Vietnam (thus the title) and recounts his experiences in this entertaining memoir. Branson readily admits that he was no hero, and this is no hero’s tale, nor is he a veteran suffering from any of the maladies that have plagued many Vietnam veterans. He believes his story is more common, an irreverent tale that reveals the “human and funnier side of things military,” one that continues on his subsequent trips to Vietnam. ­VERDICT Branson tells a story that’s more M.A.S.H. than Platoon, although he loses some momentum in the middle chapters when he offers a brief history of Vietnam and the war. Readers who want a lighter look at the Vietnam experience will enjoy this memoir.—MM

Wiest, Andrew. The Boys of ’67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam. Osprey. 2012. c.376p. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781780962023. $25.95. HIST

Wiest (history, Univ. of Southern Mississippi) tells the story of the 9th Infantry Division’s Charlie Company, an all-draftee unit made up of soldiers from all over the country. The members of the unit all entered the service at the same time, trained together, and went to Vietnam together. After a chance encounter with one veteran of Charlie Company, Wiest interviewed more than 60 others, as well as family members of some who did not make it home, to discover not only the story of this unit in the Vietnam War, but to reveal the individuals and families involved. The author supplements these oral histories with archival research, though he does not provide source notes. VERDICT This is a compelling and intimate look at one unit’s wartime experience, filled with loss, excitement, humor, and pain that readers of wartime memoirs will especially want to share.—MM


Ballard, John R. & others. From Kabul to Baghdad and Back: The U.S. at War in Afghanistan and Iraq. Naval Inst. Oct. 2012. c.384p. photogs. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781612510224. $42.95. HIST

The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, waged simultaneously in the aftermath of 9/11, have each been the subject of many serious studies. This book stands out as the first major study to offer a comparative assessment of both wars. Ballard (dean of faculty, National War Coll.), with David W. Lamm and John K. Wood (both Near East South Asia Ctr. for Strategic Studies, National Defense Univ.) compare and contrast the key strategic decisions of the wars, assessing the successes and failures of strategic operations and analyzing the impact of the Iraq War on the war in Afghanistan. They criticize the decision to give NATO the lead in Afghanistan and to duplicate an Iraq War-style surge there. Their book also offers a useful comparison of the Soviet and U.S. wars in Afghanistan. They conclude by analyzing the key lessons learned in the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns, including the utility of some of the counterinsurgency practices and the importance of national strategic decision making. VERDICT Students of military history, war strategies, and U.S. defense policy will benefit from the insight provided in this engaging book.—NE

Daniel K. Blewett is reference librarian, College of DuPage Library, Glen Ellyn, IL; Edwin B. Burgess is director, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Library, Fort Leavenworth, KS; Brian K. Deluca is Roland Park branch librarian, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore; Nader Entessar is chair of the department of political science & criminal justice, Univ. of South Alabama, Mobile; Michael O. Eshleman is a practicing attorney in Hobbs, NM; Michael Farrell is Associate Librarian, Reformed Theological Seminary, Oviedo, FL; Megan Hahn Fraser is processing projects librarian, University of California, Los Angeles; Richard Fraser is project archivist, University of California, Los Angeles; Willian Gargan is language and literature bibliographer and deputy chairperson of the library, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY; Margaret Heilbrun is senior editor, LJ book review; Karl Helicher is director, Upper Merion Township Library, King of Prussia, PA; Claire Houck is senior program planner, Houck Educational Consultants, Bronx, NY; Mark Jones is a community and economic development consultant in Bethel, OH; Rebekah Kati is IT libarian at Walden University, Minneapolis; Doug King is special materials cataloger at the Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia; Patti McCall is collection development liaison, University of Central Florida Libraries, Orlando; Michael Miller is director, Austin, Texas, History Center; Jacob Sherman is arts & sciences librarian, Texas A&M University, San Antonio; Matthew Wayman is head librarian at Pennsylvania State University, Schuylkill. All are regular history book reviewers at LJ.



  1. Brian Coutts says:

    A very nice update of recent titles in Military History.