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A Good War: Oral History of WWII [Mass Market Paperback]

Studs Terkel
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 1900


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A Good War: Oral History of WWII + Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do + Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books Inc.; Reissue edition (1 Jan 1900)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345325680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345325686
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 10.4 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 178,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


In World War II memories, Terkel has found a great, untold story - with fore-shadowings of Vietnam and aftershocks of atomic warfare. Terkel explains the title, matter-of-factly, as the Vietnam, nuclear-war contrast; the testimony - even from those whose lives peaked in WW II - exposes the irony of the phrase. First witness is "Hawaiian"-Californian John Garcia: in December 1941, as a pipefitter apprentice at Pearl Harbor, he retrieved live and dead bodies from the water and hulls; his girlfriend was killed by misfired American shells, he petitioned FDR to get into service, then was asked his race (great-grandparents?) and, as "Caucasian," separated from "the other Hawaiians"; on Okinawa, "I'd get up each day and start drinking. . . . They would show us movies. Japanese women didn't cry. They accepted the ashes stoically. I knew different. They went home and cried." In that same lead-off section appear the Nisei, uprooted and interned; a child-witness to, and a-participant in, the hysteria; an American-born Japanese, trapped in Japan on a visit. One of the last sections has to do with the Bomb. In an Indiana farm kitchen, Terkel talks with Bill Harney, radar operator on the plane that bombed Nagasaki. In a New York hotel lobby, he talks to Marnie Seymour who, with her husband, worked at Oak Ridge. "Out of the eighteen couples at the motel we lived in, most have never been able to have children. We are rather fortunate. We have four children. Two have birth defects." (Later, living in "very swish" New Canaan, she'd see the Hiroshima Maidens, brought over by Norman Cousins, at the supermarket.) There are several things to be said about Terkel, and his material. He has sought out people with real, unpredictable, history-brushing (sometimes history-revising) stories - but also persons whose experiences could be called typical, who become archetypal (like Chicago business executive Robert Ramos, "the skinny nineteen-year-old kid who's gonna prove that he can measure up"). He has a light intermix, too, of onlookers and leaders - yielding comments from both Pauline Kael and a retired admiral on the vacuousness of WW II films (but contrast, as well, between Kael's approval of The Clock and a war bride's contempt). He doesn't, however, construct his groupings mechanically, to make obvious points: blacks, for instance, turn up everywhere; under the rubric "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" we hear only from Marine Andrews; pronouncements on Vietnam differ, one after another Pacific veteran attests to gratitude for the Bomb. What is inescapable, though, is the recognition of war as brutal, and brutalizing; the reservations about "the Good War" utterable only in Vietnam-and-after retrospect. (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Simon Schama explains why this is one of his favourites...
Terkel’s riveting books are history raw (rather than cooked) the spoken voices, sharp and unsentimental, quite unclouded by the vapours of epic self-aggrandisement or the bitters of cynicism.

This one is the perfect antidote to military heroics. "World War II for me is a sore asshole" says Eddie Costello the seaplane pilot and bomber "four years of nervous diarrhoea".

Terkel is in no doubt of the ultimate goodness of this particular war but he’s equally undeluded by nostalgia. Reading the book is like wandering into the reunion from hell - but you’re glad you’ve come all the same. Otherwise you’d never have met E.B. "Sledgehammer" Sledge, who owns up to knocking off wounded Japanese to knock out their gold teeth, but who reads Wilfred Owen in the foxholes of Okinawa, or Ray Wax, infantryman and showman, part Mailer, part Minderbinder, who builds Patton’s Third a movie theatre "I went to my drunken colonel who was marvellous and asked him for a two and a half ton truck. The army always said, Never volunteer. F**k ‘em. I always volunteered. He gave me the truck and I carried these six sections of prefabricated flooring. Everywhere I went I could drop down and I had a stage. I put that stage all across France. I put on Dinah Shore. I put on Bing Crosby.." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A series of short true stories of WWII 2 Oct 1998
By A Customer
I found this easy to read. The book presented many aspects of the time. Some peoples accounts of famous events like Pearl Harbour were fresh and relevant. Don't expect a balanced view of the war nor the truth. What you do get is tales as interesting for what they leave out as put in. The book opens very much in the style of Saving Private Ryan with stories of bullets, bombs and carnage. There are definite themes such as treatment of the American-Japanese community on the home front, the Afro-American troops story, Women and the war and the Atomic bomb and it's impact and effects. The book never concludes anything though there is a narrator prescence here and there in the pages. The analysis of these oral histories is for the reader. I found it showed how tough the human condition is. On the whole most participants in the war felt the A-bomb should have been dropped. Only japanese felt otherwise ! The turn around in foreign policy from Russia as an Allie to enemy No.1 was also quite noticeable. The relatively lenient treatment of the Germans involved in war crimes was also highlighted for me. It's a bit like the freeing of terrorist prisoners here and in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Peace Agreement. My main hope is that there is a good peace now 'The Troubles' are ended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book helped me understand myself and my parents' generation in ways I never considered possible. Reading it was like taking a guided tour through the no-man's-land between idealism and despair. I'm no great history book fan, but I'd definitely recommend this one to readers of every age, nationality, and background. You will not be disappointed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The key influence on Tony Parker? 7 Feb 2014
By G. Page
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have always loved Tony Parker's books in this country, a wonderful range of recorded interviews on topics as varied as crime, army life, the troubles in Northern Ireland and lighthouse keepers. Parker acknowledged his debt to the American Studs Terkel, so this was the first book of his that I have purchased. Terkel's influence on Parker is immediately apparent in the way that he structures and records the interviews conducted.
This is a fascinating take on American life and attitudes to the Second World War, with a very wide range of topics and people included. I felt it was best read in small chunks, taking one interviewee's experience and allowing that to be absorbed. I personally found the sections on attitudes to different races and Japanese internees the most interesting and eye opening, and was startled by the depth of prejudice that existed. The interviews cover life on the American 'Home Front', the war against Japan and American soldiers experiences in Europe. A theme which occurs again and again, even amongst the most professional and battle experienced people is the futility and needlessness of war...a trite comment, but the way in which so many interviewees reach this conclusion is enthralling.
As a result of reading this, two more Studs Terkel books are immediately on order!
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