3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If you liked HBO's Pacific mini-series, built for the most part around the memoirs of marine corps privates Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie, you'll almost certainly enjoy this book. Sledge's book is almost dry in its clarity, and his language spare. Leckie, a professional writer both before and after his WWII service, is more self-consciously 'literary'. Both are, a slightly strange thing, to my mind, assiduously polite: so much horror and suffering but, please, no cuss-words!
Despite his training, Leckie is a wilful and even sometimes rebellious character, and where Sledge always uses full rank and proper name, Leckie favours nicknames. Such small details and differences give the two memoirs very different flavours. There are moments where Leckie's self-consciously prosey style seems overdone, but sometimes it really works, as when he evokes the paranoid flesh-crawling fears of sitting in a jungle foxhole in the dark of night, his floridly evocative description contrasting with a simpler conclusion: 'I know now why men light fires.'
Where Sledge's detached coolness might be said to foreshadow his later vocation of biology professor, Leckie's wilful nature and flighty language might be also said to have the zest and poetry properly becoming a sports writer turned author. It's certainly interesting to see the differing nature of their responses. In the end these differences make the two books excellent complimentary companions: they cover much the same ground but feel different. Leckie took part in Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Pelelieu, whereas Sledge saw action at Pelelieu and Okinawa, so their stories overlap, together building a fuller picture of the Pacific theatre.
Whilst I think it should be noted that the visceral impact of the audio-visual experience is very different from reading about the conflict, nevertheless, as with the HBO series, one marvels at the sheer unrelenting horror of it all. It seems to me good that we have such writings from the 'common soldier'. Both Leckie and Sledge profess horror at the waste of war, and shock at the nature of their Japanese foe. Quarter is never asked or given, the Japanese cult of Emperor worship combining with what was, at that time, an insular and deeply ingrained patriotism, along with a cult of 'death before dishonour' that makes Europe's medieval knights look positively lily-livered.
Leckie says some interesting things about irrationality and courage: 'How much less forbidding might have been that avenue of death that I was about to cross had there been some wholly irrational shout - like 'Vive l'Empereur,' or 'The Marine Corps Forever!'' And several times throughout the book he laments a lack of contemporary American songs or music that would generate courage and 'esprit d' corps', all of which makes for an interesting reflection on the workings of the human mind in extremis.
Definitely a good companion to the Pacific series, and nothing if not interesting!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 10 July 2010
One of the best WWII biography's I have read, bringing to life the personal and political issues of everyday people. I don't think the commitment of the Marines and all the allied troops should be lost or forgotten. Hopefully the recent HBO series and others like it will inspire people to read more and help retain the memory of those who gave everything.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2011
I have just finished reading this book and it is one that is hard to put down. I watched the box set of the Pacific and had to get the two books on which the series was based. The TV series is good but you have to read Eugene Sledge's account to even begin to understand what these brave marines had to endure. It is by far the most compelling account of warfare and the effect it has on ordinary men like Sledge that I have ever read.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2010
After reading this book I can almost certainly say how lucky I was to be born outside that period of our history. The book is very well written and by far one of the best historical books that I have read. It strikes a perfect balance between war details and friendship amongst men. It left me feeling very humble.
Not many books have that effect, it should be compulsory reading for children at school--forget catcher in the rye!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2010
Have read many war memoirs but this was different - it was just written in a very moving and special way. It doesn't glory, it doesn't brag. It just quietly puts you in the picture of what must have been a hellish experience. An amazing read and I just wish I had heard of his work earlier. In my opinion one of the best war memoirs around.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This account of the Pacific campaign of the 1st Marine Division during WWII will probably become much more widely read as a result of it being used as a major source text for the HBO series The Pacific, than would have been the case without the TV exposure.
This is a heartfelt account of a volunteer's life in the USMC. Much of the material and structure of the book is actually rather familiar, not because so much has been written about the Pacific campaign, but because it seems little changed in the `corps` from WWII to Vietnam. If you have watched "Full Metal Jacket", the training stages will be familiar, as will the crazy brave, fatalistic attitude of many of the marines. This is a book that reinforces the idea that the experience of war for the "boots on the ground" solider is not that different between wars, even if the public perception of the war may vary.
The book itself consists of four major sections, training, first combat, R and R in Melbourne and a return to the front. Each section is important, but the section based in Melbourne did seem to occupy more pages than I would have thought necessary.
In this section there are descriptions of locations around Melbourne that are disjointed, and the geography described is imprecise. If this occurs during sections recalled from the relaxed position of R and R, you have to wonder about some of the detail in the combat sections.
If, like me, you came to the book via the TV series you will recognize many scenes, although it is interesting what seems to have been omitted or reordered, and to wonder why this has happened.
It is clear that the author had huge respect for the people he fought alongside, and grudging respect for the tenacity of his foe.
If nothing else, this book really does show that the more things change, the more they stay the same and that the brutality of war does not end on the battle field. From this experience, Leckie was able to write a book that is brutal, honest and at times a little poetic.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2011
Enjoyed the book but it was spoilt for me by the way it was written. It was too literary, it seemed written as fiction which it clearly wasn't. I suppose it was because Robert Leckie was a skilled writer so it didn't have the rawness. By contrast, The Old Breed by Eugene Sledge was totally different. A great read, from the heart. Same battle experiences but seemed more real.
Proud of what he did though. Always grateful.