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Customer Review

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Why this book is a big disappointment..., 20 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Pacific (The Official HBO/Sky TV Tie-In) (Paperback)
Like a lot of my fellow reviewers I am a big fan of Stephen Ambrose, who brought history to life with his slightly off-beat, entertaining yet moving style of writing. I guess also like many of you, I bought those books based on the excellent Band of Brothers mini-series.

So I had high hopes not only of the new mini-series 'Pacific' (it is HBO, after all!) and the book by Hugh Ambrose.

There's something slightly self-indulgent about the mini-series, and there's something VERY self-indulgent about the book. Let me explain what is so very wrong with it...

It's the style of writing. It's difficult to explain, but I've narrowed it down to the following problems:

- The 'bullet-point compendium' problem: it's like Mr Ambrose was doing masses and masses of research, and listed thousands of bullet points of things to include. Then it's as though he just compiled all the bullet points into the main text, with no real attempt to weave it all together. Many sentences are ridiculously short, and there's often a whole string of them just kind of thrown together. It gets very irritating and tedious, almost like a barrage of 'sound-bites'. That leads to the second point...

- The picture postcard style: think of when you send a postcard to your family - you throw a lot of facts down in a small space to cover as much ground as possible. Mr Ambrose does this repeatedly. So we get not only the 'bullet point' style, but a mystifying and confusing overload of detail - detail that's often not really relevant to the topic at hand. I found myself repeatedly thinking "What? - Why on earth is that in there?" What do I mean by this? Well an example might be if someone were describing a really important event in some detail, listing the characters, the situation etc. and it's littered with phrases like "He was a bit hungry so he had a bar of chocolate." Followed quickly by "The washing machine had finished the spin cycle. That's the Model 7000A washing machine, which had been delivered the day before." It's like this all the way through. It drove me potty!

- The lack of emotional narrative. Stephen Ambrose put you in the thick of the action. Hugh Ambrose describes it like he's a robot recalling facts.

BUT, in the interests of objectivity, there are sections of excellent readability. It's like two different people wrote the book. Or (sadly, possibly) that production deadlines forced it to be completed without joining parts of the narrative up properly.

I accept some people may enjoy the style - I guess it's partly about how your brain processes stuff. But it didn't suit my style and I was massively disappointed. I read a lot of historical stuff and I have not read anything quite like this for a long time. Or maybe I've just been too spoiled by Mr Ambrose Snr?
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Jul 2011 00:30:37 BDT
J. Bayman says:
I have to agree with E Sharman. I am struggling through the book at the moment. Having just read EB Sledge "With the Old Breed" I was looking forward to getting the same personal insight to the war but on a broader footing. There seems to be no emotional attachment between the words on the page and what these guys went through. It is a you say a collection of facts and banal descriptions of activiites that might have had relevance in the full book auto / biography of that individual but needs to be thinned out in a compendium of theatres such as this. It is no doubt a competent historical reference but it does not engage my emotions.

I will struggle on and hope things improve but I have a suspicion something more interesting is about to arrive in the shape of "Helmet for My Pillow" by Robert Leckie which I have just ordered.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Aug 2011 20:35:16 BDT
Last edited by the author on 2 Aug 2011 20:36:54 BDT
'Competent historical reference'? I don't know how you can say that. There are very few historical facts in the book that you might want to refer to. I read the account of Peleliu, and then found that five minutes with Wikipedia gave me far more knowledge of the battle.

Anyway, your suspicion is correct. 'The Pacific' is very poorly written, and Leckie's work is in an entirely different league. If you put the 'The Pacific' aside and read Leckie, I don't think you will want to go back to 'The Pacific' afterwards.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 15:18:13 BDT
J. Bayman says:
I was referring to the amount of research that had gone into each individual's story rather than being a wider history of each battle. I agree it really does not stack up on that level. Unfortunately most of the detail he has researched is so mind numbingly boring I have still only got 2/3rds through it after weeks of trying. I normally get through a book like this in a few days - it is only a dogged determination to finish the damn thing that keeps me going.

Leckie's book has arrived so I must get my skates on. To be honest my normal interest is WW1 and WW2 on the eastern front, so only just started on the Pacific after someone gave me "With the Old breed".

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 16:30:01 BDT
The only benefit I got from slogging through Ambrose (though skipping more and more as I progressed) was that it made me see by comparison how fine are the works of Leckie and Sledge: surely two of the best personal accounts of a front-line soldier's experiences that have ever been written.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 17:18:09 BDT
J. Bayman says:
Have you read "The Forgotten Soldier" by Karl Sajer about the Russian Front from the German perspective. The historian, MP and greneral lothario Alan Clark used to pick it up and read it whenever the political effluent hit his fan (as it often did). He always said that reading his story and what he went through put the tribulations of politics into their real persepective.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 18:27:43 BDT
No, I haven't. Thanks. I'll put it on my Xmas book list. BTW I think it's Guy Sajer.
I do have strong feelings about these books on the Pacific War. A first cousin, much older than me, went through Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester, and was killed at Peleliu.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 18:51:16 BDT
J. Bayman says:
You are right, it is Guy Sajer - long time since I read it.

I understand the reason for your interest - I suppose that's why I have an equal interest in WW1 - both my Grandfather and Great uncle fought on the western front, the latter winning the MC. My own father fought in WW2 in the Italian campaign at Salerno and Anzio amongst others. No German or Russian relatives though - it's just the ferocity of the Eastern conflict that interests me - hopefully in a historical rather than a goulish fashion.

If you get interested in that front then you might try Alan Clark's "Barbarossa" which is an excellent read.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 19:24:02 BDT
Oh, I know "Barbarossa" very well indeed. Whenever I have flu and I want something to read in bed I turn to that book. It's become a liftime habit.
I have a German friend whose father fought in the Crimea. Is there anything good specifically about that campaign?
Apart from my American cousin I had lots of family in the Royal Navy. I just wish I could find somebody somewhere on the family tree who fought in the trenches.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 20:25:36 BDT
J. Bayman says:
The Germans and the Romanians took a fair beating there. Your friend might want to try "In Deadly Combat" by Gottlob Bidermann (University Press of Kansas). A while since I read it but it is a well written account of the Eastern Front. He spent quite a bit of time in the Crimea.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Aug 2011 21:50:40 BDT
Thanks. Hope you enjoy Leckie.
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