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4.0 out of 5 stars A very absorbing and at times moving account of America's involvement in World War One - both on the ground and in the air, 28 Dec 2011
This review is from: To The Last Man: A Novel of the First World War (Paperback)
I have recently finished this account of America's participation in World War One - it's impact before the formal entry and after. I was very interested to read of the economic impact of American exports to Europe before they entered the war - including wheat, textiles, steel and lumber. Shaara acknowledges very carefully at the end in the Afterword that there is an ongoing debate on the impact of the American army - he states categorically though, that "the facts and the documented words of so many of the Allied (and German) leaders indicate a clear consensus. If the United States Army had not arrived when it did and had not fought the way it did, the Allies would have lost the war". This seems a perfectly reasonable conclusion given the exhaustion of manpower among the allies - the toll taken by disastrous campaigns like Gallipoli - for instance. I very much liked Shaara's structure - with the narrative switching between the Generals like Pershing etc and the battle in the air and ultimately the campaign on the ground - the contribution of the Marines. Many of the critics of this book seem to me highly suspect. There is a constant theme of - skipping pages - not bothering to finish etc. These seem to me to be very unreliable commentators. Why is everyone so concerned about the American bias - the American contribution is very much the subject of the book - it is written by an American, who is all too likely to be most interested in his own country's activities - and do remember it is " A novel of the First World War" - as the subtitle declares. The comparison with All Quiet on the Western Front - made in the blurb is I would concede inappropriate - To The Last Man is a very different kind of book. The prose is plain and clearly not "high literature" in its style. Some might say it is very prosaic prose - I was not worried about this - I felt that I was reading a novelised history and that is a perfectly valid approach - with an emphasis on the detailed exposition of events. The novel is not without emotional force however; Lufbery's reaction to the death of his piano-playing comrade - is very moving indeed. Towards the end the evocation of the comradeship between Temple, Parker and Scarabelli - is understated and very effective. The scenes of combat towards the end of the book - showing the ferocity of the fighting continuing right up to the Armistice are visceral and shocking. Some commentators seem unimpressed by the chapters on the work carried out behind the scenes, the work of Pershing and his subordinates - I was fascinated by these sections and I thought Pershing's encounters with the Allied commanders were given a very human dimension - their feelings and even vulnerability were conveyed with some subtlety. The battle in the air is often neglected in World War One novels and I was very interested in Shaara's account of what it meant to fly a Nieuport or a Fokker or an Albatros. I am not saying the book is flawless but I dont think the other reviewers are being at all fair in their criticisms.
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