on 31 October 2001
Stephen E. Ambrose has written a very good account of the history of E-Company, which has now been turned into a major television series. I read this book in a couple of days and have to confess that it makes compelling reading. Those who have never experienced combat cannot fully understand what people like the young men that made up E-Company went through, but this account helps us to appreciate the debt we all owe to ones like Major Winters and the rest of the allied forces that defeated Nazi Germany in WWII. In an age where celebrity and hero worship are bandied around too liberally, these men show us that the real hero's are those who quietly do their job against a backdrop of constant danger and death.
One part of the book that demonstrates Ambrose's skill as a historian is the account of the attack upon Foy. This is contained in the chapter entitled: "The Breaking Point." Ambrose states: "Back in '42 the question was, Can a citizen army be trained and prepared well enough to fight Germans in a protracted campaign in Northwest Europe?" E-Company faced this test during this encounter with the Germans and the book provides the answer given by these young men to their test.
Ambrose relates events in a balanced way and is not blinded by the natural trap of accepting everything that he is told by those whose experiences make up the account. After reading this book you will be filled with an awe of the young men that fought and died to help remove the dark threat of Nazi Germany and retain the freedom that we all have enjoyed since that dangerous time. This book does not glorify the war, but simply tells it as it happened.
on 21 July 2006
If you are not accustomed to reading books concerning military history and/or are not familiar with this stage of World War II, I'd highly recommend that you watch the BBC/HBO series first. It's very accurate to what is written in the book with good character acting to the main guys involved in Easy Company, 506th PIR of the 101st Airborne.
The book is well written, with Ambrose setting out the events of each day/engagement/battle/incident, and then using quotes and excerpts from other books and memoirs to illustrate how it was for the actual men in those incidents. A lot of the quotes are directly from interviews the author had with the various enlisted men and officers who took part in D-Day and beyond. It is stated towards the end of the book that Ambrose was in constant contact with the veterans of Easy Company and showed them drafts of the book to make comments and corrections on. So this book is pretty much the definitive history of Easy Company's part in World War II, from the birth of the company to through D-Day and then duties of Occupation in Germany etc.
The book loses one star for these down points:
It IS hard not to be in awe of what Easy Company and all the 101st achieved, but in one or two places, objectivity would have been prefered to all out adoration. If you are a Brit and have any soft spot for the achievements of the British contribution to the Allied advance in 1944, be prepared for the author to spurt out the odd punch to British forces. In a lot of places he seems to suggest that the British were blind, ignorant, and badly trained buffoons; and takes one or two unprofessional incidents to act as a general overview of British standards.
The minor sour grapes accepted, this is still a fantastic book, and there will be something on every page that will make you smile, or shock, or bring you close to tears. Every World War II enthusiast and history fan should read this book!
on 11 March 2003
Well worth a read, even if you've seen the TV series, that will provide you with more information on Easy company, and will increase your enjoyment of the TV series if, make that when, you watch it again.
You might think that the written word will not come close to the impact of the images and sound of the TV series, but with "Band of brother", for me the best of Stephen Ambrose's books, he comes very close to matching that impact. Plus, with the luxury that the written word allows, provides you with far more information on Easy Company, how the harsh training under Captain Sobel helped forge the company, and the hardships it faced, and survived, during combat.
Remember, this is not a novel, but the recollections of a group of American soldiers, who present an American view of the war. If you want to read about other nations contributions to the war, look elsewhere ("Pegasus Bridge" where Ambrose attempts to do for the British para what he did for the American with "Band Of Brothers"), but don't blame Ambrose, and don't close yourself off to this book.
If you did, you would be denying yourself an insight into what makes soldiers fight, how in even the most inhuman conditions they can maintain their humanity towards their comrade, and the hardships they suffer for us.
on 30 March 1999
This is an OK account of a platoon of American Airbourne soldiers, from "Boot Camp" through to the end of WW2, & beyond. For me, Ambrose has a highly jingoistic & much too "yankee doodle" view of history. He comes out with some extraordinary generalistic condemnations of whole nationalities. The French were too this, the British too that, the Dutch are all just simply wonderful,....etc. Nothing, according to the Gospel of Ambrose, is superior to Easy Company, Airbourne training, Uncle Sam & the American Dream! He maintains that the Germans never did stand a chance. He dismisses their own common soldiers' undeniable fighting qualities & bravery in a petty, derisable, comparison between American & German upbringing, governmental structures & political ideals. I found this suggestion both ridiculous & unworthy! The basic account of the war, it's rigours, discomforts, etc., is reasonably fast moving & well related. I only however, finished up feeling close to Winter & possibly Webster, who is so extensively quoted in the book, it made me wish I had read his account of this history instead!
on 26 March 2007
Having quite recently thoroughly enjoyed the HBO series of the same name, Ambrose's book comes as pleasantly familiar territory, acting to fill in gaps and flesh out characters I had encountered in the series.
The story of Easy Company is an extraordinary one and Ambrose has clearly done them a great service in delivering this history in a reasonably accessible format but before I place too much praise upon the late Ambrose, the book is somewhat flawed in places.
When I watched the Band of Brothers mini-series I found myself extremely moved by the intimate bond that these real comrades in arms build as they progress from their training at Curahee, through their battles at Normandy on D-Day, Carentan, Bastogne and others to finally arrive at Hitler's Eagle's Nest. The book however, whilst providing the basis for the series, feels much sparser and is written in a much more matter-of-fact style that very rarely evoked an emotional connection to those same soldiers.
I found it disappointing that some significant events were covered in very little detail and almost glossed over completely, for example the discovery of the concentration camp. Ambrose's style comes across as almost self-congratulatory and is occasionally brazen enough to quarrel with his interviewees over the fairness of their statements which somewhat diminishes his credibility. Also, for someone who has written a good number of books the level of grammatical accuracy was considerably lacking and I often found myself re-reading sections because an obvious slap-dash attempt at spell checking and too little proof reading had left the wrong words in place which by professional author standards should be considered a particularly unforgivable error.
Overall, whilst somewhat disappointed that I was given a more diminished insight into the lives of Easy company than expected, I should note that I was often glued for several chapters at a time and read the book in a short space of time as I felt drawn back to these real accounts of American soldier's experiences of WWII. I would recommend this book to anyone who, like myself, has seen the series and wishes to learn more but would caution complete newcomers that the experience may be less than overwhelming.
on 7 October 2013
I'm shocked to learn that Ambrose taught history. The military history/analysis is pretty poor to appalling. He's good when he talks about Easy Company and relates stories. (Though he states that the book is "very much a group effort" with the men from E Company, so how much of that credit goes to them is anybody's guess, and some events were anonymised and possibly left out to protect people.)
Whenever he attempts military analysis of the actual way/battles, his thoughtless "MURRIKA!" propaganda grates like hell. His core thesis appears to be that "democratic soldiers" (what he terms "citizen soldiers") necessarily outfight those under fascist/totalitarian systems - which obviously flies in the face of the fact that it was the Red Army that broke Nazi Germany's back - not exactly a democratic system to be found anywhere. Not a hint of irony or awareness in his thesis. I guess it would wrinkle his propaganda too much.
What I found interesting was the amount of looting and casual violence in Germany, which gels with other sources I've read. What I found even more interesting is how Ambrose condemns Germany's mistreatment of people, but totally excuses similar behaviour from his subjects (looting as sport and entertainment, shooting of unarmed POWs, etc). Not a hint of applying the same critical measurement to all sides.
Ambrose nicely feathers his wooden, lacklustre account with liberal quotes from a number of decent to good military historians who are far more insightful than he is (such as Keegan).
Overall, the show does a great job putting all this on the screen, so you can skip the book. What the show left out it usually left out for good reasons. I read this book for any gems that were left by the wayside, but it's not worth it, in my opinion.
The book has another big flaw that rankles me especially. All the German is wrong/misspelled. If you can't be bothered to get it right, just leave it out. Parading around badly-spelled, agrammatical German is doing nobody any favours.
I'm giving further books of his a pass.
on 24 March 2005
Highly recommended work by the late Stephen Ambrose, who spent several years interviewing the men of one company and tells the story, though them of their time together, from initial training through the final weeks of the war. Absolutely essential reading for any military buff, and the DVD is stunning, as well.
on 14 October 1998
This is the fourth book I've read by Stephen Ambrose. After reading Undaunted Courage, I read Citizen Soldiers followed by D-Day. My only wish would be to have read the latter two books chronologically, i.e., D-Day before Citizen Soldiers. Anyhow, these two books (which I also give 5 stars) give a great account of the preparations leading up to and following the invasion of Normandy, but from a lot of different perspectives. What Band of Brothers manages to do is provide a personal account of one group of men through the entire war, from 1942 to 1945. Ambrose is a outstanding story teller and anyone who has enjoyed his other books would do well to include this one on their reading list too.
on 8 January 2002
Stephen Ambrose puts together an interesting and well written account of E Company's experience during the allied invasion. And sure enough we experience the horror and discomfort of the experience with the men. However, Stephen Ambrose is clearly an American, and after reading his books I am left with the feeling that he believes that the US Army won the war single handed. I believe a more balanced approach (with regard to the other allies) would be more interesting, and there are plenty of other books on the subject which do just that. Even so, a fascinating read, you are left with real admiration for the men, but remember E Company were but a small cog in a very very large machine.
on 17 November 2002
Stephen Ambrose has been fortunate to latch onto the true heroes he found in the 101st Airborne. The material he's got from them makes the book gripping stuff, the pseudo-academic take he puts on it halts the flow somewhat. (He mentions a railway line to the South West of Carentan - on my map it goes due West and North West). All the British soldiers in it seem to have gone to public school and whenever Dick Winters view of the US army doesn't coincide with Ambrose's, Ambrose seems to be right.
What I'd prefer is a biography of inspirational men like Richard Winters, not Ambrose's personal take on World War II. When the book is dealing with Easy Company it's totally emersing, but his general view of World War II is slanted and this undermines the veracity of what he's saying about Easy.
Does anyone know of a biography of Richard Winters...?