Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle

On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle by Hampton Sides

On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle. New York: Doubleday, 2018.

☆☆☆☆☆ Highly Recommended

Hampton Sides’ new book On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, The Korean War’s Greatest Battle, illustrates misery suffered by the First Marine Division from October through December 1950. From the comfort of his headquarters in Tokyo, General Douglas MacArthur tragically ordered the First Marine Division far beyond the 38th Parallel to the Yalu River, the waterway itself a border with China. The First Marine Division found itself surrounded and outnumbered by over 200,000 Chinese troops at the Chosin Reservoir. MacArthur’s strategic folly was worsened by the harsh winter in the North Korean mountains; temperatures falling to -20 to -70 degrees making the predicament more challenging for the U.S. Marines.

Sides’ work is not a complete history of the First Marine Division in Korea or at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950, but an overarching historical narrative which highlights individual heroism and struggle experienced by the First Marine Division from the initial landing, fighting trek northward, battle at the Reservoir, to the final desperate pullback to Hamhung and Hungnam and awaiting ships. Despite the narrative’s different format, Side’s new contribution to the history of the Korean War is a must-read. The writing is creative, fresh and brings this history of the legendary First Marine Division to life. On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, The Korean War’s Greatest Battle is highly recommended—I could not put the book down.

The author skillfully interweaves the First Marine Division’s plight within historical context of behind-the-scenes maneuverings in Washington D.C. and China. Notable historical figures include: Major General Oliver Smith, USMC; Navy Cross and Silver Star winner Lt. Chew-Een Lee, USMC; Congressional Medal of Honor winner Private Hector Cafferata Jr., USMC; and Silver Star recipient Private Kenneth Benson USMC.

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Posted by on December 9, 2018 in Book Reviews, The Korean War


Book Review: Hitlerland: American Eyewitness to the Nazi Rise to Power

Book Review: Hitlerland: American Eyewitness to the Nazi Rise to Power

Simon & Schuster’s Hitlerland: American Eyewitness to the Nazi Rise to Power

☆☆☆☆☆ Highly recommended

Andrew Nagorski’s Hitlerland: American Eyewitness to the Nazi Rise to Power fills a void for American journalistic perspective on Hitler’s Germany in the 1920s and ‘30s. Readers will recognize names such as William Shirer, Howard K. Smith, Richard Helms, and others whose roles as journalists, correspondents, and diplomats placed them in the heart of Berlin, Germany in the years following the First World War. Nagorski writes: “They served as America’s eyes and ears in Germany, and they helped produce the proverbial first draft of history. Like all first drafts, it isn’t always on the mark, but it offers highly unusual, very personal perspectives on Hitler’s rise and Germany’s march to the abyss.” He concludes: “… the Americans in Germany gradually eroded isolationist sentiments and prepared their countrymen psychologically for the years of bloodshed and struggle ahead. This was the real contribution of the Americans in Hitler’s Germany”[1]

Nagorski effectively weaves these American voices into historical context which we know escalated into the Holocaust and Hitler’s failed military leadership. Vivid narrative from this American contingent of writers shows us up close the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 through the 1933 elections to the 1936 Olympics to early victories on the Eastern Front. And myriad events in between.

The author’s collection and synthesis of eyewitness accounts as events unfolded in Berlin without the ‘rearview mirror’ of historical perspective and narrative makes Hitlerland an important work. This book will appeal to those fascinated with pre-war Berlin as well as scholars of Adolf Hitler and his early-war conquests before 1942. Nagorski’s Hitlerland is one book you’ll keep in your personal library for subsequent reference and re-reading.

[1] Andrew Nagorski, Hitlerland: American Eyewitness to the Nazi Rise to Power. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013) p. 327.

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Posted by on December 26, 2016 in Book Reviews, WWII Germany


Book Review: Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II

Book cover

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II by John Fredrickson.

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II
By John Fredrickson

☆☆☆☆☆ Recommended

John Frederickson has written an extraordinary new book on North American Aviation, one of the aircraft manufacturers whose aircraft filled the skies across the Pacific, European, and China-Burma-India theaters. Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II is supplemented by a collection of black-and-white and color photographs of North American Aviation’s factories, aircraft, and the people who built them. It is these photographs which supplement the author’s prose that showcase this home front history during wartime. The home front ‘comes alive’ in Warbird Factory. Frederickson’s 36-year career as a manager for Boeing enabled his access to photographs, company records, and history of North American Aviation (NAA).

Warbird Factory is far more than just another of book of airplane pictures, technical specifications, and diagrams however. What makes this new work unique and engrossing is the author’s research and writing of the company’s history which occurred before, during and after the war. He effectively retraces NAA’s origins to the automobile industry and General Motors Corporation (GM). As such, we now have previously unpublished history which details the ‘business side’ of the industry overall and rise of NAA before the war. I personally find the synergies which took place between the automobile industry and the fledgling airline industry of the 1920’s and 1930’s fascinating. I think you will too.

North American Aviation plant in Inglewood California. Courtesy of Wikipedia; This photo is in the public domain.

From the public domain: North American Aviation plant in Inglewood California.

The primary aircraft of NAA in Warbird Factory are the B-25 Mitchell bomber and P-51 Mustang escort fighter. (NAA also designed and developed trainers—smaller aircraft utilized for training new pilots.) Scholars and students of the 1944 invasion of Normandy—D-Day—will be fascinated with Chapter 10’s “Eisenhower’s B-25.” NAA took a stock (brand new) B-25J and made modifications for an aircraft that could blend with most other B-25 Mitchell Bombers—with one exception. RB-25J(3), later designated VB-25J, was General Dwight Eisenhower’s personal aircraft to move him throughout France following the 6 June invasion and for one year thereafter. The Ellsworth Air Force Base Museum (South Dakota) is the final resting place for Eisenhower’s B-25J.

I could continue sharing more on Frederickson’s new contribution work but will conclude here. Check out this new book and discover the new history. Warbird Factory will have special appeal for historians and scholars of women’s roles on the home front. Those interested in the early years of the American automobile industry will also find this new book absorbing for its position and support to the aviation industry.

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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Book Reviews, The Home Front


Book Review: Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors

Reflections book cover cropped v1 final

Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors by Brad Hoopes

Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors
By Brad Hoopes

☆☆☆☆☆ Recommended

In the vast array of books and literature ‘page turners’ exist in many genres. These can include: an engrossing novel, a long-awaited autobiography, or a “tell all” work of journalism-turned-book. In the burgeoning category of historical literature, and more specifically that which encompasses the Second World War, there are countless complete histories. At the other end of the spectrum, there are monographs and books which tell the story or stories of the individual soldier, sailor, airman, or marine during wartime. Reflections of Our Gentle Warriors by Brad Hoopes tells the individual stories of seventy World War II-era soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Reflections is a page turner.

Reflections, published in October of 2015, is the result of thirteen years of interviews conducted by the author. In his new book, Hoopes has separated the individual stories by Pacific and European theater. This format works well to give the reader a better understanding of each theater’s history and aura as experienced by the men who fought there. Reflections has something for everyone: from stories which begin with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the war’s last battle on the island of Okinawa in 1945.

Hoopes’s writing is warm and engaging; think of the popular war-era correspondent and journalist Ernie Pyle. Pyle developed a close relationship with his readers back home in the United States with his pleasant writing style. Many of Hoopes’ interviewees are from America’s heartland—Nebraska, Colorado and other Midwestern and Western states. From his interview with Howard Johnston from Nebraska, Hoopes recounts the young soldier’s emotional homecoming to Nebraska:

Mustered out at Fort Riley [Kansas], he started hitchhiking to Nebraska…. He has not yet been able to tell anyone that he was coming home. His brother was over the moon that he was home and quickly came to get him. He then called ahead to their parents to tell them that he would bring Howard home later that day. Their mother broke down crying upon hearing the news and couldn’t stop. Howard’s best buddy—his hunting dog—must have sensed what was happening, as he ran up the road to a hill above the farmhouse and began howling. He stayed up there howling the entire day until Howard arrived and then knocked him over and jumped all over him, licking his face, when he got out of the car.

Reflections is replete with anecdotes and remembrances such as Howard Johnston’s. “Hitchhiking to Nebraska,” it certainly was a different time.

Hoopes was prudent in keeping each individual history at approximately one to three pages (in the electronic Kindle version; smaller font). This structuring works well to pace the book. A photograph of each veteran during or after the war accompanies each story. Congratulations Brad Hoopes on this collection of stories…. each one a page turner.

Scott Lyons


Posted by on January 1, 2016 in Book Reviews

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