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No Less Than Victory: A Novel of World War II Hardcover – November 3, 2009
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In all the stories I’ve written, from the American Revolution, up through World War Two, one of the most gratifying comments I have received from readers has been, "I didn’t know that." Whether writing about Benjamin Franklin or The Red Baron, Robert E. Lee or Black Jack Pershing, my favorite moments have come when a discovery is made, when I can offer the reader some tidbit or episode of history that is an entertaining surprise.
By any pure definition, I am not a historian. My job is not to bathe you with the raw facts and figures, all those things many of us dread when opening the high school history text book. Instead, my goal is to tell you a historically accurate story through the eyes of those special characters, by digging deeply into their memoirs and diaries, letters and the accounts of those who stood beside them. The most satisfying part of that to me is that I do not have to "fudge" history. Unlike Hollywood, where too often filmmakers seem not to trust that an honest historical tale can be sufficiently entertaining, I have been surprised by how the characters themselves, so many of them familiar names, can tell us a true story that not only entertains but reveals something of our past. My job is to be the storyteller, to bring these characters out of their world and into ours. History is not about numbers, but about us.
When I began to tackle the subject of the Second World War, I was concerned that I would be unable to find a story to tell that you did not already know. This is one subject that even Hollywood has (sometimes) treated with an honest hand, magnificent stories that may or may not be genuine history, but at least are honest in their ambitions. What can I add to that? What can I tell you about George Patton or D-Day or the Holocaust that you don’t already know? The answer to that was a surprise to me, and it is my fervent hope that in the trilogy I’ve just completed, it is a surprise to you.
Heroes come in strange packages, and often, the decent and the honorable emerge in places we don’t expect to find them. Throughout my research on World War Two, I was caught off guard many times by the strength of character that came not just from the familiar names, the leaders, but the unfamiliar: the men of the Airborne and the tanks and the men who carried the rifle. I was surprised as well by the enemy, in this case, the Germans. Not every man who obeyed Hitler was simply a goose-stepping monster, and so, some of them, Rommel and Kesselring and von Rundstedt and Speer... add to these stories in ways I did not expect.
Ultimately, the stories I write must entertain, which, when writing about war, can seem terribly inappropriate. World War Two gave us more horror than most of us can possibly absorb. But we must not forget that many did absorb it. Many carry those stories still, often unspoken, unrevealed, those aging GIs whose memories have always been stirred by the sights and smells and the horrific loss. And throughout the horror there are different memories, the uplifting, the humorous, and alongside the tears and the screams there is laughter. It is after all, how the veteran survives.
Their numbers are fewer every day, and as they leave us, many will carry the stories with them. Often, as we watched them grow older, we dared not ask for the tales, cautioned by a parent perhaps, warned against prying or digging too deeply into the old veteran’s silent horror. Even in the name of research, it is not my place to probe where I am not invited. But the history is there for us to explore, the events real, the people true to life, the heroism and the horror a part of their legacy, a legacy we must not forget. It’s the least we can do. --Jeff Shaara
(Photo © Adrian Kinloch)
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
Like Shaara's other novels, "No Less Than Victory" combines historical figures -- Eisenhower, Gen. George S. Patton, Gen. Omar Bradley, Lt. Gen. Walter Bedel "Beetle" Smith, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Albert Kesselring, Albert Speer, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery and many others -- with fictional fighting men in the front lines, doing the grunt work of war and standing in for the millions of soldiers that served in the war. Two of them, Pvts. Eddie Benson and Kenny Mitchell, are particularly well drawn, while another, Sgt. John Buckley, a bombardier in a B-17 shot down by the Germans and sent to a Luft-Stalag prisoner of war camp, shows how dangerous it was in the Allied bombers that blasted much of Europe to rubble.
Mitchell and Benson owe their lives to another fictional soldier, Sgt. Bruce Higgins. In an "afterward" the author tells us what happens to the real and fictional characters.
The fictional characters have a "Willie & Joe" ring about them, with a reference to the bedraggled front line "dogfaces" portrayed by Army cartoonist Sgt. Bill Mauldin. Shaara provides a scene with Gen. George "Blood & Guts" Patton ranting about Mauldin's cartoons in Stars & Stripes. Shaara does a fine job with the historical figures and I recognize some of the details from my extensive reading about the war.Read more ›
In his usual style of "historical fiction" Mr. Shaara takes us through the European theatre in WWII as seen through the eyes of its generals, politicians and, the parts I found most interesting, the soldiers themselves.
This is solid storytelling, primarily focusing on the Battle of the Bulge, as seen through the eyes of the grunts, and as managed by the generals on both sides of the fence. Unlike the authors other books, this book has less characters (or so it seemed at least) which I find to be more appealing and less confusing. Even though it's always fun to read about the clashes between Montgomery and Patton the story focuses on Private Eddie Benson and his experiences at "mud level".
The reader's journey through the eyes of Benson, while peeking in the minds of the generals is a winning combination which makes the story more personal and engrossing.
Even though I have heard many people who condemn the oxymoron called "historical fiction" it has worked for me personally. Because of Mr. Shaara's Civil War books I read many other historical books and biographies of the characters I was interested in - so as you can see, I think that writing about history on a grounded, personal level has many benefits especially for those who don't' find history as fascinating as I do.
My only comment is that I think it would be wonderful if Mr. Shaara could provide some pictures of the personalities involved so we can see what they look truly look like (instead, for example, picture George C. Scott as General Patton or Ike as the President).
Sharra writes convincingly that the Germans nearly pulled off a major reversal of fortunes on the Western Front when they amassed a surprising strength of arms, tanks, and artillery along a narrow span in the Ardennes Forest. The surprise offensive counterattack by the Germans is measured by immediate reaction of the defenders in harms way and the slow reaction of the British and American brass to the intense assault. Only the severe weather and lack of fuel thwarted more extreme damage to allied forces inflicted on them by the German thrust. Superior numbers of men and materiel would prove in the end to be the deciding factor in regaining the allied initiative and eventually lead to victory.
What makes this book such an interesting read is the revelation that in spite of the ferocious nature of combat, there is much downtime in the life of an infantry soldier. Marching, embedded in foxholes, awaiting orders, performing menial chores are major portions of existing even under the most strenuous of anticipated combat involvement. It comes as somewhat a surprise that many WW II soldiers never came into direct contact with the enemy they fired upon or killed.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jeff Shaara is the best historical novelist writing today, particularly about American military history. Accurate historical backgrounds and page turner writing.Published 17 days ago by Harold P.