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The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition / First Printing edition (June 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204284
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204289
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The Boston Globe:
“Powerful and often startling…The Deserters offers a provokingly fresh angle on this most studied of conflicts… This is a stripped down, unromanticized, intimate history of battle in all of its confusion, chaos, terror, and moral ambiguity. Intricately structured — the author deftly juggles three narrative strands — and beautifully paced to build suspense, this tightly focused account, which draws on memoirs, archives, police files, psychiatric records, is neither reverent nor disapproving.”

The Wall Street Journal:
“By focusing on the stories of three deserters—two Americans, one Briton—Mr. Glass argues persuasively that deserters weren't the cowards of popular assumption but rational men making a natural choice to stay alive… Mr. Glass has conscientiously trawled through court-martial records and U.S. and British files, and he has spent many hours tape-recording interviews with deserters, but he has also been lucky enough to be allowed access to the unpublished memoirs of one deserter, Steve Weiss, as well as the correspondence of several others. Such material gives the author an intimate view into the mind of the wartime deserter.”

The Washington Post:
“[The Deserters] does provide an intimate look at the whys and wherefores of three men who opted out of the front lines. At a time when the ravages of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the general public more aware than ever of the price too many soldiers pay for their service, that helps.”

Dwight Garner, The New York Times:
The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II, by the historian and former ABC News foreign correspondent Charles Glass, thus performs a service. It’s the first book to examine at length the sensitive topic of desertions during this war, and the facts it presents are frequently revealing and heartbreaking… The Deserters has much to say about soldiers' hearts. It underscores the truth of the following observation, made by a World War II infantry captain named Charles B. MacDonald: 'It is always an enriching experience to write about the American soldier in adversity no less than in glittering triumph.'"

San Francisco Chronicle:
“A veteran correspondent in war zones, Glass is richly credentialed to write The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II. He is qualified by talent, by the good fortune of finding surviving veterans, and by exploring their lives with diligence and, most crucially, a deep compassion… Glass tells the soldiers' stories with novelistic vividness and a good historian's grasp of research detail."

The New Republic:
"Glass brings something new to the table by going deep with desertion, an overlooked aspect of the wartime experience. The result is an impressive achievement: a boot-level take on the conflict that is fresh without being cynically revisionist... [Glass] pulled off something special here: showing respect to what the deserters endured while acknowledging that the war—gruesome and unfair and nonsensical though it was—had to be won, and that this happened because enough men somehow found the will to keep going."

Publishers Weekly (starred):
"Glass is to be commended for his take on WWII through the eyes of those who ran away from it... Glass's history might be one of the best ways of relaying the experience of war: through the eyes of the young men who charged into the line of fire, gave up the ghost, and whose only reward was living to tell the tale."

Kirkus Reviews
"[Q]uite provocative... A well-written, fast-moving treatment of an issue still relevant today."

Sunday Telegraph (UK):
"Sensitive and thought-provoking … As this compelling and well-researched book shows, the battlefield was not a place for heroes, but a place where young men were dehumanised and killed … Given such conditions who among us would not also have considered walking away?"

The Guardian (UK):
"[These] stories of individual human beings who eventually cracked under the strain of hardly imaginable fear and misery – are wonderful, unforgettable acts of witness, something salvaged from a time already sinking into the black mud of the past."

Times (UK):
"Gripping … painstaking … sympathetic … Glass reveals just how inglorious war really is."

Sunday Times (UK):

Daily Telegraph (UK): "With his own skill and sensitivity, Glass recreates the inhuman scenes that pummel the other soldiers he examines… refreshing and stimulating—history told from the loser’s perspective."

About the Author

CHARLES GLASS was the chief Middle East correspondent for ABC News from 1983 to 1993 and has covered wars in the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. He is the author of Americans in Paris, Tribes with Flags, The Tribes Triumphant, Money for Old Rope, and The Northern Front. His writing has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The Independent, and The Spectator. Born in Los Angeles, Glass divides his time among Paris, Tuscany, and London.

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Customer Reviews

This book will change you.
David Seaman
It is both historical and psychological, and with its focus on deserters, takes a very different view point than most war books do.
M. Hyman
The book is well written and hard to put down.
R. Schwenk

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 62 people found the following review helpful By David Seaman VINE VOICE on May 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Charles Glass is owed a great debt of gratitude for the exhaustive and often unappreciated work for his non-fiction book "The Deserters". World War II has been romanticized on film, in books and mostly through Government propaganda. This reviewer learned a few months before his fortieth birthday that his own father was on the first wave to descend on the Beaches of Normandy. This wasn't the worst thing he'd survive, the rest of his life was far worse, I am certain. The stories of his time in France during World War II are scant. By the time his sons were born he was a severe alcoholic and drug addict. The term "Battle Fatigue" comes up over and over, a term that is now archaic and having replaced by "post traumatic stress disorder" at last, for the Middle East War of 2002-present the War Department has taken some serious steps toward helping these soldiers, but not nearly enough.

Until medical health and behavioral health are treated exactly the same it could never be enough.

"The Deserters" follows the lives of three soldiers: John Bain, of Scotland; Steve Weiss of Brooklyn and Alfred Whitehead of Tennessee. He does a brief tour of each mans childhood and then the bulk of the book follows the men through their journey's in World Wear II in great detail. As we read the accounts which are as detailed as can be, there is no question that these very young men (about age 18) faced atrocities that no battlefield book about World War II ever showed us. We see not just how the same 20% of fighting personnel were kept on the front from 1942-1945 but we learn of the other elements of fighting in North Africa and France. Because Steve Weiss was still alive, his story seems to be more complete.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ronald T. Roseborough VINE VOICE on May 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Some soldiers break in their first battle. Others fight through many campaigns enduring weeks or months of prolonged fighting before the accumulated stress causes the individual to desert. A few simply refuse to follow their comrades into battle at all. This book concentrates on the lives of three men to represent some of the more than 150,000 allied soldiers who deserted in the European Theater in World War II. Thousands deserted every month, most from the Infantry,which bore the brunt of the fighting day after day. This book explores the many reasons for these desertions. It also shows the effects upon the men who continued to fight on the front lines and the effects upon the war effort overall. It follows up with a fascinating study of what became of the deserters, many of whom turned to crime and the black market to survive in war torn Europe. A deeply engrossing history that will impart much insight into this little explored aspect of World War II history.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Kelly L. Norman VINE VOICE on June 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Although its identity as a non-fiction book concerning World War II puts this volume smack dab in the middle of my book palate, I had a few misgivings about it before it arrived. Would it be an apologia for squandered responsibility, turning us away from the accomplishments of the Greatest Generation to build our sympathy from those who left them holding the bag?

But reading Charles Glass's account of several men---English and American--who were eventually brought up on charges of desertion does nothing of the sort. A less competent writer may not have been able to avoid a black-or-white analysis of the problem. But Glass is able to incorporate information from many vantage points that helps paint these men's situations in Italy, North Africa, and France as anything but two-dimensional.

He follows several men throughout their training, combat, decisions to leave (in many cases, to leave one unit for another more involved in the action; and in a couple of cases, to leave many times for a few days and then return). One soldier does end up losing the reader's sympathy by the end of the book, but the stories of the others pointout the strong ties between men in battle, the hard work done, the absurdity of fate as exemplified by less than competent defense at Courts Martial, and the difference in the experiences of enlisted men as compared with that of officers.

This book also succeeds at bringing out the soldiers' experience with battle in a way I see rarely. In one chapter, when a man's closest friend is killed by German artillery, the shock among those present is minute he's alive, then he's not. Other historians might have let on to the reader several paragraphs behind that this guy is about to get it. Not Glass.

Looking forward to reading more from this author; it would be terrific to see a TV or film adaptation of the book, as well.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By S. Robbins VINE VOICE on June 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I first saw this book, I wasn't inclined to read it. We have been exposed to so much material on WWII and how it was (as one publisher promotes) "The Good War". Since desertion is considered a morally repugnant action, why ruin my ideals with some rare isolated experiences. I ended up reading the book and really enjoying it. Not only was the information provided highly interesting, the "readability" of the book is very good. I didn't find myself getting bogged down in heavy reading yet I was constantly being mentally stimulated by the new information being presented. I had no idea that 50,000 American soldiers deserted in WWII. This book provided that information and much more. It follows three soldiers, two American and one Briton, through their experiences from childhood to enlistment, then covering their military service in great detail and then their desertions. While these stories are interesting in a standalone capacity, the author adds a great amount of detail regarding the overall status of deserters in general during the same time period. I won't be a spoiler, but I was surprised at how little we are exposed to regarding the deserters, their impact on the war, their fellow soldiers and the societies they were impacting. If you have a strong interest in Military History and especially WWII, this is a great book to add to your collection, I highly recommend it.
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