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The Good War: An Oral History of World War II

4.5 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Studs Terkel, the noted Chicago-based journalist, gathers the reminiscences of 121 participants in World War II (called "the good war" because, in the words of one soldier, "to see fascism defeated, nothing better could have happened to a human being"). These participants, men and women, famous and ordinary, tell stories that add immeasurably to our understanding of that cataclysmic time. One Soviet soldier recounts that, surrounded by the Germans, his comrades tapped the powder from their last cartridges and inserted notes to their families inside the casings; Russian children, he goes on, still turn these up every now and again and deliver the notes to the soldiers' families. Terkel touches on many themes along the way, including institutionalized racism in the United States military, the birth of the military-industrial complex, and the origins of the Cold War. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


As in Hard Times and Working, this master interviewer again creates a turbulent epic of human experience by quoting the words of those who lived it. . . . A vivid resurrection of a lost time. -- Newsday

Deeply moving and profoundly important. -- Boston Globe

I promise you will remember your war years, if you were alive then, with extraordinary vividness as you go through Studs Terkel's book. Or, if you are too young to remember, this is the best place to get a sense of what people were feeling. -- Garry Wills, Chicago Tribune Book World

Incontestably one of the great human documents of all time. It has the essence and cumulative force of a hundred powerful war novels, without drawing on a single word of fiction. Among major historians Terkel is now in orbit all by himself, world class. -- Norman Corwin

Read this important book. -- Philadelphia Inquirer

Tremendously compelling, somehow dramatic and intimate at the same time, as if one has stumbled on private accounts in letters long locked in attic trunks...Mr. Terkel's book gives the American experience in World War Two great immediacy...In terms of plain human interest, Mr. Terkel may well have put together the most vivid collection of World War Two sketches ever gathered between covers. -- Loudon Wainwright, The New York Times Book Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Random House Audio (November 12, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394550447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394550442
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 4.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,269,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Studs Terkel (1912-2008) was a free spirit, an outspoken populist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a terrible ham, and one of the best-loved characters on the American scene. Born in New York in 1912, he lived in Chicago for over eight decades. His radio show was carried on stations throughout the country.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a collection by noted author Studs Turkel of oral accounts given to him that relate to experiences in World War II. There are many of these vignettes, and they cover a lot of ground. Turkel has carefully gathered tales from combatants and non-combatants alike. Included in the latter category are reminiscences from Japanese-Americans who were placed in West Coast internment camps, conscientious objectors, "Rosie the Riveters", senior civil servants, wives of soldiers serving overseas, and workers in the Manhattan Project. As for the warriors, Turkel draws from both the European and Pacific theaters, and from various ranks in all of the military branches, and from several of the warring nations.
What I found most surprising was the significant degree of disappointment and disillusionment expressed by many of the interviewees. Far more of these people than I would have expected felt the war was unjust or unnecessary and that the U.S. should not have been involved, or, having been drawn into the conflict, that America was prosecuting the war foolishly and narrow-mindedly. A large number also state their contempt for the government in the post-WWII years and the dawn of the Cold War.
It is quite striking to see the pessimism and fatalism of a good number of the people whom Terkel interviewed, so much so that I wonder if the author was deliberately skewing his samples to adhere with his own beliefs. Indeed, it's not a mistake that the book's title is in ironic quotation marks; clearly, Terkel begs to differ with those who have held WWII to be a "good war". There is a distinct tone throughout that this was a war that was forced upon the American people, and that many opportunities for lasting peace in the aftermath were squandered.
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Format: Paperback
"The Good War" has had a profound on my perspective of history. I have always been a fascinated student of World War II, but Terkel's masterpiece led me to completely re-evaluate how I viewed the Second World War.
The book is somewhat deceiving because while it seems light, it is the exact opposite. Many of the accounts given by the men and women affected by the war are extremely powerful, and it is difficult to read through many of them in a row without having to stop and ponder their implications.
There is no doubt Terkel wrote this book to push his support of pacifism. While he probably edited the accounts to make his message more pointed, it does not really matter. Yes, World War II was "good" in that it was necessary to stop the Nazi war machine. But it was not "good" because no war can be good. World War II is often portrayed as this great event, but Terkel reveals the War for what it really was: vital for the future of the world, but devastating to millions whose lives were transformed by it.
"The Good War" is a lot of like "Flags of Our Fathers" by James Bradley. It is shows the amazing heroism displayed by people during the War, but at the same time vividly illustrates the horrors sometimes forgotten when people think about World War II. Make no mistake: I agree that the heroism of our vets during the war is unparalleled in history. I just think the book gives an important perspective that should not be ignored.
If you want to gain a new perspective of what many call the "good war" I highly recommend Studs Terkels' powerful book.
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Format: Paperback
Studs Terkel's book was on my shelves for many years, and I've basically ignored it for all that time. But when it was time to pick a new book to read from my library, I saw it sitting there - and in light of the events of September 11, it somehow seemed that this was the perfect time to read this book, and that this was the perfect book for the time.
For this book, Terkel interviewed men and women from all walks of life, and from both sides of the war, in order to paint as complete a picture of that time as possible. He has more than succeeded. Some of his interviewees were for the war; a few were against it, even when they were in the thick of it. Some told of the injustices done to Japanese-Americans, and some told of what they found when they arrived at the gates of Buchenwald.
Each man and woman has their own story to tell, and Terkel lets them tell it in their own voice. The grammar, syntax, etc. varies from person to person, told exactly as Terkel recorded it. There are some accounts from famous people (John Kenneth Galbraith, Mike Royko, and Maxine Andrews, to name a few), but most of the stories are told by the so-called common people. And even those people whose names are known outside of this book don't put on any airs when they allow Terkel to record them.
That single fact makes this the best book on or about any war that I've ever read - beyond even such admitted classics as "From Here to Eternity", "The 13th Valley", and "Battle Cry". Those books, and many others like them, are very good - but the people in them are all larger than life. You don't get that impression reading these accounts.
Kudos to Studs Terkel for preserving these stories and letting us see the real face of World War II.
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