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The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War Hardcover – May 21, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

There may be as many as a million surviving veterans of WWII, and their stream of memoirs continues, contributing to their place as part of the “Greatest Generation.” But the last known American veteran of the Great War died in 2011. Determined to obtain and document the remembrances of the surviving “doughboys,” journalist Rubin began an effort to locate and interview many of them a decade ago. The result is this fascinating and deeply moving collection of individual stories. These veterans, between the ages of 101 and 113, tell their stories in sometimes halting ways; but aided by the patience and prompting of Rubin, they provide a vivid picture of their wartime experiences as well as the vastly different American society from which they sprang. Most of these men came from rural backgrounds, and they used horsepower rather than tractors to plow fields. Some describe their shock at their first exposure to industrial-scale warfare, while others stepped easily into the beginnings of aerial combat. Some recall the comradeship, while others emphasize the terror of trench warfare. This is an important and masterful tribute to those who participated in a conflict that continues to shape the world today. --Jay Freeman


"An outstanding and fascinating book. By tracking down the last surviving veterans of the First World War and interviewing them with sympathy and skill, Richard Rubin has produced a first-rate work of reporting. Almost a hundred years after the event, he makes that immensely consequential and partly forgotten war as alive as twenty minutes ago." — Ian Frazier, New Yorker contributor and author of Travels in Siberia

"Richard Rubin has written the most riveting and astonishing book about World War I that I have read in a decade. No matter what you think about that terrible conflict, this book will lift up your heart, not only about the war but about being an American. It's unique!" — Thomas Fleming, author of The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I

"From its boffo, page-length first sentence situating the First World War in American memory (‘before the Band-Aid and nylon and the ballpoint pen and sliced bread’) to its moving concluding portrait of Frank Buckles (1901-2011),’the last of the last’ of the doughboys, this book makes irresistible reading. A fusion of reportage, memoir, and history, The Last of the Doughboys is a work of learning, wit, and compassion." — Jack Beatty, author of The Lost History of 1914


"Richard Rubin has performed an extraordinary feat of World War I sleuthing. He has managed to track down numerous centenarians — centenarians! — who fought in the trenches and has skillfully resurrected their memories in a way that brings that now sepia-toned conflict into focus as sharp as a bayonet. Rubin refers to these doughboys as 'the forgotten generation.' Yet he brings them back unforgettably. And his book is addictively readable." — Joseph E. Persico, author of Roosevelt's Centurions: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II
"Richard Rubin has done something that will never be possible for anyone to do again. His interviews with the last American World War I veterans — who have all since died — bring to vivid life a cataclysm that changed our world forever but that remains curiously forgotten here. And his research and battlefield visits help us picture the background to the survivors' stories." — Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

"My namesake was a great-uncle who faked his age and enlisted in the Army as a teenager — shipping off to France and fighting in World War I, where he was wounded and gassed. I cherish his Purple Heart. And I remember long conversations with him as he thought back on his experiences, by turns horrific and comic. Now, in an extraordinary work that combines oral history and personal reporting, Richard Rubin relates his encounters with the last survivors of that war, centenarians all —the ‘forgotten generation,’ as he calls them. The Last of the Doughboys is a book that puts Rubin’s trademark style on display: it is deeply researched, shrewdly observed, and warmly humane." — Cullen Murphy, editor-at-large, Vanity Fair


"Richard Rubin's The Last of the Doughboys is more than just a collection of memories. It is a moving tribute — a final salute — to a generation of men who gave their all to win the war that would, they hoped, end all wars. This intimately written book will stand at the forefront of World War I literature for many years to come." — Edward G. Lengel, author of To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918


"Richard Rubin's vivid and lively interviews with the last surviving veterans of World War I have preserved the voices and memories of the men who fought the nation's first modern war. It is an important contribution to history, an act of historical justice to soldiers whose achievements and sufferings are seldom remembered, and a fascinating view of history through the eyes of those that made it." — Richard Slotkin, author of Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality


"Richard Rubin's brilliant The Last of the Doughboys is a living, breathing monument to an almost criminally unsung generation of American heroes — and a vivid and richly detailed portrayal of their era and their war. Beautifully and knowledgably written, the book ensures that the doughboys' achievements on the battlefields of World War I, as well as at home, will never again be forgotten." — James Carl Nelson, author of The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War and Five Lieutenants

"The Last of the Doughboys is a fascinating account of the American experience of World War I and the astonishing power of memory: oral memory, literary memory, and the collective memory of monuments and cemeteries. Actually, it is not the Korean War but World War I that is truly the forgotten war in American culture, but Richard Rubin brings it to life, etched with great narrative richness." — Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, Washington University in St. Louis

"A wonderfully engaging study executed with a lot of heart." — Kirkus Reviews, starred review. **A Kirkus Best Book of 2103**

"Affecting . . . Give[s] fresh texture to what’s already known. Rubin is skillful in his interviewing, remorseless in his efforts to chase down his subjects, thoughtful of their age. . . He has brought them back to life. His book is a fitting epitaph to brave men too often overlooked." — Publishers Weekly

"Fascinating and deeply moving . . . An important and masterful tribute to those who participated in a conflict that continues to shape the world today." — Booklist

"A brilliant and unexpected delight . . . Clever, engrossing, moving, and richly detailed . . . Rubin is a sensitive and terrific interviewer, a good listener, with a faultless eye and ear for detail… not only a good writer and born raconteur, with a gift for telling the reader things that are unexpected and fascinating—American songs in World War I, women who joined the United States Navy in World War I, the sad fate of African-American soldiers—but one with a dogged determination . . . What Richard Rubin has done is remarkable--his book is at once a cultural history of a vanished America, simpler, more rural, less driven by technology and science, poorer, but infinitely more “neighborly,” in the best sense of the word, a military history of the best kind, and a chance to meet a truly fascinating group of people, I liked every one of them, and counted myself lucky that Richard Rubin has achieved the most difficult of feats, to find a new and different way of writing about World War I (which I would have thought almost impossible) and to have brought to vivid life a group of truly forgotten people, who once did something memorable, then slipped through the cracks into a long anonymity from which they might never have emerged.I cannot remember a book about that huge and terrible war that I have enjoyed reading more in many years." -- Michael Korda, The Daily Beast

"A charming, passionate and peronal paean . . . Awash in interesting--and poignant--stories." -- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Engaging . . . memorable . . . The book succeeds by creating degrees of connection, even as it reshapes our consciousness." - The Boston Globe

"An informative, humorous and sometimes poignant account . . . This wonderful book teaches us not only about the Great War, but about life and aging and grace. And it demonstrates, even though 'Taps' has sounded for the doughboys, that history is all around us if we only look for it." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Nothing else equals this fine book. We are fortunate Richard Rubin has given us such a wonderful tribute to the last surviving Americans of that war and has recorded for posterity their last thoughts about their service and their sacrifice." -- Brigadier General (Ret.) Robert A. Doughty, The Military Book Club main selection

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1St Edition edition (May 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547554435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547554433
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 101 people found the following review helpful By feemeister VINE VOICE on April 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This review is hard; I hope I can do this book justice. First I want to say what a commendable service the author has done in providing us with this book. How wonderful for him to make such a monumental effort in finding these men. Men who served the whole world in this war, and whose service and blood and tears were basically forgotten. I know I had never given a thought to those who served in this war. I grew up with WW2 veterans all around, and I didn't give them a thought either, back when I could have talked to them, and found out all about what went on during that war, from the men who fought it. After getting interested in WW2 recently, I have realized it is very hard to find people to tell me firsthand about it and answer my questions. That war got me a bit interested in WW1, but only as background for WW2.

This author's book has shown me how remiss I had also been about WW1 and all the people who gave so much in that war. I don't even know which of my forebears fought in WW1, so will need to find out. I know about all the other wars, but just seem to have ignored that one. I think in our family the Depression seems to have eclipsed WW1 to the point that it was forgotten and ignored.

This book is just exceptional. There is background, there are stories, there are interviews, there is Americana and history, it just has everything. The author has really poured out his heart through this book. I am so glad that he went to so much trouble to find these men, and to talk to them about everything before they were gone. I had not realized that there had still been people alive who had fought in that war, who could tell their stories.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book for everyone to read.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Lefand VINE VOICE on April 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In "The Last of the Doughboys" Richard Rubin has harvested the memories of the last remaining soldiers from the Great War. In this remarkable and intimate account of men who answered the call to duty, Rubin's interviews of surviving American veterans from World War I goes beyond conventional war memories. He brings us the recollections of tragedy, fear, hope, and everyday life of those Americans who served in the trenches, where over 9 million men died: a total of both Central Powers and Allies military personnel (military and civilian causalities totaled more than 37 million).

Rubin took on the task of tracking down all living American World War I veterans he could find to bring us this oral history. "The Last of the Doughboys" is not a history of the war itself; it is a history of the physical and moral exhaustion, the misery, carnage and life that was endured by the individual soldiers, the men in the trenches.

At times the veterans' stories seemed melancholy, horrors that are hard to forget no matter how much time passes. But then I would picture them staring back though all the years and recalling some incident that brought back memories of youth as they related stories about "the girls upstairs" to Rubin.

With these firsthand accounts Rubin has breathed life into the history of this conflict as it approaches its 100 year anniversary (1914-1918). With all the wars that have taken place since then, it tends to be as remote as the American Civil War. Yet one must remember World War I was the first modern war with the introduction of modern weapons; such as the tank and airplane (aero plane) and extensive use of the machine gun.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Webster TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Author Richard Rubin's decade of research and interviews has provided a fitting final chapter to the story of World War I veterans - all of whom are now gone. He's covered a vast scope in this book, and while it isn't a comprehensive look at the war itself, it is a solid cultural study of that era, and a look at the senior citizens whose experiences and knowledge often pass us by.

Because he covers so much ground, a review can't do his entire effort equal justice. The primary focus is the interviews he conducted with the veterans, all 100+ years old. I was amazed how lucid and interesting the stories were - but that surprise is because of my stereotypes that Rubin's narrative helped overcome.

Rubin plays it straight - he lets the veterans speak for themselves, and they aren't always as heroic as you might think. Because they were already 60 years old by 1960, most grew up during the height of American racism, and that comes across in a depressing chapter about how African-American soldiers were (mis)treated. It's really disgusting. It's certainly no vet's fault - it was the times of the era - but it's sad how there were so few (any?) white heroes during that period.

I really liked how Rubin described the pop culture of the era, almost all music with ultra-patriotic lyrics - after war broke out. Before war, there was equal time given to staying out of it. But with the "Sedition Act" going into affect once war broke out, Rubin also provides an excellent and timely lesson about how quickly our civil rights were restricted or eliminated.
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