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The Boys' Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-1945 (Modern Library Chronicles) Hardcover – Unabridged, September 9, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This short study of the U. S. Army's most burdened branch in the final campaign against Germany does not represent its National Book Award-winning author at his highest level. It focuses on the 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds who were the backbone of the infantry. They were also frequently thrust into combat after no more than four months' training, led by officers as green as themselves; Fussell himself was one of them. If wounded, they were returned to some other unit through the infamous Replacement Depot system, and altogether not treated much better than the trench fodder of WWI. Thorough research has not prevented some questionable pieces of historiography, such as leaving out the resistance the American army eventually generated in the Battle of the Bulge. Fussell also tends toward space-consuming jabs at rival schools of interpretations and even journalists as distinguished as Ernie Pyle. The focus bounces around, with mini-essays covering such non-infantry affairs as the Allied deception operation for D-Day, at the expense of material on the infantry as other than victim. For a minihistory or minibiography of the same subject, readers should stick with Stephen Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This is an unsentimental crystallization of the American infantryman's experience in World War II from D-Day forward, of which Fussell knows something, as his memoir Doing Battle (1996) attests. Fussell finds his experience echoed in that of another memoirist, Robert Kotlowitz, and quotes copiously from Before Their Time (1997) to illustrate the training of a soldier; frictions with the British and the French; and being ordered into combat by mulish or inept officers. He then describes the chain taking the dead and wounded back and the replacements up, castigating the ironic chasm between its horrors and the popular penchant to remember the American soldier's experience as a righteous crusade. Ultimately, with the overrunning of the concentration camps, he was rightly exalted as a sacrificial liberator, but few footsloggers at the time felt that way--as Fussell reminds us with trenchancy and intolerance for cant. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles (Book 14)
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; First Edition edition (September 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679640886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679640882
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 1 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,179,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I suspect there is little middle ground for those who read Fussell and his work will resonate truly with some and will provoke accusations of being a pessimistic, bitter old man by others. If in reading about WWII you are looking for an unsparing impression of life in the American infantry after the Normandy invasion, something unsanitized by Zanuck, Spielberg, the History Channel or even Stephen Ambrose, this will fit the bill.
My own father served in the Hurtgen Forest area and in the Bulge as one of the "Boy Crusaders" Fussell writes about. It's uncanny to me how the attitude of the two are alike. There is no sentimentalizing, no attempts to varnish the time with nobility. It was what it was.
Reading Fussell hasn't helped me appreciate the magnitude of my father's (or Fussell's) experience. But it has helped me understand the anger that is till part of my dad, even now, sixty years on.
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Format: Hardcover
By Bill Marsano. This book comes along just in time: Already I've been getting invitations from French tourism folks inviting me to learn all about their plans for next year's 60th anniversary of D-Day. (Do they actually give a damn any more, or are they just trying to revive their critically wounded tourist trade?) Think of it--sixty years. Soon enough there'll be no one left alive to tell the tale, and then the whole shebang--World War II from front to back--will be deeded over to Ken Burns for a series of sincere and oh-so-tasteful documentaries for his caramel-centered fans to lap up on PBS.
It's probably all that "good war" and "greatest generation" stuff that drove Fussell to write this book; he doesn't have much truck with gooey backward glances, and that will probably make some readers mad. Well, you don't come to Fussell--author of, among other things, "Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and Other Essays"--for good times. You come to Fussell for the hard stuff.
And here it is his contention that behind and beneath all that "greatest generation" nonsense was the Boys' Crusade--that last year of the war in Europe when too many things went wrong too often. The generals who'd convinced themselves that this war would not be a war of attrition--i.e., human slaughter--like the last one found they'd guessed wrong. Casualties were horrifyingly high and so huge numbers of children--kids 17-19 years--old were flung into combat. And they were, with the help of the generals, ill-trained, ill-clothed and ill-equipped.
They were also faceless ciphers.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read all of Fussell's work on World War 2, and enjoyed much of it. But I detect a bitterness beneath the elegant prose - honest and refreshing when compared to the likes of Ambrose etc. - but annoying when it leads to generalizations and statements that just don't stand up if one does proper research.
There was nothing new in this book - much of it has been far better presented in other books - but as an exquisite, bitter-sweet appetizer, it deserves a star in any Michelin World War 2 guide. Had another writer, say someone who is unknown, written this, it would probably not have been published. Nevertheless, if all you've ever read is ultra-jingoist Ambrose and the strangely PC and weepy Bradley, then this will get your juices flowing. I then suggest reading the first person accounts of veterans that have rightly become classics. There are many, all of them far more revealing than Fussell because they are less academically and stylistcially self-conscious. Try The Medic, A Screaming Eagle, Company Commander, If I Survive. Then Fussell sounds like a whinger, however beautiful his prose style.
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Format: Paperback
The Boys' Crusade tells the story of the American GI in Europe, from his arrival in England in 1944 to the fall of the Reich. The narrative opens with a wonderful insight into life in the UK as an American soldier, which is later contrasted dramatically with the dreadful conditions the same troops faced on the continent after the invasion.

He portrays in vivid and at times heart-wrenching detail the hardship and privation that were the norm throughout the European campaign - the unpreparedness of `green' troops, friendly-fire incidents, the frequency of self-inflicted wounds, desertion and the fog of war.

As background to his theme of the plight of the US Army boy-soldier he has broadly encapsulated the story of the war in the west in 1944-5. Within the short space he has allocated himself he has focused on four aspects of that multi-faceted campaign: Normandy, The Bulge, Hurtgen Forrest and finally the dreadful discovery of the forced-labour (concentration) camps in the heart of Germany.

In doing so he has largely ignored the other Allies fighting on the western front, aside from a brief, unbalanced and damning indictment of Canadian forces at Falaise - but, surprisingly, that does not particularly detract from the story.

Paul Fussell writes particularly well - this is a book that is hard to put down, not least because clearly, much is written from personal experience.

In light of some of this excellent background, it is a great pity that Fussell has found it necessary to adapt and distort historical fact to fit his theme. There are several examples of this - one of the more glaring is the description of Operation Cobra as a US air attack on the German front lines, rather than the overall operation of which this simply played the opening bars.
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