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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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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
"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
"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**
"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
"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
"Engaging . . . memorable . . . The book succeeds by creating degrees of connection, even as it reshapes our consciousness." - The Boston Globe
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Top Customer Reviews
I saw Doughboys was going to be made public early in 2013. The title caught my eye, as I have been interested in WWI history the past few years. Interviewing the last remaining veterans of the Great War was a terrific concept. A good deal of American military history focus has of course been on the Civil War and World War II for decades. As a teacher of American history, I have had my students interview veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, as well as civilian Americans for other social histories. As Mr. Rubin expertly points out, WWI history and its veterans are and were indeed overshadowed if not outright ignored in the post WWII years. This book goes a long way correcting that oversight.
When I added Doughboys to my reading list I thought the book would be exclusively about the interviews with WWI veterans. I was also very happily mistaken. The Last of the Doughboys is a narrative not only of the veterans and Mr. Rubin's story about tracking them down. The book is story of America, its cultures, ways, ideals, economy, people, and so much more covering a time period from the post Civil War to the early 21st Century.
This was obviously no easy task to accomplish. But in fact, the more I read, the more insight I gained about what America was like in those days and what we are often like today, as individuals and as a people. Mr. Rubin accomplished his goals handsomely.
I enjoyed the book so much that I plan to use it in my class. Mr. Rubin covers a good deal of territory in his narrative and a good deal of it is material that I cover in class. There are excellent examples that are too numerous to mention here that make the history personable and real.
The book is also a treasure trove of resource material and is the only book I have seen which makes the argument that the Great War can be understood through the music it inspired. Primary sources abound.
I should also draw attention to how "readable" Doughboys is. The narrative is fresh and lively. Mr. Rubin not only interviews veterans and gives a good history lesson, he has a conversation with the reader and makes the reader a part of the adventure.