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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
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.
What the book lacks in detail in relationship to actual battle accounts, such as; cases where some veterans are unsure of time or place of some of the anecdotes they recite, it does make up for in the richness of the era seen through the eyes of those who witnessed it. The recollections of those Rubin has interviewed has not only given them an indelible place in history, but all those who are no longer with us physically but remain in our memories for their service to their country
A historic note of interest:
Doughboy, an informal term for an American soldier during World War I has many possible origins. One of the most popular is that during the war with Mexico in 1846 soldiers became covered with chalky dust from the dry desert terrain. This gave them the appearance of uncooked dough. The term Doughboy was gradually replaced with G.I. during World War II which meant government issued.
The copy of the book I read was an "Uncorrected Proof" and as such was lacking maps and pictures. It would have been better if it did, I found myself trying to conjure up images of the interviewees, as they looked then and now.
Even so, I found the "The Last of the Doughboys" interesting. I give the book 5 stars and do recommend it. It recreates a generation whose moral values, dedication, and way of life shaped into the country we became.
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. There is so much firsthand information from a totally different era. I really treasure what I have learned from this book. Thank you very much to Mr. Rubin for coming up with this idea and following it through. I sincerely hope he will also do a book like this for WW2, and after he finishes that one, one for the Korean War and the VietNam War. Thank you, Mr. Rubin, for immortalizing these precious men in this book.