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Man of War: My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactment Hardcover – May 24, 2012
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"Man of War is an unexpected treat! I was enamored of Charlie Schroeder's travelogue through the subculture of reenactment and fascinated by his modern take on ancient warfare. (Who knew the proper buttons were so important?) They say war is Hell, yet this book is a heck of a lot of fun." —Jen Lancaster, New York Times bestselling author of Jeneration X, If You Were Here, and Bitter is the New Black
"A hilarious romp through 2,000 years of history, one forced march at a time."—J. Maarten Troost, author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals
About the Author
CHARLIE SCHROEDER is a writer, public radio producer, and actor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Reader's Digest, and Los Angeles Times as well as in Best American Sports Writing 2006. Radio stories he has produced have been featured on NPR, including Weekend America, Only a Game, On the Media, and Soundcheck. He lives in Los Angeles, California. Visit charlieschroeder.com.
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Unfortunately, Schroeder is a very uneven writer. The good parts of the book are the author's immersions with various historical reenactor groups and the people he meets who portray everyone from Romans and Vikings to American soldiers from our wars up to and including the Vietnam era. He does the technical aspects of reenacting well and gives as good a view for an outsider of what it is like for a newbee (first time reenactor) to join in a weekend's worth of marching, camping and faux-fighting as he and his comrades imagine themselves at places as diverse as Stalingrad, a Roman Fort, Civil War battlefield and a US Vietnam era firebase.
The parts that felt forced or flat for me were the author's side remarks. He has a tendency to slip into sophmoric comments and for me these interfered with the flow of the book. Injecting humor and funny asides in "real-life" books can be done well and is by the likes of Bill Bryson and Tony Horwitz. Schroeder's efforts seem more to be a reflexive jump back to his inner seventeen year old rather than the humor one finds from a mature wit.
There are many interesting parts of the book. His description of his weekend spent rowing as a bateaux-man with a crew reenacting a French and Indian War era barge movement and the physical toll that entails shows the breadth of difficulty of some reenacting experiences. It was amusing to read that the person who can be described as the American most focused on keeping alive the memory of the Polish Winged Hussars is the former bassist for W.A.S.P., the heavy metal band (though dressing up as winged-calvary is not too far a stretch perhaps for the regalia that attended 1980's and 1990's metal men). The author, who spent a year immersing himself with various groups, decided at the end to create his own reenactment and went on a twenty mile journey recreating a stretch of Father Junipero Serra's walk between Spanish missions. That does speak to a man who has been converted to a love of history and it was nice to read of his new commitment to learning from whence we came.
This book will be undoubtedly compared to Tony Horwitz's "Confederates in the Attic" as they plow much of the same ground, although Horwitz if memory serves me correctly didn't actually get on the ground and reenact in his coverage of the topic which dealt more with the memory of the Civil War in the South. Schroeder's book doesn't draw the conclusions or achieve an overarching theme as "Confederates in the Attic" did. Rather, it is a journal of his experiences. No fault there, I just wish he had a more mature style of writing.
Charlie Schroeder does tend to be a bit cynical condescending in some of his descriptions of events, even when he is the main character. It is fitting that when he sets up his own reenactment, that of a traveling padre of the Spanish Colonial era in the South West, the result is a farce. But, at least, he tried.