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The Young Lions Paperback – December 1, 2000
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So let's get to the book--which is a good one. First it's one of the "big books" that came out immediately after WW II. It's in good company, and can certainly hold its head up among "The Thin Red Line", "The Naked and The Dead", "From Here To Eternity" and "The Caine Mutiny". There are and were other great books about WW II, but clearly "The Young Lions" merits inclusion in the first rank of those books. And it's a "big book" in another way. My Kindle reader shows page numbers, and I think there were more than 670 pages in this book. So it's big in that way.
Shaw is a good writer, and the narrative flows along and is both easy and enjoyable to read. Along the way Shaw creates dozens of entirely believable characters. While I say the narrative flows, Shaw writes in a slightly dated and somewhat florid style. I didn't mind that--I simply realized that it might take Shaw a few more pages to get to the point than the modern slam bang action or procedural novel author of today.
The novel covers a 7 year time period; and covers geography from Austria to Germany, to France, North Africa, New York City and its theatre and arts scene, Southern California and the Hollywood industry, basic training in Florida, and life in London. That's a lot to cover and Shaw does it well.
Shaw was a successful short story writer for The New Yorker in the mid 1930's and was very much a part of the theatre, publishing and arts scene in Manhattan at the time. His depiction of one of his characters and the milieu in which he travelled reminded me just how many well intentioned folks were members of the Communist Party or were Communist sympathizers at the time of the Spanish Civil War. So that's a valuable historical reminder. Shaw himself came under suspicion and decamped to Europe and Switzerland in 1951 where he continued to churn out successful novels and television screen plays until his death.
I was not disappointed. So many years had passed that I had forgotten quite a bit of the detail in the book and it was refreshing to read it again, sort of like running into an old friend one had not seen for awhile.
The author's in depth knowledge of human nature, coupled with his insights into military life (which was obviously taken from many of his personal experiences - as would any author under the circumstances) provide a rich tapestry of life during WWII. I have always felt that using different perspectives from individuals on both sides of the conflict gave this book a strong handle that many books about the war do not have. Herman Wouk used similar effects in The Winds of War.
Shaw's perfectionist attention to small details - i.e. uniforms, geographical locations, and the like - give this book a heads up over many others. I would not be surprised to find out that this book is still selling very well after all these years.
I would recommend this book to any reader.
I also found the focus on leadership fascinating, leadership on both sides both good and bad, from basic training all the way to the front lines. You can talk a good game but the true test is when the bullets are flying.
I think the most important message is that war is indeed hell and has a ripple effect even to noncombatants. I have seen the movie several times and prefer it to the book. The 80 Yard Run, a short story by Shaw, is one of my favorite pieces of literature.
I highly recommend the novel. Though not in the fast paced, all action style of today, it is a timeless classic and an important read for all former soldiers and military fiction or history enthusiasts.
It, in brief, touched the soul.