Focusing on the citizens of four towns— Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama;—The War follows more than forty people from 1941 to 1945. Woven largely from their memories, the compelling, unflinching narrative unfolds month by bloody month, with the outcome always in doubt. All the iconic events are here, from Pearl Harbor to the liberation of the concentration camps—but we also move among prisoners of war and Japanese American internees, defense workers and schoolchildren, and families who struggled simply to stay together while their men were shipped off to Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa.
Enriched by maps and hundreds of photographs, including many never published before, this is an intimate, profoundly affecting chronicle of the war that shaped our world.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 68.
- Review Date: 2007-07-30
- Reviewer: Staff
This lavishly illustrated companion to the September PBS documentary series reduces the American side of WWII to the local and personal. Documentarian Burns (The Civil War) and historian Ward (The Civil War: An Illustrated History) foreground the iconic experiences of ordinary people, including a young girl interned in a Japanese camp in the Philippines, marines in the thick of combat in the Pacific and a fighter pilot who exchanges letters with his sweetheart. Their stories are full of anxiety and exhilaration, terror and pathos. (Sample vignette: a GI casually tosses pebbles into the skull of a Japanese machine-gunner, still upright and wide-eyed after the top of his head has been shot off). The authors' portrait of the home front glows with nostalgia—war bonds, scrap-metal drives, USO dances—but they also note racial tensions at a Mobile, Ala., shipyard and the bitterness of Japanese-American soldiers whose families were interned. In the background, Roosevelt and Churchill confer, Patton struts and growls, and arrows march across maps as the authors deftly sketch major campaigns and battles and offer tart criticism of inept generals. This visually appealing coffee-table book gives little idea of how and why America won, but a strong sense of what it felt like on the way to victory. Photos. (Sept. 12)
Ward, Burns turn attention to WWII
In the 1980s, Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns created what may be the most riveting and revolutionary documentary in television history, The Civil War. While many have tried to recapture this lightning in a bottleincluding Burns and Ward themselvesthey've never quite reached that compelling mix of conflict and human emotion. That will change this fall when PBS airs another Burns and Ward documentary about another warthe Second World War. The War: An Intimate History, 1941-1945, is the companion volume to the series, and if words and pictures are any indication of what is to come, this could be another watershed cultural moment.
The two authors freely admit in the book's introduction that an event like WWII is too big, too multifaceted, to even attempt anything like a comprehensive look. Instead, as they did with The Civil War, they present the big picture by focusing on the human element through the fates of four small towns: Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Mobile, Alabama. They weave in personal stories of people from those towns, the people they met, loved and married. The War tells us how raw recruits from the Midwest survived Normandy; how Japanese-Americans from West Coast detention camps formed one of the most decorated divisions in Italy; how East Coast kids lived through the hell of Bataan; how Southern shipbuilders got a taste of a future battle when blacks and whites had to work together. There's the wistful tale of a young girl's childhood in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines, and the hair-raising story of a pilot who walked away from more than his share of crashes.
The War is lavishly illustrated, and the accounts of its survivorswho are dying, the authors point out, at a rate of 1,000 a daybring a human perspective to an event almost incomprehensible in scope. If Ward and Burns can bring our nation's all-too-often idle consciousness to bear on the true costs of war, we'll all be better served.
Baby boomer James Neal Webb is proud of his father's service in the Navy.