Book #23: Band of Brothers

I tried so hard to squeeze this in to be counted for the month of May. But Band of Brothers, Stephen E Ambrose's portrait of Easy Company, a paratrooper division in WWII was the type of moving, thrilling book that was best served by savoring the story rather than rushing through merely to meet a deadline. Tracing their journey from training to the end of war and beyond, Ambrose tells a gripping tale of how nothing makes people closer than the atrocity of war.

If I have any complaint, it's that I don't know if I'm going to be able to watch the acclaimed miniseries now. The strength of Ambrose is to paint his soldiers with bold strokes first, and then through the various jumps, invasions, and reserve situations fill those strokes with enough details to come away with the feeling of knowing these people. And now having in my head the exploits of Malarkey, Lipton, Sobel, Speirs, Nixon, and Winters (especially Winters), I don't know if I can set aside the pictures and images in my head and accept whoever they cast to play the roles.

Each stage of the book, from basic training to the jump at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, is described in such a way that you feel every impact. It's terrifying, it's heroic, and every time I lifted my nose from the pages it was with a sense of just how much these guys did with so many disadvantages - lack of food, appropriate clothing, ammunition, sleep. Equally impressive is the fact that, although there's an admitted bias towards the heroism, Ambrose also speaks out about the necessary evils and bigotry evident in some of the ranks, admitting to the looting, drinking and, at times, hatred toward the Germans and others throughout the war.

However, every war tale has got to have its Golden Boy, and here it's Major Richard "Dick"Winters. One of the few people to stay with the company at every step, he rose through bravery, intelligence, and an uncommon rapport with his men to be the C.O. of the 2d Battalion. His story, his actions, and his presence to the soldiers of Easy was one of the most inspiring stories I've ever read, and brought home just how much was sacrificed, and how hard but necessary it was to rise above it.

Band of Brothers works as both a moving portrait of a singularly amazing military unit, but also as a condensed version of America throughout the war in Europe. One of the amazing items about Easy Company is that due to their excellence in the field, they were present at almost all of the key points of the war in Europe. If you love history (especially WWI) you've probably already read this book. If you have a passing interest this is mandatory reading. I find myself about midway between the two (closer to "passing interest" though), but reading Band of Brothers may have changed that.