Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan

A Bridge Too Far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II by Cornelius Ryan gives one of the best accounts of General Montgomery's ill-fated plan and operation to turn the German northern flank on the Western front during September 1944 of World War II. Montgomery hoped to press into the heart of industrial Germany to end the war in 1944. This narrative non-fiction work by Cornelius Ryan brings together the objectivity and insights of a historian with the narrative style of a novelist. Ryan brings historical events to life. Ryan's writings keep your interest. He gives the experiences of the individual soldiers and Dutch resistance members. He tells the story from all sides. The roles and effects of these operations on the civilians unfortunate enough to be caught up in events are included. 

From reading Ryan's work I found a dramatic lack of urgency on the part of the British. An example is after the 82nd had secured their main bridge objective which included tremendous sacrifice the British simply camped for the night brewing their tea while their fellow countryman were still encircled and dying in Arhen. I was disappointed that Montgomery was not slammed for this operation. From he account Montgomery is lucky he wasn't relieved of command or sacked on the spot.

I recommend the book, tough at times I found the reading and the story slowly unfolding. It is one of the all time classics of World War II and should be in the library of every military history buff. Read and reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

American Soldier by General Tommy Franks

President Bill Clinton promoted General Franks to fours stars. President Clinton also appointed Tommy Franks as Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command beginning in July 2000. General Franks served in that role through July 2003. In between was 9/11.

Tommy Franks led the American and Coalition forces to victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The part of American Soldier covering these wars are the most interesting because they combine military maneuvers, politics, action, and commentary. This does not mean that the rest of his autobiography is dull. They are not. General Franks’ writing is clear and engaging and his insider's perspective is informative and interesting.

In addition to his years as a war general, his memoir covers his childhood, his early years in the Army, his tours of Vietnam, his return to college to complete his degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, and how he considered retirement before being called up as commander of Central Command.

The "good old boy" from Midland, Texas rings throughout the book. We also see the diplomacy of General Franks. He provides insights into many of the individuals he interfaced. Those looking for criticism of persons in political office will be disappointed. Many will see his expressing admiration for his own staff, for President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular, but he also has high respect for the office of the president leaving no criticism for Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush.

He lets us know he was surprised by the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that no WMDs were used against American troops under his watch. American Soldier is a compelling book giving significant insights on the war on terrorism from the point of view of both warrior and diplomat. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in November - December 2005.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

This is as enjoyable a book as I have ever read. The narrative style of Ambrose takes what could be a dry lecture and makes it extremely interesting. The book reads like a best selling novel. The book gives a nice background on Captain Meriwether Lewis. It shows how this background prepared Lewis for the journey and how it provided the relationship he had with Jefferson to lead to his selection for the journey. Lewis was Jefferson’s personal secretary when selected to lead the voyage that would take him up the Missouri River, to wintering with the Indians, to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis experienced hardships and saw wonderful sights. The sites included herds of buffalo and Indian tribes with no previous contact with white men. He and his partner, Captain William Clark, made the first maps of the trans-Mississippi West, provided data on the flora and fauna of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and most importantly established the American claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.  

The book shows how Lewis is financially underwritten by a variety of characters. This list includes Jefferson, Clark, numerous Indian chiefs, and Sacagawea, the Indian girl who accompanied the expedition, along with the French-Indian hunter Drouillard, the great naturalists of Philadelphia, the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis, John Quincy Adams, and many more leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.

This is a book about a hero and national unity. This is a book also about a tragedy. When Lewis returned to Washington in the fall of 1806, he was a national hero. Lewis greatest failure was he did not get his journals and notes organized and published. The scholarly value of those would have been great. Publishing them in a timely manner would have made Lewis financially independent. Instead Lewis took to drink, drugs, engaged in land speculation, piled up debts he could not pay, made jealous political enemies, experienced severe depression (probably from the drugs), and ultimately took his own life. Read by Jimmie A. Kepler in February - March 2005.