Comes the War is the newest book in Ed Ruggero’s Eddie Harkins series, and it’s set against the heroism and heartbreak of WWII. Ed Ruggero is also a former Army officer, so he knows a thing or two about military history!
To celebrate the recent release of his newest novel, Ed is joining us on the blog to talk about some of his favorite military history books.
Read his recommendations below, and order your copy of Comes the War—available now wherever books are sold!
By Ed Ruggero
The year begins on a good note for the rebels, with them sitting outside Boston while Britain’s army is shut in the town. In January 1776 George Washington and Henry Knox, his director of artillery, put up a strong firing position south of town, using cannon Knox has dragged overland from Fort Ticonderoga in New York. The Americans are thrilled that the British decide to retreat and celebrate the event, but the enemy, with their much stronger navy, will no doubt reappear.
The British come back to New York in the autumn, maneuvering against the rebels and forcing the abandonment of thousands of American soldiers at Fort Washington. The general after whom the fort is named led his belittled army across New Jersey and Pennsylvania as he tried to avoid capitulation. By December it seems only a matter of time, and at the end of the year a large number of American enlistments are up. The British have called the season, retreating back to New York and leaving hired Hessians to defend a series of outposts in New Jersey.
But George Washington is not done. He launches a surprise attack on Trenton on Christmas Day, which is successful. He retreats back to Pennsylvania before realizing the British are slow to respond. In another attack he defeats a British force sent to Princeton, New Jersey to meet him. The year 1776 was one filled with some of the highest and lowest points of the American Revolution, and McCullough brings it to life.
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the battle of Gettysburg doesn’t try to cover everything, as a history might, yet it is still successful in sticking close—very close—to the facts. I use this as the sole read-ahead when taking folks to visit the battlefield because it gives a novelist’s temperature of the field and the times, but also because it raises the profile of a forgotten hero of this terrible fight, a 34-year old former professor turned military commander, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The novel brings us the story of a remarkable man who was famous in his own lifetime but had become largely lost to history in the years since his death. Shaara homes in on those few hours that were so important to the Federal cause, making his Chamberlain a man who fights his own weaknesses at the same time he takes on the natural shortcomings of his men. Shaara does take liberties, such as when his fictitious commander addresses a mutiny among men from another unit, but his portrayal of what the real Chamberlain believed is important.
Told from the perspective of a German private soldier in World War One, this novel is sensitive enough to capture the truth about the cruelty of war from the perspective of a powerless soldier, who goes where he is supposed to go, fights whom he’s supposed to fight, and hates both what he experiences and what he has become with enough insight to reach any reader. Published in 1928, eventually translated into a number languages, the book reached a vast number of people worldwide before being shut down by Nazi efforts in 1933. Remarque, an eighteen-year-old private German soldier in the Great War, was wounded several times in that fight. He worked at a number of jobs while laboring on this masterwork, and his instant success on its publication was enough to gain him liberty to live in the United States during World War Two. Because it is told from the perspective of a young solider, the novel contains enough truth for any side.
I chose this title because it takes the opposite approach of All Quiet, following the highest levels of government. The non-fiction work tracks the World War Two experiences of three Americans who were critical to the British effort when that island held out the last resistance to Hitler: John G. Winant, the American ambassador to Great Britain in the war; the hard-working Edward R. Murrow, perhaps the best-known of the American radio correspondents in England; and Averell Harriman, the wealthy individual who served as the American Lend-Lease administrator for Great Britain. These men, drawn here with the novelist’s care for the entire picture, helped save Britain—and thus the Allies—from defeat at German hands while clinging as the last resistance. Olson does a remarkable job telling all of the story, the shady parts as well as the heroic (For instance, Pamela Churchill, the prime minister’s daughter-in-law, had affairs with both Harriman and Murrow.) It is most interesting to find that all was not well among the Allies, that the United States turned away from Britain soon after the guns went silent, leaving that island nation that had lost one quarter of its wealth and two thirds of its export trade. (Britain would pay off its debt to the United States in December 2006.) Likewise all was not well with these men who had worked so hard to help build the victory the Allies enjoyed, however briefly, in 1945. American presidential aide Harry Hopkins saw what was happening and wrote in his private notes, “Why should we deliberately set out to make a weak Great Britain in the next hundred years?” America, Hopkins wrote, had a moral debt to repay. “I believe that the British have saved our skins twice—in 1914 and again in 1940. They, with the French, took the brunt of the attack in the First World War, and the Germans came within a hair’s breadth of licking them both before we got in it. This time, it was Britain alone that held the fort, and they held that fort for us just as much for themselves, because we would not have had a chance to have licked Hitler had Britain fallen.”
And so begins the first story in this National Book Award winning collection of short tales, with the narrator of each taking a bend on the predictable. Klay varies his storytellers, from the Marine grunt to the civilian who is tagged to start a league of . . . wait for it . . . baseball teams. That’s supposed to help the civilians appreciate just how generous Americans are, or perhaps it’s meant to show the person back in the US of A that his generosity in supplying this pastime to the war-battered people of Iraq is meant to undo all the terrible things our military is doing there. Take your pick.
This collection of short-stories takes that unconventional approach—you never know what you’re going to get when you start one. But know this: you will be affected by the terrible, powerful images, the simple performance of words that will help you see why war is one of the most brutal experiences a person, any person, can go through.
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