The Panzer Killers is one of the best campaign histories I have ever read, and certainly the best I've read about the U.S. Army in Europe during the Second World War. I reviewed it for the Wall Street Journal and you should click on the link and read that review in full. Mr Bolger is himself a three-star general who in retirement has become a masterly historian. Here he tells what the sub-title promises is "The Untold Story of a Fighting General and His Spearhead Tank Division's Charge into the Third Reich." Sub-titles these days are full of hype, but this one is amply supported by the book. The general is Maurice Rose, born a Jew and indeed the son of a rabbi (and grandson of another!) whose grave in Belgium is marked by a cross, so little did he make of his religion. And he was indeed a fighting general, whose command post was called Omaha Forward, often enough so Far Forward that he tread on the heels of German panzers. Once he killed one enemy soldier and captured 12 others with his pistol; the next time, however, it was the Germans who killed him. Mr Bolger also goes a long way toward redeeming the U.S. Sherman heavy tank, too often reviled by historians who weren't there to see how well 3rd Armored Division tank crews fared against the panzers they usually encountered. When I worked for The Overseas Weekly years ago, I often traveled with 3rd Armored in maneuvers, and I am glad to know how they got their fighting name as The Spearhead. Really, you should read this book. I wish it had maps of the terrain, but otherwise I can't recommend it too highly.
Another great book, though it probably won't appeal to everyone as much as it did to me. Louis Menand is a Harvard professor and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, so he combines rigorous scholarship with brilliant writing. In The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War he tells the story of the golden years in America from victory in the Second World War to the fall of Saigon. This of course was the world in which I grew up, so for me those 20 years bulk larger than the 46 years that have elapsed since America shamelessly abandoned South Vietnam to be conquered in a blitzkrieg by North Vietnamese tanks. Mr Menand does this in 18 wondrous essays about books, music, painting, philosophy, student rebels and, well, gosh -- everything. He captures a generation in a way I've never seen equaled.
When the Wuflu Plague kept us at home last winter, I realized that though I am still in good health, and would still be skiing if not for the risk of winding up in an oxygen tent, neverthless I'd soon be 90 years old. So I decided to write one more book, which I plan to release on my birthday, November 2: Looking Back From Ninety: The Depression, the War, and the Good Life that Followed. The words spilled so fast that by the end of last years I thought the book was done except for some smoothing. But when I read The Free World I was reminded of so many more things, from encountering Elvis Presley in Bremerhaven to falling in love with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan in Aspen, that I'm having another go at the manuscript, as books-in-progress are still quaintly called.
Fallen Tigers is an odd and rather scattershot book. The blurbs are ecstatic and the reviews are favorable or fawning, but it really fails in its promise to detail "The Fate of America's Missing Airmen in China during World War II." And it's not really about the Flying Tigers! About the only time it touches upon the American Volunteer Group that joined the Chinese Air Force in the summer and fall of 1941 is when a few of them (George McMillan, Tex Hill) later turn up as part of the USAAF squadrons that went to China in 1942. Instead the focus is on anyone who happened to fly against the Japanese over the Chinese mainland, oddly including a chapter about the Doolittle Raiders who launched from an aircraft carrier and had nothing at all to do with the Tigers. (And then, weirdly, he says nothing about the fate of the eight Raiders whom the Japanese captured, shooting three of them and so mistreating the others that only one was fit to testify at the Shanghai war crimes tribunal in 1946.) Arnold Shamblin, meanwhile, isn't mentioned in the book, though he was one of the 109 men who did join the Chinese Air Force, in his case as a flight instructor. Yet he joined the AVG combat squadrons in 1942, was shot down over China in July, was captured by the Japanese, and like so many Anglo-Americans taken prisoner did not survive the war. For more, see the Annals of the Flying Tigers Blue skies! — Daniel Ford
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