#Bookreview – To the Last Man, a novel of the first world war by Jeff Shaara

What Amazon says

Jeff Shaara has enthralled readers with his New York Times bestselling novels set during the Civil War and the American Revolution. Now the acclaimed author turns to World War I, bringing to life the sweeping, emotional story of the war that devastated a generation and established America as a world power.

Spring 1916: the horror of a stalemate on Europe’s western front. France and Great Britain are on one side of the barbed wire, a fierce German army is on the other. Shaara opens the window onto the otherworldly tableau of trench warfare as seen through the eyes of a typical British soldier who experiences the bizarre and the horrible–a “Tommy” whose innocent youth is cast into the hell of a terrifying war.

In the skies, meanwhile, technology has provided a devastating new tool, the aeroplane, and with it a different kind of hero emerges–the flying ace. Soaring high above the chaos on the ground, these solitary knights duel in the splendor and terror of the skies, their courage and steel tested with every flight.

My review

I listened to the 30 hour audio book of To the Last Man. It was well narrated and the narrator, Paul Michael, had a pleasant voice which is important for such a long listen.

I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about the USA’s involvement in WW1 and it certainly surpassed my expectations in that regard.

The first half of the book is devoted to the role of aviators in this terrible war and focuses on the establishment of the American escadrille, called the Lafayette Escadrille, comprising of American pilots who flew for France prior to America’s late entrance into the war.

Raoul Lufbery is the central character for the telling of this perspective. Lufbery is not a war hero I’d heard of before reading this book, but he was my favourite character. Through Lufbery’s eyes, the reader meets other American aviation heroes from this flying corp including Kiffin Rockwell, Victor Chapman, Norman Prince, William Thaw, and others. I found the descriptions of the in air fights, different aeroplanes and guns, and attitudes and attire of the pilots fascinating. This is exactly the sort of detail I enjoy in a historical novel as it makes the people and events very real.

This section of the book also presents the German aviation perspective through the eyes of the famous Red Baron. I had, of course, heard of Manfred Von Richthofen, but I didn’t know all the details presented in this book. I thought the Red Baron and the attitudes and culture of the German military were well described.

The second half of this book was devoted to the story of America’s entry into the war and the appointment of General John Pershing to head up the USA army. The first part of this section included a lot of detail about the politics of America’s entrance into the war both internally, and among the British and the French. I found it very intriguing.

The last part of the book details the experiences of an American farm boy turned doughboy and his experiences in The trenches and on the ground in France. The details about the tanks, weapons and battles were extraordinarily well researched and the fights and battles vivid and horrifying.

These are two short extracts which illustrate the detailed descriptions of life for soldiers in this war:

“Soaked and thoroughly embarrassed, they were given soft blobs of foul-smelling soup that carried away the last remnants of the creatures who had taken up residence on the skin and hair of each man, and then, more hoses.”

“The darkness was complete, a slow march into a black, wet hell. He was the last man in the short column, one part of a line of twenty men, guided by the low sounds in front of him, soft thumps, boots on the sagging duckboards.”

The reason I am allocating 4 stars to this book is because the short clipped style of writing was a bit irritating in some parts. There was also a relentless usage of the word – said. I found it quite distracting and started listening for it.

For me, the disclosures about ‘the doughboy’ Roscoe Temples feelings of complete displacement and worry he’ll never fit in at home again we’re realistic and vivid. I was glad, however, that the book ended on a bit of a high note after all the misery and loss.

This book is a must read for people interested in learning more about America’s participation in the war.

If you are interested, you can listen to my review and a short extract from this book here:

Purchase To the Last Man by Jeff Shaara

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31 thoughts on “#Bookreview – To the Last Man, a novel of the first world war by Jeff Shaara

      1. Yes, he is more of a historian. His book was a retelling of events and is not a fictional story. It is a fictionalised biography of many famous people. He does do it well and makes the telling very vivid and interesting.

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  1. Shaara does impeccable work, but I’ve not been drawn to this time period. I think it’s rather awesome that you wanted to read a book about the involvement of the US in WWI when it is not your home nation. An excellent review, Robbie. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I struggle to read war stories because I already know the horrors and don’t want to see them spelled out in detail. But to know it was handled well for people who are interested in learning more is a good thing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Good review of an author who has many fans. I have not read his books but have a friend who has read them all, particularly about the Civil War. I think it’s a good idea to “read” (listen) a book like this on Audible. Great review of the pluses and minuses, Robbie. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Pam, I am astonished at them number of books Jeff Shaara has, given the length of his books and the subject matter which requires so much research. I will listen to more of his books. He does have a few about the civil war and also about WW2. I am going to listen to The Frozen Hours about the Korean War next.

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  4. An audio book wouldn’t do it for me, because my memory is visual – I need to see the words on a printed page to remember:):) After my graduate work reading has drastically changed.I now only read magazines and the self help category. I am in my third year now to finish “The Hobbit,” lol!

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    1. Hi Junie-Jesh, I have always had a passion for classic books and historical novels. I like listening to them as audio books because the narrator reads slower than I read to myself so I enjoy the vivid descriptions and writing in many of these books more. Also, I can listen to them while doing boring tasks like driving or ironing. I think our tastes in books change all the time over our lives. When my boys were babies, I only read romances by authors like Mauve Binchy.

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      1. Thank you for giving me that very personal info. To keep up with all my assignments in grad. school I took a course in speed reading and that “ruined” my reading just for pleasure probably!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this one, Robbie. I have never listened to an audiobook. I do think it’s a great way to hear a story and especially if the narrator is good.

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    1. HI Jan, audiobooks are lovely. I am going to see if I can convert some of my books to audio books as I think that is the way of the future. Michael has started listening to audio books while he does other things too. It is interesting to see your kids start doing the things you do.

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