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Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose
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Band of Brothers

by Stephen E. Ambrose

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Summary: In World War II, the men of the 101st Airborne, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Easy Company were an elite group of soldiers. Trained to parachute in for ground operations behind enemy lines, these men were key in many of the major European battles of the war. After extensive training in the states, they first saw action on D-Day, held the line at the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Hitler's home at Berchtesgaden. Their amazing accomplishments came not only for their training, but from their fierce dedication to their country, their company, and above all else, to the man fighting next to them.

Review: If we're talking general principles, I prefer reading the book before I see the movie. In the case of Band of Brothers, however, there was absolutely no way I ever would have picked up the book if I hadn't seen the excellent miniseries first. First, because it probably wouldn't have interested me: I wouldn't say military history is even close to being "my thing". And secondly, because watching the movie first really helped me with some of the things that I am bad at when I'm reading. For example, I'm very bad at keeping track of names when there's a huge cast of characters, none of whom appear on the page very often. I also don't visualize faces when I read, so having the characters as they're built up on screen, and having the actors' faces to put with the names, was a huge help in terms of following along with the book. Another thing that I am very, very bad at is visualizing battles, particularly when it comes to troop movements and strategy. (Potentially caused by a lack of playing Risk as a child?) Having maps at the beginning of the book helped with this a little, but having the visual basis from the miniseries to draw on helped me understand what Ambrose was describing throughout the book. Ambrose is not writing for the casual reader, either. He is writing for people who know military and military history and military weapons and military ranks and military abbreviations and military troop organization, etc. I knew things like NCO and XO already, but he'd toss in things like CP and "Monty" without ever defining who or what they were.

So, I definitely would have enjoyed the book substantially less if I didn't have the background of the miniseries to work with. But did I gain anything from reading the book at all? On the whole, I would say yes. Much like my experience with Generation Kill (which I did very similarly, saw the miniseries then read the book), seeing the miniseries gave me the visual basis for understanding the book, but reading the book gave me the details that got cut or just didn't come across on film. More details about training, about life in camp, about the various military actions, and especially about the place of Easy Company in the larger context of the war. On the flipside, however, the miniseries focuses more on the people, on developing the characters, which I prefer but which is not really Ambrose's focus. (Although his description of the post-war years were more detailed than in the miniseries, and was one of the more interesting parts of the book.)

I was also not particularly fond of Ambrose's writing style. Apart from the constant military jargon, his tone was incredibly simplified, almost to the point of being ridiculous. (At one point he says "Hale's promotion caused some mumble-mumble in 1st platoon." "Mumble-mumble"? Seriously?) A prose stylist he is not. And while his (well-deserved) respect and admiration for these men came through clearly, the text occasionally felt a little bit cavalier about mentioning casualties or lists of deaths. (Plus this gem: "Of course there were some rapes, some mistreatment of individual Germans, and some looting, but it is simple fact to state that other conquering armies in WWII, perhaps most of all the Russian but including the Japanese and German, acted differently." America: at least we weren't as rapey as those other guys!)

So: interesting, yes. Well-researched, yes. Compellingly written, not so much. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I'm not sorry I read it, but I doubt I'll be looking up anything else by Ambrose. If you're a military history buff, you've probably already read it; if you're more casually interested in World War II (or even if you're not), I definitely recommend the miniseries, which is amazing. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Feb 10, 2014 |
Mr. Ambrose captures the essence of combat, close-living in combat, and the after-thoughts of these veterans, in such a manner that you feel as if you are living through their recollections. Instead of rehashing battles and information concerning battles, Mr. Ambrose takes you on a journey through World War II through the eyes of these individuals. Furthermore, he takes you beyond the war, and brings you into where they move on in life after the war. I set this book down, with a huge admiration for Winters and the men under his command. These individuals were truly special soldiers - and volunteers at that. An excellent accounting that brings you closer to the war and these men than any other depiction would have. I'd give it more than five stars - but that's the top limit. ( )
  TommyElf | Jan 5, 2014 |
The excellent HBO mini-series of the same name was based primarily on this book that follows E Company, 506th regiment, of the 101st Airborne from their training in the United States through the end of the war in Europe. During that period, they suffered 150 percent casualties. Ambrose describes the intense personal relationship of trust that evolved during the training of this elite group.

The book fills in the holes that were annoyingly present in the series; for example, the details of the sergeant’s revolt against Captain Sobel, their company commander, following his harassment of Lt. Winters. (Sobel never forgave the company and lived a difficult life after the war, eventually committing suicide in 1988. Neither his ex-wife, nor his sons, nor any member of E Company attended his funeral.) Ironically, Ambrose and most of the company credit Sobel with having melded the company together in such a way that they became a very effective fighting force. They scored a phenomenal 97 percent on their physical fitness test, so high, in fact, that the brass thought the battalion’s colonel had faked the results and made them do the whole thing over: they scored 98 percent the second time. They fought in many of the major campaigns after their drop behind the lines on D-Day, including Bastogne, where they replaced fleeing American troops, following the last German counteroffensive of the war. It was a brutal experience, but the training and intimacy they had gained under Sobel — and perhaps even the NCO bonding during the mutiny — that gave them the total trust in each other which proved to be so invaluable.

The relief of Bastogne was nothing short of a logistics miracle. On December 17 alone, Eisenhower managed to move 60,000 men plus ammunition in 11,000 trucks; within a week he had 250,000 men on the line, but many of them were short winter clothing and other essentials to make the cold and wet less miserable.

E Company was one of the first into Berchtesgarden, a looter’s paradise. Winters and a colleague still use a set of silver they lifted from one of the German residences. If the Germans objected, one of the soldiers wrote his parents, a “pistol flashed in his face, however, can persuade anybody.” As the brass moved in, it became difficult for the lesser ranks to hold on to some of the fancier prizes. One soldier had to turn over a Mercedes he had liberated. He thought it might be a good idea first to test the windows to see if they were bullet-proof. He discovered that if you used armor-piercing ammo, “it would get the job done.” The radiator turned out not to be so well armed, and Winters thanked the man for his research, “agreeing that one never knew when this kind of research would come in handy.” Some other soldiers decided to see if their Mercedes could survive a 30-meter fall, so they pushed it over a cliff. It could not. “So the brass got luxury automobiles without windows or water” in the radiator.

The points system used to rotate the men home became a source of great unhappiness. The men of E Company had been at D-Day, the Ardennes, and Arnhem. All the survivors had four battle stars, and most had Purple Hearts --almost everyone in the infantry had one of those-- but few had decorations which garnered more points. Even though Berchtesgarden was relatively easy duty, the men wanted to get home. Unfortunately, because they had so many replacements, the brass felt it was important to get them trained for the expected invasion of Japan, so exercises were the order of the day, something that infuriated the veterans. The prevalence of liquor meant that everyone was drinking too much and traffic accidents were common. There were seventy wrecks during June and July, killing twenty men and injuring another 100. Several other men were shot to death by drunk GI’s. One such shooter was nearly beaten to death by E Company men after he shot one of their members in the head -- he was saved only through the intervention of a German doctor, but was disabled for the rest of his life. When the captain and colonel came to investigate and were told what had happened, the colonel’s only response was that they should “have shot the son of a bitch.”

Ambrose is a cheerleader and glories in the role, but clearly we owe a debt of gratitude to the civilian soldiers who endured a great deal of hardship for little glory or reward. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Of all the books I've read by Ambrose--or non-fiction books about the military side of World War II, this is my favorite by far. E Company of the 101st Airborne proved a great perch to see the overall sweep and boots on the ground perspective on World War II. This company participated in the D-Day Landings, the Battle of the Bulge, and even at the end of the war the capture of Hitler's "eagle's nest." No doubt the resonance of this book for me was helped by watching the miniseries--which was excellent. But the book, based on extensive interviews with the surviving soldiers and taking them from boot camp to V-Day and beyond just shines. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Sep 6, 2013 |
There's pretty much nothing that I can say about this book that hasn't already been said. This exhaustively researched book details not only the collective movements of the 101st Airborne across Europe during the Second World War, but the individual struggles of the men who made up Easy Company, perhaps the most close-knit company in the entire regiment. To have the war broken down to an individual scale like this is almost indescribable; you can understand what people mean when they say that it genuinely seemed like the end of the world, like they couldn't see any future at all beyond an interminable struggle or an ignominious defeat. That these men continued, and indeed won, while fighting their own personal demons (many caused by combat itself) is a true source of inspiration. In summation: Read it. Buy it. If you cry, it's worth it. And if you can find one of these men who's still alive, and some of them are, drop them a line to say thank you. ( )
  themythicalcodfish | Aug 13, 2013 |
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
Van Normandië tot Hitlers Adelaarsnest : de Easy-compagnie, 506de Regiment, 101ste Luchtlandingsdivisie
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To all those members of the Parachute Infantry, United States Army, 1941-1945, who wear the Purple Heart not as a decoration but as a badge of office.
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The men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army, came from different backgrounds.
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This is for the book by Stephen E. Ambrose. It is not the 2001 miniseries by Spielberg. The "Original Publication Date" is 1992, not 2001 as some users are incorrectly setting.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 074322454X, Paperback)

As grippingly as any novelist, preeminent World War II historian Stephen Ambrose tells the horrifying, hallucinatory saga of Easy Company, whose 147 members he calls the nonpareil combat paratroopers on earth circa 1941-45. Ambrose takes us along on Easy Company's trip from grueling basic training to Utah Beach on D-day, where a dozen of them turned German cannons into dynamited ruins resembling "half-peeled bananas," on to the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of part of the Dachau concentration camp, and a large party at Hitler's "Eagle's Nest," where they drank the madman's (surprisingly inferior) champagne. Of Ambrose's main sources, three soldiers became rich civilians; at least eight became teachers; one became Albert Speer's jailer; one prosecuted Bobby Kennedy's assassin; another became a mountain recluse; the despised, sadistic C.O. who first trained Easy Company (and to whose strictness many soldiers attributed their survival of the war) wound up a suicidal loner whose own sons skipped his funeral.

The Easy Company survivors describe the hell and confusion of any war: the senseless death of the nicest kid in the company when a souvenir Luger goes off in his pocket; the execution of a G.I. by his C.O. for disobeying an order not to get drunk. Despite the gratuitous horrors it relates, Band of Brothers illustrates what one of Ambrose's sources calls "the secret attractions of war ... the delight in comradeship, the delight in destruction ... war as spectacle." --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:00 -0400)

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The story of the men who were in Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne during World War II.

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