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The Good War: An Oral History of World War…

The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (original 1984; edition 1997)

by Studs Terkel

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Title:The Good War: An Oral History of World War II
Authors:Studs Terkel
Info:New Press, The (1997), Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Good War: An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel (1984)


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Another great book, and I speak as a Brit, whose dad served in WW2 ( )
  mikerees | Aug 16, 2015 |
I think what impressed me most about this book is the way that Terkel was able to preserve the integrity of each person's voice; each interview is truly a unique perspective on the war (even though many of the interviews are built around the same events). Furthermore, the grouping of the interviews, while broadly thematic, is just random enough to preserve the feel of an actual conversation. For me, both of these aspects are huge wins and make this book a unique achievement.

Given the diversity, there are two themes that constantly appear:
1) Fear of a nuclear holocaust (especially in the later sections)
2) Strong anti-war sentiment

Obviously, this may (probably does) reflect Terkel's own feelings but it DOES give the reader a chance to pause and consider some very deep questions about American history & culture: Why was there a huge shift in our attitude toward/enthusiasm for war between World War II and Vietnam (btw, the Korean Conflict was BARELY mentioned anywhere)? Did nuclear proliferation play a key role in that changing attitude as "blowing ourselves off the map" became a real possibility? Why does war look so glorious to those who've never participated in one...and so ambiguous to those who were in the thick of it? (One of the most astounding things to me were the soldiers' affirmations that World War II was a "good war" while simultaneously bemoaning their own inhuman acts and attitudes toward the enemy, especially the Japanese. It seemed to me a very odd contradiction; something that you would think would quickly fracture the psyche in unhealthy ways. But these soldiers had lived for DECADES with these thoughts.

I think this book is too disjointed to be an "introduction" to World War II era, but I think anyone who wants to understand the era must read this book alongside Tom Brokaw's much more hagiographic "The Greatest Generation." Together, I think they provide a very good portrait of the American experience of World War II at all social levels.

A truly tremendous work that leaves me eager to read more of Terkel's oral histories... ( )
  Jared_Runck | Aug 5, 2015 |
Terkel's work is clearly an enormous undertaking. Anyone interested in any element of World War II would be immediately captivated by Terkel's work, which gives a fair and thorough discussion of all elements of the war through the words of Americans, Germans, Brits, Japanese, and many others. This book is a true credit to understanding the views of the powerful and the common in such an important time in world history.

My only wish is that Terkel would have cut up responses to fit in a chronological order, although his division by topic is close enough.

5/5 for an incredible breadth of knowledge, interesting interview contacts, and the diverse array of topics presented ( )
  bdtrump | May 9, 2015 |
This is the World War II info that you won't find in the history books. If you've read any of Terkel's books, you know what to expect: an expansive cross-section of people giving their perspectives on the topic at hand. It sounds so simple, but it isn't. I wish our military and civilian leaders would read a book like this before they get us into any more messes. (Note: I'm NOT saying that WW II wasn't worth fighting; it absolutely was.)

Just one little story by way of illustrating the value of Terkel's approach. I had no idea that young women of that era were pressured into marrying the soldiers and sailors that were leaving for combat, some of them they barely knew. You know, the whole "send them off with a smile" thing, but writ large. When these men returned home, the couple had to learn to live together somehow, with the added complication of PTSD in many cases. I wonder what the ramifications of this phenomenon were, and whether it contributed to the rise in divorce down the road. I've never seen this covered in another WW II work, let alone the stories of the others in this book.

This is an amazing achievement, and I strongly recommend it for everyone. ( )
  Pat_F. | Nov 19, 2014 |
121 interviews from Americans about many facets of WWII. It's a good book for those looking for colour about "America's War." Being transcripts of oral interviews there has been some editing. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 10, 2013 |
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In memory, we find the most complete release from the narrowness of presented time and place. ... The picture is one of human beings confronted by a world in which they can be masters only as they ... discover ways of escape from the complete sway of immediate circumstances. -- F.C. Bartlett, Remembering
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?
I learned that war is not so bad
I learned about the great ones we have had
We fought in Germany and in France
And I am someday to get my chance
That's what I learned in school today
That's what I learned in school.
-- A song by Tom Paxton
For James Cameron, master of his trade
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"I was in combat for six weeks, forty-two days."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345325680, Mass Market Paperback)

Studs Terkel, the noted Chicago-based journalist, gathers the reminiscences of 121 participants in World War II (called "the good war" because, in the words of one soldier, "to see fascism defeated, nothing better could have happened to a human being"). These participants, men and women, famous and ordinary, tell stories that add immeasurably to our understanding of that cataclysmic time. One Soviet soldier recounts that, surrounded by the Germans, his comrades tapped the powder from their last cartridges and inserted notes to their families inside the casings; Russian children, he goes on, still turn these up every now and again and deliver the notes to the soldiers' families. Terkel touches on many themes along the way, including institutionalized racism in the United States military, the birth of the military-industrial complex, and the origins of the Cold War.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:49 -0400)

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Oral history evokes the innocent idealism, as well as the terror and horror, of ordinary Americans at home and abroad during World War II.

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