Review: Humanity at Times of War

What I write about is not war but the courage of man.
– Cornelius Ryan

Let me start off by saying this: I love history. Because not only is truth stranger than fiction, it is often more dramatic, unbelievable, shocking and entertaining as well.

Thanks to my father, I was hooked on to world politics and World War stories from an early age. But apart from exposure through movies and a few lessons in high school, somehow I never delved deep into World War 2 events.

A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned that a wartime correspondent and author by the name of Cornelius Ryan has written a great set of books on WW2. I had never heard of this gentleman before. Having seen and ‘played’ (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault) the events of D-Day before, I was excited about diving deep into the historic day a little more. Based on the reviews on Amazon and B&N, I decided to go ahead and order the book titled ‘The Longest Day’. At the same time, I realized that there is a movie adaptation by the same name; how did I manage to miss that?! But since I am a ‘books > movies’ guy when it comes to adaptations, I didn’t watch the movie. I was halfway through the first book when I ordered the second one: ‘The Last Battle’. There was no stopping now!

Cornelius_Ryan_Combined

Wow, what an epic nine-hundred page journey it has been; certainly an emotional roller-coaster.

These were the first history books I read that did not have any follow-up quizzes or exams afterwards. And I loved them! Cornelius Ryan is a great writer. Here’s why –

  • Not once did the books come off as ‘boring history textbooks’. Fascinating descriptions of the environment, the battles and the (voluntary and involuntary) participants in them. You’re not reading anymore: you’re sucked in, experiencing a horrible, glorious and decisive period in 1944-45.
  • He has an amazing way of revealing factual information: through dialogues, famous speeches and messages, and sometimes even from the perspective of a civilian, intently listening to the radio. I got goosebumps while reading the radio broadcast that announced the invasion of France (D-Day) to the western world. What a moment it must have been, especially for the loved ones of the soldiers involved.
  • The human emotions in the books are staggering. Often, we are only presented with the tactical and battle elements of WW2 but the true stories of civilians caught in the crossfire are heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.

There are so many things that happened in WW2 that are not given much footage in pop culture. How many women wanted the Allies to capture Berlin because of the horror stories they had heard about the Russian soldiers; the shock when some of the soldiers behaved like gentlemen; the final moments before the greatest armada in modern history set sail from Britain to land on the coast of France; French civilians’ surprising encounters with the brave Allied paratroopers who landed in France a few hours before the naval assault; Hitler’s decision-making process, Stalin’s relations with the West, and many other things. There is a reason some of the German generals were feared and admired by both the sides. The books provide detailed (point of view style) information on two of them: Rommel and Heinrici.

Whether you’re a history buff, an avid reader or just someone who loves great stories, both these books are highly recommended. So don’t be scared, not all history books bite! 🙂

I stumbled upon this amazing promotional video for The Last Battle from the sixties. It has footage from the Battle for Berlin!

Thanks for reading!

– Omkar

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