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Posted on Dec 11, 2008 in Books and Movies

Santa’s Suggestions for Military History Books and DVDs

By Frank Chadwick

Making a List, Checking it Twice…
No, not a list of naughty and nice armchair generals, but cool books and DVDs they’ll love for the holidays. Here’s the “A” list of new releases in 2008, sure to bring a smile when they come out of the wrappers. Click on highlighted entries to read Armchair General reviews and articles.

BOOKS

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943, Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt and Company, 2007). Okay, it didn’t quite make it as a 2008 release, but this second volume in Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy (following An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-43) is too good to pass up.

House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia with John R. Bruning (Free Press, 2008). When it comes to war memoirs from the sharp end of the bayonet, Bellavia’s unblinking account of the fighting in Fallujah may end up being to the Iraq War what E.B.Sledge’s With The Old Breed was to WW II in the Pacific.

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Day of the Panzer: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France, Jeff Danby (Casemate, 2008). Another gripping foxhole-level memoir of war, this one covering the desperate fight for survival of a U.S. rifle company deep behind German lines in 1944.

Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill, 1874-1945, Carlos d’Este (Harper Collins, 2008). Is there anything more to say about Churchill? Yes there is, and trust d’Este (best known for his brilliant biography of George S. Patton) to say it.

A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn – The Last Great Battle of the American West, James Donovan (Little, Brown and Company, 2008). Is there anything more to say about Custer? Yes! This new book on the Little Bighorn battle has delighted both general military history audiences and Custer buffs alike, for its painstaking reliance on primary source material and archaeological research as well as a crackling narrative style that keeps the pages turning.

The Forever War, Dexter Filkins (Knopf, 2008). Arguably the preeminent war correspondent of this generation, Filkins has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 1998, and offers a compassionate, intimate, and shockingly honest account of the war against Islamic fundamentalism.

The Wars Against Napoleon: Debunking The Myth of the Napoleonic Wars, General Michel Franceschi and Ben Weider (Savas Beatie, 2007). Is there anything more to say about Napoleon? Well, we will probably never completely unravel the man and his place in the world, but Franceschi and Weider take a terrific stab at dispelling some of the myths. Of course, one person’s myth is another’s orthodoxy, which is what makes this sort of book so much fun.

Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam, Oscar Gilbert (Casemate, 2008). A useful follow-on to the author’s previous works on Marine tank battles in the Pacific and Korea, this is also a nice bookshelf companion to General Donn A. Starry’s Armored Combat in Vietnam (Bobbs-Merrill, 1980).

The Maps of Gettysburg: An Atlas of the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3-July 13, 1863, Bradley Gottfried (Savas Beatie, 2007). All real students of military history are map junkies, and sometimes you just have to feed the habit. Gottfried offers in one package an atlas, a history, and a reference guide, and it works well on all three levels.

Tarawa and the Marshalls: The U.S. Marines in World War II, Eric Hammel (Zenith Press, 2008). This is unique among our recommendations, being a pictorial history. Hundreds of black and white photographs, many of them never before published, bring this campaign to stark life. Unless you were there, you’ve never seen the Pacific War in quite this detail before.

We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway (Harper Collins, 2008). A moving and powerful follow-on to Moore and Galloway’s brilliant We Were Soldiers Once… And Young.

Victory Was Beyond Their Grasp: With the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division from Hürtgen Forest to the Heart of the Reich, Douglas E. Nash (Aberjona Press, 2008). How refreshing to get a view from the “other side of the hill” in the European theater of WW II that isn’t just another hero-worshipping celebration of one SS panzer division or another.

Truman & MacArthur: Policy, Politics and the Hunger for Honor and Renown, Michael D. Pearlman (Indiana University Press, 2008). Avoiding political polemics and the nearly overwhelming temptation to take sides in this famous controversy, Pearlman lays out in engaging detail the military and diplomatic situation which led up to Truman’s controversial relief of MacArthur, and explores the constitutional issues of war direction which remain burning issues today.

Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World, Ralph Peters (Stackpole Books, 2008). This is not your typical travel book. Col. David Glantz once fondly described Ralph Peters to this reviewer as, “One of the bravest – and craziest – guys I’ve ever known.” Need we say more?

Once A Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander’s Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage, and Recovery Nick Popaditch with Mike Steere (Savas Beatie, 2008). A wrenching memoir not only of house-to-house combat in Fallujah from the tank commander’s perspective, but also the enormous price soldiers pay, and the heroism that is necessary not only for victory, but also for recovery from shattering wounds. See Once a Marine Web site.

DVDs

Combat! The Complete Series (1962-67), Directors Laszlo Benedek et al (Image Entertainment, 2005).
Yes, this violates our “2008 release” criterion. So sue us. What’s truly remarkable about Combat! is how well it has aged. Part of it has to do with consistently good writing, acting, and direction (many episodes being directed by the late, great Robert Altman), but much of it also stems from the gritty authenticity of the work, largely devoid of romanticism or shallow sentimentality. The fact that many of the writers and directors were veterans of WW II undoubtedly contributed to the effortlessly accurate portrayal of the details of front-line life. Add that to a remarkable string of guest stars, and plots which were thoughtful and character-driven, and you have one of early television’s richest dramas.

Oppenheimer, Director Barry Davis (BBC Warner, 2008)
Originally aired in 1980, this is a newly released DVD collection of the seven-part BBC/PBS miniseries. Sam Waterston gives a standout portrayal of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific head of the wartime Manhattan Project.

John Adams, Director Tom Hooper (HBO, 2008).
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by David McCullough, this brilliant seven-part series explores the career of Adam, the second president (played by Paul Giamatti), and arguably the most important of the founding fathers.

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, Director Stephen Low (Stephen Low Distributing/IMAX, 2008).
Before there was Top Gun, or NTC, there was Red Flag, the U.S.A.F. precursor to the entire array of ultra-realistic modern tactical training programs. This 48-min documentary puts you right in the cockpit. Originally released in 2004, this is the updated Blu-ray DVD release with extra goodies.

Battle By Sea Movie Collection, Various Directors (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2008).
Here’s a fun collection of classic WW II naval films in a new DVD package. Included are Run Silent Run Deep (Clark Gable and James Garner, 1958), Submarine X-1 (James Caan, 1969), and The Enemy Below (Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens, 1969). Great stuff.

The Presidents Collection, Various Directors (PBS – Paramount Home Entertainment, 2008).
Terrific compilation of the video biographies of ten important twentieth century U.S. Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush) from the acclaimed PBS series American Experience.

Generation Kill, Writer/Producer David Simon (HBO, 2008)
This is the fantastic 8-part HBO mini-series covering the experiences of a Marine recon company during the initial invasion if Iraq. Widely acclaimed by critics and Iraq War veterans alike for its unflinching honesty and faithfulness to its subject matter, this will be a must-have in any military video library. It goes on sale December 18, just in time for Christmas.

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