Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
At over 100 hours, this audiobook and its sequel are a commitment, a 20th century War and Peace. Over 2000 pages, Herman Wouk spins both a family saga and a sort of “bearing witness” document, a detailed history of World War Two that leaves no one excused for humanity’s greatest calamity (so far) and the many acts of blindness on both sides that allowed it to unfold as it did
The fictional narrative centers around an American naval family headed by one Victor “Pug” Henry, a stolid, unpretentious career officer of classic mold. Yearning for a battleship command, Victor is instead sent to be the US’s naval attache in 1939 Berlin, at a time well before most Americans had any desire to get embroiled in another European mess. Because of his thorough reports, Victor finds himself coming to the attention of FDR, who makes him a high-powered informal go-between. Meanwhile, Victor’s two sons have their own stories -- one training as a Navy pilot, while the other “finds himself” in Italy, where he gets involved with a Jewish author and his lovely, headstrong niece. These two, trapped in Europe, become significant viewpoint characters in their own right. Others enter the narrative, too, including Victor’s wife, who is beginning to chafe at the sacrifices of being a Navy wife, and his daughter, who takes a job at a NYC radio station. While most of the action happens behind the lines, we do get a few tastes of the shooting war.
Wouk’s style is a bit nostalgic, but the characters are well-written and credible. For all the contrivances in the plot -- such as Victor managing to meet Hitler, FDR, Churchill, *and* Stalin -- Wouk makes us believe that such path-crossings were plausible. Maybe one family wasn’t in so many places, but history did have plenty of small actors who played such roles. In any case, the small details of the characters’ thoughts and actions give events a full, living color. Sometimes Wouk pulls the camera back and explains in a clear, compelling way what was happening on the broader stage, which was a counterpoint that appealed to me, since the protagonists seldom have all the facts themselves. It’s to his credit that almost nothing feels irrelevant -- personalities and family lives seem to dovetail neatly into greater events and vice-versa.
No, Herman Wouk isn’t Tolstoy, but he’s certainly a writer with a strong grasp of the forces of history, gentle insight into human behavior, the ability to connect small-scale events with large ones, and a storyteller’s gift for putting it all in familiar terms, through the eyes of some memorable characters.
What pleased me most about this book, though, and a big reason for my enthusiastic recommendation, is its absence of simplistic rah-rah patriotism. Instead, Wouk soberly examines the causes of the war and the dangers of nationalism and ideology. He also notes the hypocrisies of British and American imperialism, and the self-absorbed apathy of both countries in the face of fascism’s self-image of surety. One of the most fascinating features of the novel is the inclusion of the memoirs of a German general, translated decades after the war by Pug himself. There’s a creepy familiarity to his critiques of the “decadent” West, and one begins to remember that evil is often rationalized away, sometime quite convincingly, by those who worship strength and power. This mattered at the time the author was writing, around the height of the Vietnam War, and it matters now.
Ultimately, this novel and its sequel are a rich mix of intimate and broad-scale human themes, 20th century history, and wistful nostalgia for a time when the American middle class family embodied all that was hopeful. Audiobook narrator Kevin Pariseau rises to the occasion, with some impressive imitations of certain famous figures, a range of accents, and a narration voice that has both friendliness and gravity. Put the sequel on standby, because you’ll want to know what happens next.
This is one of the top 5 Audible books I have read/listened to. Wouk does a masterful job of creating fully realized characters who are geographically positioned in such a way that we are offered an almost comprehensive view of the years leading to the outbreak of World War II in both the West and the East. The only aspect that we are not privy to is that of the Sino-Japanese front.
The majority of the story is told through the eyes of the Henry and Jastrow families. The patriarch of the Henry family, Victor, is a high-ranking Naval officer and is thus able to traverse the globe in his military duties from Germany to Washington to London, the Soviet Union and Hawaii and so offer the reader a glimpse of the unique situation in each of these locales from 1938-1942. In addition, his son, Byron, and the Jastrow family give us an eyewitness account of both Italy under Mussolini and the outbreak of the war in Poland. And the Jastrow's also offer a Jewish point-of-view of the series of events leading up to World War II and the beginnings of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
Between sections of the main narrative, Wouk also adds excerpts of a book he titles "World Holocaust" which was written by the fictional General Armin von Roon, a Wehrmacht officer, and translated by Victor Henry. These excerpts give the battlefield conditions of each theater of operations as we progress through the years of World War II. It is a brilliant device that ties the story of the main characters and their narrow scope of events to the broad, global scope of the war that threatens the entire globe.
Newly retired, I am a reading fiend! I like many types of books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the exception of romance and fantasy
I put off listening to it WoW due to the sheer length of the book. It intimidated me and I wondered how I could listen to one book for so long. However, I am on a quest to know all I can about this second World War and how it came about. I began the book thinking that I would eventually finish it and reward myself with a book of pure fluff, thereafter.
I was blown away by the story, the character development, the variety of characters, and the real feel to the story. It is so much more than just historical fiction. I felt like the characters became family members or old friends, and I really cared about what happened to them. Herman Wouk is a great novelist.
And, I must add, the narrator, Kevin Pariseau, is spectacular. He deserves 10 stars! I am so glad he was chosen to narrate this book, as he does a masterful job of capturing the characters, their accents, and the women's voices. He is truly a master of narration.
As I progressed through the book, I started imagining which "fun" book I would choose next. As I got closer and closer to the end, I began to think that maybe I should just go on to War and Remembrance, as I did not want to leave the story and characters. I really want to know how they fare as the war rolls on. This is good stuff. This is a wonderful way to learn about our last world war, and we owe it to ourselves to know what actually happened. Only if people know what really happened can they avoid repeating history. At least, that is what I believe.
Daily Dog Walker and LONG Silicon Valley commutes, so I gulp through and love lotsa books, especially literary fiction and Mystery.
Probably not! But that's not a slam, it's a saga, but not...an Epic
Excellent command of multiple characters/intonations - superb actor
Wouldn't. It's a good name.
Brought pre-World War II and beginning of World War II to life through eyes and hearts of one family, making what seems already ancient and long ago deeply personal. An excellent introduction to the era from a very American family/set of eyes.
I have enjoyed the story so much: Wouk combined interesting, engaging characters with fantastically well-researched historical information, described in an approachable way. The narration takes this production to the next level, though; Kevin Pariseau gets the accents, personalities, and even the songs down pat. Wonderful. I went through the first 24 hours of the book in no time, shocking myself every time I reached the end of an 8-hr section and had to download the next!
I read this book when it first came out over 30 years ago and I enjoyed listening to these 45 hours just as much as I enjoyed reading it back then. A delightful family saga with the added bonus of making you feel like you were right there during all the events leading up to World War II. Hopefully Audible will follow quickly with the sequel...........War and Remembrance.
A very good audio book. Having read the book, in print, and seen the movie, I was able to concentrate a little more on the major historical events--apart from the story line. Interesting conflicts in viewpoints by the German General in his historical perspectives from that of an American Naval Officer, Victor Henry. Thoroughly enjoyed the book and wish that Audiobooks would also do War and Remembrance--which covers the rest of WWII. I believe "Winds of War" would be a great book to put on the reading liist of today's high school students for a more personal view of events, attitudes and personalities, and how the world political situation prior to, and at the beginning of WWII has shaped todays world.
I read this when it came out. For years, I gave this book with War and Remembrance as gifts and never came across anyone who didn't share my love of this story.
The history is fascinating, though it definitely has a point of view and you may disagree with some interpretation of events.
The narrator does a great job. When I first started, I felt he didn't get Pug right, but as I went along, I warmed to his interpretation.
I can't recommend this enough, it is worthy of six stars in every category.
I seem to fit in the same demographic as many other reviewers of this book. I first read it about 40 years ago when it was released and then saw the made-for-TV movie. In the intervening years I had forgotten how well Herman Wouk wrote (as of today he is still alive but no longer writing) and how well drawn and compelling the main characters of the book are.
The story, of course, is that of a naval family drawn into the start of World War II up to the point of America's entry into the war. As a vehicle for telling the story of the period up to the Pearl Harbor attack the main character, "Pug" Henry, ends up being assigned to posts that have him, or members of his family, at important places during important times. Thus we get to see vignettes of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joesph Stalin and Adolph Hitler as well as those around all of them.
The characters are compelling, the events were real, the story well-drawn and important and the family large enough to have members scattered around the globe and seeing events from many different perspectives. This is a first class book, extremely well read and highly recommended.