To be sure, Fehrenbach has written a novel that chronicles the Korean war in all of its tragedy, savagery and unlikely heroism. His narrative of each stage of the conflict, drawing on a multitude of resources, gives us an excellent view of the war's experience from private to general. The anecdotal accounts of individual soldiers highlight the helpless situations they often found themselves in, and convey a 'kicked-in-the-gut' kind of empathy for their plight. The historical background of Chinese and then Japanese occupation, and the latter's influence on culture at the time, give a much clearer understanding of the origins of savagery seen throughout the war.
What makes this book so difficult however, especially in audio format, is the dogmatic and redundant manner in which he states his polemic--the U.S. was not prepared militarily or psychologically for the war, and this was a result of the post WWII dismantling of the military. At least once, if not more, each chapter recapitulates said point, ad naseum. His frequent comparisons of Roman Legions and the army of the British Empire don't really fit, and fail to account for the cultural and historical context of each era. Had he not explicitly posited this main idea, the message would come through well enough from his accounts of the war. Around chapter 10 or 11, having to listen for the umpteenth time that American cultural attitudes and the Defense Department's poor planning and foresight left the military several weakened, I was driven back. I quit listening to it, checked out the book from the library, and finished, skipping over the aforementioned drivel.
It's worth listening too, however I would wear a helmet, as getting beaten over the head with the same point becomes pretty painful
On a micro-level the plot and characters were believable enough and at times, fairly compelling. The overall conceit however, was painfully contrived and progressively harder to believe as the story ground on. A terrorist sneaking a nuke into the US and a badass guy or group of guys pursuing said evildoer before it's too late has been done, redone and overdone. The president telling the public is fairly implausible to begin with, and there are some promising moments with strife and conflict in Chicago, but it falls flat after that. The necesary tension and chaos that would result from this never makes it into the story. When D.C. is identified as the target, the 'evacuation' is oversimplified, sounding more like an orderly elementary school fire drill.And dear god, learn something about poker if you're going to write about it. Guys flipping their cards up in the middle of a hand? And how do you know what a full house is, but don't know that the Saudi Prince guy had the winning hand?
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