Robin Olds' memoirs are more than simply a string of combat stories. I like that type book, but this is about two steps above the standard combat narrative.
Olds really bares his soul in "Fighter Pilot". He was an old man dying of cancer when he put the book together, and I believe, much like "Grant's Memoirs", his realization that this was his last statement about his life and legacy created an amazing story.
Olds is brutal in his assessment of fellow USAF officers. He goes after the USAF establishment with the same energy and passion that he went after ME-109s and MIG-21s. For me, this was a special treat, but he also gives credit to hundreds of men of all ranks that he served with. I really liked that he specifically complimented so many of his ground crew and staff officers by name, because those guys are almost always forgotten.
However, the personal elements are what really make this book special. Olds was admittedly not the best husband and he admits it. The story of his attempts to juggle his career with his family responsibilities are particularly touching. He was a great man, but also a deeply flawed man and I believe that's what makes the portrait so compelling.
I will admit there are lots of stories about the inner working of his thirty year rise to brigadier general, but I believe that reveals a side of the military that very few civilians ever even realizes exists. In fact, I hope "Fighter Pilot" becomes required reading for young officers. Military wives should read it too.
I thought I knew quite a bit about Olds before: A hard partying ace during World War II and a sort of modern day Nathan Forrest in an F-4 over North Vietnam. All of that is true, I believe Olds would really like the Forrest comparison, but he was really a much better LEADER and much better THINKER than I ever realized.
This is an outstanding history of the battle of Tobruk and Australia's role in World War II from the point of view of the digger, the average Aussie soldier. It is biased towards the Aussies, who at times Fitzsimmons paints as supermen, but Fitzsimmons admits his bias in the introduction. This is an ode to Australia's World War II soldiers and an entertaining listen, especially the slang. This book is a primer on Australian slang. I thought the narrator was great, but at times the Australian slang may be too much for some listeners.
"Tobruk" is a great book for serious World War II buffs, because frankly it goes into details about the Aussies that no general campaign history will ever cover. Fitzsimmons is tough on nearly every non-Australian leader other than Rommel, but his critical assessment of Churchill is particularly refreshing.
If you like "Tobruk" I would recommend "At All Costs" by Sam Moses about the siege of Malta too.
Great book! Sears is knowledgable and fair, but it is really his ability to create an interesting narritive of an event most readers are already largely familiar with that makes "Landscape Turned Red" work so well. In large measure Sears succeeds, because he weaves in interesting quotations from such a wide variety of sources without distracting the story. He quotes Lee and McClellan, but also from unknown officers and men on both sides. Great work!
The "Forgotten Man" is a valuable piece of revisionist history, and it has both the strengths and weaknesses common among works that attempt to recast history through the eyes of later generations. The greatest strength of the work is that it recasts focus on the people that did and still do largely control the fate of the American economy: the wealthy. The book makes it clear that the resistance of the wealthiest Americans fatally weakened the New Deal. Shale explains in chapter after chapter how the rich moved their investments off shore, filed suit, and lobbied against the New Deal on the radio stations and in the newspapers they owned. However, she never interprets this resistance as a series of selfish un-patriotic choices that only prolonged the nation's agony. Instead, for her the villains are the New Dealers who were concerned about the plight of the average American. Shale lays out a laundry list of failed and misguided New Deal programs and never gives any credit to FDR or his administration or to the New Deal programs that worked. Instead, the book is a one sided polemic against the New Deal. Shale never accounts for the incredible popularity of FDR and the New Deal programs that her heroes worked so hard to sabotage. She fails to mention that the resistance to the New Deal in the South that really started after 1936 was largely driven by fears that the New Deal would weaken Jim Crow and she does not make the connection between some of the successful projects, such as the TVA and Intercoastal Waterway, with the eventual American victory in World War II. If you are really familiar with the New Deal the "Forgotten Man" might be worth a read for a different perspective, but this should not be your introduction to the subject. In fact, among most of the over eighty set FDR is still a hero and I believe that they would disagree with Shale's view of the New Deal as a disaster.
If you think you have read everything about the Civil War this book will probably give you a new point of view. Serious students of the Civil War realize that the Gordian Knot of Antebellum politics was not slavery, only a handful of extremist questioned the right of southerners to own slaves, but the expansion of slaves into the territories, however this is the first book that I know of that looks at the question through the eyes of westerners. That is really what makes this book worth reading, because it makes it clear just how complicated the problem really was.
The Great Depression was depressing, just know that before you download this selection. With that caveat in mind, this is a masterfully researched, well written tale of an important, but under studied area of American history.
However, it is essentially the tale of a small group of well meaning people going from hard earned success to travail, disaster, and ruin. It is a little like reading an American Book of Job set in the Texas Panhandle without the uplifting ending. There is no redemption. I wish he had gone on told a few more stories of personal success at the end even if it they were stories of people that left the Great Plains or maybe served with distinction in World War II or something.
However, I am certain that was not his point. His point was to show how development without concern for ecological consequences can, has, and will again lead to social and economic disaster. If you live or grew up in that great swath of the United States from Central Texas to North Dakota this is something you should make yourself read. It will answer a lot of questions that you have probably considered in passing about the development of the Great Plains and, more importantly, how the area should be developed today.
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