The celebrated 2010 HBO miniseries The Pacific, winner of eight Emmy Awards, was based on two classic books about the War in the Pacific, Helmet for My Pillow and With The Old Breed. Audible Studios, in partnership with Playtone, the production company co-owned by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and creator of the award-winning HBO series Band of Brothers, John Adams, and The Pacific, as well as the HBO movie Game Change, has created new recordings of these memoirs, narrated by the stars of the miniseries. James Badge Dale (who portrayed Robert Leckie) and Joseph Mazello (who played Eugene Sledge) bring all the passion and emotion of their riveting television performances to these new audio productions.
In Helmet for My Pillow, Robert Leckie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in January 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This riveting first-person account follows his odyssey from basic training on Parris Island, South Carolina, all the way to the raging battles in the Pacific, where some of the war's fiercest fighting took place. Recounting his service with the 1st Marine Division and the brutal action on Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu, Leckie spares no detail of the horrors and sacrifices of war, painting an unvarnished portrait of how real warriors are made, fight, and often die in the defense of their country.
From the live-for-today rowdiness of marines on leave to the terrors of jungle warfare against an enemy determined to fight to the last man, Leckie describes what war is really like when victory can only be measured inch by bloody inch. Woven throughout are Leckie's hard-won, eloquent, and thoroughly unsentimental meditations on the meaning of war and why we fight.
BONUS AUDIO: Tom Hanks, one of the executive producers, has written and narrated an original introduction to Helmet for My Pillow, where he describes his appreciation for the book's author, the narrators, and the soldiers who had fought in the cauldron of the Pacific Theater during World War II.
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©1957 Robert Hugh Leckie. "The Battle of the Tenaru" c. 2001 by Robert Hugh Leckie. (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
“Robert Leckie's unvarnished 1957 memoir paints a vivid picture of his experiences as a Marine on the frontlines of the Pacific Theater in WWII. Using the unadorned demeanor of a tough Marine, narrator James Badge Dale delivers Leckie's eloquent text with intensity and respect. He adopts a touch of humor when describing the occasional raucous camaraderie of the men but mostly employs a hard-boiled, sturdy veneer for Leckie's revealing and sometimes shocking narrative. Dale's unrelenting pronunciation of long "a"s (such as "a gun") is at first distracting but eventually comes to feel like the unyielding backbone of a young warrior facing the brutal action of battle. A brief introduction from Tom Hanks helps the listener anticipate the significance of this powerful American chronicle.” (AudioFile)
“Helmet for My Pillow is a grand and epic prose poem. Robert Leckie’s theme is the purely human experience of war in the Pacific, written in the graceful imagery of a human being who—somehow—survived.” (Tom Hanks)
“One hell of a book! The real stuff that proves the U.S. Marines are the greatest fighting men on earth!” (Leon Uris, author of Battle Cry)
This is a review of two books, “With the Old Breed” and “Helmet for My Pillow.” HBO based its miniseries “The Pacific,” on these books, and Audible Studios and Playtone recently made new recordings of both books. If, like me, you were interested in both, hopefully this will help sort out how they stack up. In short, both are worth the listen, but if you only wish to get one, go with “With the old Breed.”
“With the Old Breed” is the war diary of E.B. Sledge (a.k.a. “Sledgehammer”). Although not an author by trade Sledge is obviously very intelligent and well-spoken. He writes like he was telling the story to his family, which is, in fact, apparently why Sledge wrote the book in the first place. Sledge describes his experiences at the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa, but also describes his training prior to the battles. The scenes are graphic and disturbing at times, but no doubt accurate.
It’s been said before that Sledge’s book is required reading for anyone thinking of joining the Marines, and I think this must be correct. For officers, Sledge’s account as a private depicts and describes the traits of the “good” officers verses the, let’s call them, “not so good” officers. It’s a veritable “how to” earn and command the respect and admiration of your men, which may be useful for any person in a leadership position to know. For the enlisted men, the book is a very real account of the inglorious nature of war. Wars are not fought to win honors, and no-one should join up in search of glory and fame. As Sledge says, often, it’s a “waste.”
As for the narration, Mazzello is a good actor, but a little slow. I’d recommend listening at 1.25% speed at least, or else it just drags on.
“Helmet for my Pillow” is Robert Leckie’s account of his experiences in the war. Leckie fought at Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu, but also writes considerably about his “debauchery” in Australia between the battles. His prose (and even his poetry) are quite well-written, and you get a good sense of what life must have been like in the Pacific when the fighting was not going on.
The book is also well narrated. Dale tells the story with good pacing, tone, and vocal color throughout. (By the way, Tom Hanks phones in his introductions for both books, which is disappointing).
In comparison, although there are many similarities to the realities of war, the books are very different. Leckie’s book is much better written than Sledge’s, but perhaps not as engaging from a story-telling perspective. Also, these two Marines could not be more different in character. Sledge is a boy-scout, whereas Leckie is a rogue, spending it seems more time in the brig, than in battle. This is not likely a fair comparison, given the horrific things both privates had to put up with, but Leckie comes off as less sympathetic than Sledge.
Overall, if you choose only one of these two books, I recommend “With the Old Breed,” but really I’d recommend both books to anyone, even those not interested in history. These are not stale accounts of dates and locations and troop numbers. These are firsthand accounts of the horrors of war, which is something later generations (such as my own) luckily have not experienced to this extreme. The people Sledge and Leckie describe are real people, not just characters. When they died, or were injured, or went crazy, these things really happened, which is, I think, something worth remembering.
Read the book(s), and thank a veteran when you see one.
Having seen the mini-series "the pacific" it was very appropriate to hear James Badge Dale as the narrator. He did a great job as well.
This book is an amazing account of the pacific war. I was worried about purchasing this at first because I know Leckie is a writer. This gave me pause because I figured there would be too many creative adjectives mucking up the story. I assumed there would be otherwise long descriptions of things that were quite elegant, but were side notes to the story. After having listened I feel like it really enhanced the story and he was not too verbose. The descriptions of things were just embellished or compared to creative normal experiences to make it colorful but not in an overly dramatic way as I had feared. I plan to purchase more of Leckie's books. I also read Sledge's 'with the old breed' and I think I liked both of these books about equally as well. Sledge's perhaps gave a better overall picture to the question 'what was it really like' as there are parts of this book were he tells what happened but can't remember all the details or glosses over some detail. Overall worth the time though. I recommend both.
The focus of the story is of a young marine. He is the main character and my favorite.
Entertaining variety of narration.
Toward the end of the campaigns fewer and fewer veterans were alive to fight the next battle. Very sobering. Poignant.
This is both an informative and entertaining "listen." Anyone remotely interested in WW2 will want to have listened to this audio. In fact, I think the story is a better "listen" than "read."
It's a great story and the narration was super, the only complaint would be that Leckie is a bit too flowery with his language, but that isn't a reason not to listen. Leckie really gets you to feel how horrible war is in a way that makes you ashamed if you've never been there and somehow thought it would be cool or glorious.
The author can be a little fond of expensive words at times, but he really does write well. Powerful imagery of the horrors and stupidities of war. Just well written.
The narration, which has killed so many a good book, was first class. I'm a fan.
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