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.
With the Old Breed is a modern classic of military history AND has been called "one of the most important personal accounts of war that I have ever read," by distinguished historian John Keegan. Author E. B. Sledge served with the First Marine Division during World War II, and his first-hand narrative is unsurpassed in its sincerity. Sledge's experience shows in this fascinating account of two of the most harrowing and pivotal island battles of the Pacific theater.
On Peleliu and Okinawa, the action was extremely fierce. Amidst oppressive heat and over land obliterated by artillery shells, the combat raged ferociously. Casualties were extreme on both sides, and by the time the Americans had broken through at Okinawa, more than 62,000 Japanese soldiers were dead. Against military policy, Sledge scribbled notes and jammed them into his copy of the New Testament. Those notes form the backbone of what Navy Times said "has been called the best World War II memoir of an enlisted man."
BONUS AUDIO: Tom Hanks, one of the executive producers, has written and narrated an original introduction to With the Old Breed 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.
For more from Audible and Playtone, click here.
Narrators matter and it is rare for me to buy an audiobook that I already own, and enjoy just to hear another perspective in the way it is read. But this book lends itself to the two pretty much different voices. Sledge wrote this book about his combat experience in his maturity. I think like many veterans of war, especially ground combat. some distance, in terms of years, often decades, is required to tell the story. But E. B. Sledge lived it and survived it, and not just physically, as a young man.
George Wilson does a terrific job of telling this story as an adult explaining what happened, in the voice of someone who not only survived, but is strong enough to remember and acknowledge the ordinary people who accomplished remarkable things, good, bad, and horrific. The drama comes from the written word, and Sledge does not add many flourishes. The stated facts of what he saw and experienced do not need them.
Marc Vietor reads in the voice of the young man experiencing the fatigue, terror and even humor, of the ground combat soldier in the Pacific of World War II. It is good to remember that Sledge and his fellow marines were very young. In another time they would have been deciding what they would do when they grew up. In that time they were just trying to stay alive to grow up.
I am glad I indulged myself and bought both books.
38 of 38 people found this review helpful
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.
23 of 23 people found this review helpful
Where does With the Old Breed rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
This is one of the most riveting stories of war that I have read. I have read many first hand accounts on WWII and other wars. None have gone into the horrific details face by EB Sledge and his fellow Marines. His book brought home the full horror of war in the pacific.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Since the story is about EB Sledge and his fellow marines, Sledge is the favorite character. However, He describes many other of his marines in ways that I wish I could have read their stories too.
What three words best describe the narrators’s performance?
Nasally, slow, gets better further in book ( yes, more than three words)
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
I grieved for the marines and the horrors they had to face. But I was warmed by the courage they showed. I am glad the US Marines are still around to keep the county safe.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
A great history of a tough breed of everyday guys rose to the challenge and in the face or hardship and death became heroes. The narration was great. There was a humbleness about the author who lived and fought through that troubled time. You will not be disappointed.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Easily one of the best audio books I have ever heard. Stellar performance with an intense and exhilarating story.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
First of all Sledge does an amazing job of creating an immersive experience that allows the reader to connect with the true heroes who fought and died during the less recognized War of the Pacific. Sledge's story telling ability provides an amazing firsthand experience that is so powerful you feel the intensity, emotion, fear, humor, horror, comradery, suffering, etc. This book is truly outstanding by itself, but the fact that Joseph Mazello, who played Eugene Sledge in the 2010 award winning HBO miniseries The Pacific, is the narrator the Audible edition elevates it from outstanding to phenomenal!
There are many opinions about how to approach books that have been made into movies. Some prefer to read first and then watch, while others watch first and then read, but regardless of your preference if you are a fan of military history and/or the HBO miniseries The Pacific I highly recommend paring the HBO miniseries with the listening of this audio book. I actually made the choice to intertwine them by listening to sections of the audio book and then transitioned to watching corresponding sections of the HBO miniseries, which for me created the most memorable and engaging Audible experience I have had thus far out of the nearly 700 Audible books I have listened to.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
This is indeed greatest war Memoir I have ever read. Normally, with first hand accounts there is a lot of bluster. However, E.B. Sledge's writing is void of any bravado and it's truly an amazing story. The book will really give you a deep appreciation for what these Marines went through and the brutality that they had to endure. The totality of the conflict in which these young men were swept into is really awe inspiring. I think everyone should really read this work.
18 of 20 people found this review helpful
Like nothing I've ever read, it covers the emotional toll and all of the deprivations, inhumanity, and general nastiness of my profession while remaining proud of the accomplishments of the Marines in the Pacific Theater of Operations. No "dulce et decorum est" account, this is enough to make anyone question the madness and waste that is war. I appreciated the personal window into Sledge's internal conflict and terror as he underwent his baptism by fire, and as he fought through and observed the campaigns on Pelelieu and Okinawa.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This is a must read or listen to. I have downloaded several books of WWII. To understand what my grandfather went through in the Pacific war. Because he himself refused to talk about it, all of his life. My respect for my elders. Who gave so very much. I thank you so much. This is a must read
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Eugene B. Sledge's diary of the war is one of the best memoir that I've read in a long time, ever since Louis Zamperini and "Unbroken." In many ways, "With the Old Breed" is far better than Laura Hillenbrand's rendition of Zamperini's story because E. B. Sledge is not an author by trade. He is a soldier. Eugene took notes during the combat of the Pacific and later published his memoir.
Instead of telling his story to a schooled prep writer that has little or no experience of war, Eugene wrote his own experience with his own words. It makes his book that much more creditable to read.
As for the performance of Joseph Mazzello, (he played Sledge's character in the HBO miniseries of the Pacific), the first half of the read wasn't that good. I struggle through his pace of reading and found his voice to be very bland. Maybe someone gave a talk or a cup of coffee to Mazzello, but his performance becomes much more enjoyable in the second half.
9 of 11 people found this review helpful