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Publisher's Summary

It was the best of times and the worst of times for Hollywood before the war. The box office was booming, and the studios’ control of talent and distribution was as airtight as could be hoped. But the industry’s relationship with Washington was decidedly uneasy - hearings and investigations into allegations of corruption and racketeering were multiplying, and hanging in the air was the insinuation that the business was too foreign, too Jewish, too "un-American" in its values and causes. Could an industry this powerful in shaping America’s mind-set really be left in the hands of this crew? Following Pearl Harbor, Hollywood had the chance to prove its critics wrong and did so with vigor, turning its talents and its business over to the war effort to an unprecedented extent.

No industry professionals played a bigger role in the war than America’s most legendary directors: Ford, Wyler, Huston, Capra, and Stevens. Between them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of America’s war, and in every branch of service - army, navy, and air force; Atlantic and Pacific; from Midway to North Africa; from Normandy to the fall of Paris and the liberation of the Nazi death camps; to the shaping of the message out of Washington, D.C.

As it did for so many others, World War II divided the lives of these men into before and after, to an extent that has not been adequately understood. In a larger sense - even less well understood - the war divided the history of Hollywood into before and after as well. Harris reckons with that transformation on a human level - through five unforgettable lives - and on the level of the industry and the country as a whole. Like these five men, Hollywood too, and indeed all of America, came back from the war having grown up more than a little.

©2014 Mark Harris (P)2014 Recorded Books

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Had a lot of fun with this book!

Would you listen to Five Came Back again? Why?

Isn't the electronic world wonderful. I am 68 years old. Born in 1946, I grew up in the aftermath of WW II in a small rural community. Almost every one of the males over the age of 30 had participated in the war - yet they did not talk a lot about it or if they did discuss it the conversation was very superficial. I also did not have exposure to the prewar or even war movies produced by these five directors. Thus I enjoyed the opportunity to hear their stories and at the same time to view the documentaries produced for the war departments (You Tube) and the movies (YouTube or purchased/rented online), both before, during and after the war. I spent probably 75 hours over a several month period working my way through the book and the movies. It was a most enjoyable experience. I was particularly struck by the psychologic damage caused by war (highlighted in the unreleased Wilder film), most recently highlighted by the long-term studies of Vietnam veterans. I also enjoyed watching the color movies recently released from George Steven's personal collection (History Channel 2 over Memorial and D-day anniversary), but the impact on his health, both psychologic and physical, as he collected these images was sad.This was a good read, but to appreciate it fully you will have to do some work.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Five Came Back?

There were many. I did not realize John Ford was at the Battle of Midway.

Which character – as performed by Andrew Garman – was your favorite?

Billy Wilder. What a story.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • KH
  • 07-02-14

Master Movie Makers And World War 2

What did you love best about Five Came Back?

I very much enjoyed the bios of 5 of the most famous movie directors America produced. The vignettes about some of my favorite movies as well as period stars was tantalizing. Harris tells fascinating stories about WW2 through the lives of these extraordinary men. I really liked this book. The narrator was excellent as well.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Hollywood, History, and Patriots

If you're intrigued by either Hollywood or World War II then you have found what you're looking for in "Five Came Back". At great sacrifice these five directors put both their professional and personal lives on hold to chronicle the allied forces efforts to defeat the nazis. It almost felt like reading fiction by its stark contrast to our current self obsessed culture of "me".

Very seldom do I like a narrator so much that I look through his other works for something of interest, but I liked Andrew Garman so much I put "Paper" on my wishlist.

Happy listening!!!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Elizabeth
  • Bellevue, WA, United States
  • 10-30-14

Detailed and well researched, but a bit much

I wanted to REALLY like this book--a historical look at Hollywood's role in WWII, specifically with directors sent into the European and Pacific theatres to film the action for propaganda and training films. I enjoy this genre of writing as well as stories of Hollywood and WWII, so this book should have been perfect. In the end, it was just too much. It was so well researched and detailed that for this listener/reader I was overwhelmed with the detail and lost the larger story of how Hollywood directors supported the war. I think I would have enjoyed an abridged version of this book. The details of 20 hours of listening was a turn off.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great stuff for the movie/history buff

If you like movies you'll like this book. Great discussions of how these various directors worked in the field or in Washington during the runup to WWII and during the war itself.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • smarmer
  • Los Angeles, CA USA
  • 02-23-18

When Hollywood loved America

What a difference a generation makes. The five directors written about here -- Frank Capra, John Houston, George Stevens, William Wyler, and John Ford -- all interrupted their careers to serve during World War II. Mostly they documented the fighting, at great personal danger to themselves. William Wyler lost his hearing flying in bombers. George Stevens, who specialized in directing comedies prior to the war, could no longer do comedies afterward.

Besides simply documenting battles they also investigated the psychological trauma of war (Houston) and filmed the liberation of the concentration death camps (Stevens).

Those were clearly different times. When these directors, along with such other heroes as Ted Williams (pilot during WW II and Korea -- giving up the prime years of his baseball career) or Yogi Berra (part of the Normandy invasion), or Clark Gable saw that the country was in trouble, they stepped forward.

What different times we live in today, sad to say.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Nice account of a few directors' war experiences

Would you listen to Five Came Back again? Why?

I would listen to this again only because I know I missed some information. I usually pick it up the second time around.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Five Came Back?

The liberation of the Nazi death camps

What does Andrew Garman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Accents of the subjects who were not known to be foreign born because they took Anglo sounding names.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The title.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Ray
  • West Deptford, NJ, United States
  • 10-10-14

Hollywood Goes to war

The book is well researched, but poorly organized, with too much detail. I had trouble getting through it. Would have no interest in a second listen. Narrator does an adequate job.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • M. May
  • Brookfield, CT
  • 04-26-14

Exceptional and Entertaining

If you could sum up Five Came Back in three words, what would they be?

The story of five famous directors -- Frank Capra, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and John Ford -- and their service during World War II.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • MM
  • 07-03-14

Surprisingly Boring

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

The book contains a lot of interest facts. However by choosing to follow 5 directors simultaneously, the story telling felt fragmented. I had trouble keeping track of which director did what, when. Also since each director experienced different series of failure and success at different times and took away different lessons from the war, the story did not built up to any sense of suspense. Felt more like a text book than most historical non-fiction I read. A set of interesting facts presented by a good narrator, but oddly boring for the subject matter: Hollywood and WWII.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful