Review: Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose

I tore through this one last weekend:

This is the book that HBO based their “Band of Brothers” mini-series on, and it was excellent. I had already seen the mini-series, which was also excellent, so I was in a position similar to times when you see the movie and then go read the book.

If you never saw it or have no idea what I’m talking about, this is the story of the men of Easy company, a group of 150 soldiers from the 101st Airborne division in World War II. It follows them from their training in the US through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and their defense of Bastogne, on into Germany, and their victory lap at Hitler’s very own Eagle’s Nest. For the most part, they were not career military men. They were merely citizens who went off to war.

As an aside, books get turned into movies all the time, and if you read the book first, you then decry how much they cut to squeeze it all into the 2-hour movie. If you see the movie first, the book is then filled with all this extra stuff like backstory, extra plot-lines, and character depth. But a book and a mini-series are a good fit.

HBO gave it ten hour-long episodes and managed to cover most of the book, so while I wasn’t coming across tons and tons of new material, there were still plenty of newfound gems. More than anything, it was like reading the director’s commentary of the DVD, except of course, it wasn’t the director. In many cases, it was direct quotes from many of the soldiers who had fought through the war. It also had a bit of surreal sense in that I felt like I already knew these people and had clear pictures of them in my mind. All in all, seeing the series before-hand made reading the book that much more enjoyable.

One section that was in the book that the mini-series only glossed over was what these remarkable soldiers did with their lives after the war. A large number of them went into teaching, and another big bunch of them went into construction. That was a nice turn, seeing them go from a world of destruction and violence to a life of building the future.

I’m going to quote one little bit from those later years that really made an impression on me. Private Ralph Stafford wrote, “In 1950, I went bird hunting with some guys from the fire department. I shot a bird and was remorseful as I looked down at it. The bird had done me no harm and couldn’t have. I went to the truck and stayed until the others returned, never to hunt again.” He had had enough of killing.

It looks like a number of these soldiers went on to write and publish their own memoirs of the war, but this is the place to start.

My only negative comment about the book was that the Kindle edition (which is what I read) was a terrible e-book conversion. There were some glitches that looked like lost words, bad text conversions like 2nd to 2d, and the index was a worthless list of topics not linked back to any location in the book. Bad Publisher – No Donut! So if you want to read this, get it in a dead-tree edition.