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Book Review: Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose

Band of Brothers Review

You know, it’s about time I read this. I have seen the series a bunch of times (I’ve rewatched it more than once since my last big rewatch as a historian, which you can read about here), I’ve at this point read several of the guys’ autobiographies, with more of them on my TBR list – but I never actually bothered reading the source material.

I went in kind of expecting the worst to be honest. I’ve read a number of online reviews of the book that hammer hard on the fact that Ambrose didn’t really seem to use much reference material beyond the company memory books, newsletters, and interviews, while still presenting the writing as basically a research book. These criticisms made me skeptical – as you can see from my review of the mini-series. I have no qualms with the occasional “truthiness” of the HBO series, since it’s not presented as a documentary, but I expected to have some massive problems with that in the book.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Ambrose is actually very clear throughout that this information is always coming from recollections – recollections that might be a little fuzzy after 60+ years, and quite possibly a little biased too. He is clear that the story is being told through the eyes of the men of E company, not through the eyes of historians – and based on what I had read beforehand, I had not expected this.

He includes little reminders of the book’s nature as a collective memoir throughout, but nowhere is it more clear than in the treatment of Sobel. Throughout, the man is largely portrayed by the men of Easy as a bit of a villain. He is universally hated and the guys hammer that home throughout their interviews and in their various writings. As a result, his portrayal in the HBO series by David Schwimmer gets roughly the same treatment.

Ambrose, however, on several occasions softens the words of E company with his own assessment, even calling the great Dick Winters into question on occasion. He gives Sobel a lot of credit for preparing E company to deal with what they dealt with, and that, to me, says a lot about Ambrose’s approach. He does not present the testimony of the men as absolute truth, and the result is a really fascinating collective memoir.

A few parts did get a little plodding for me, mainly because I’ve seen the HBO series several times and in its treatment of the big battles it stays pretty faithful to Ambrose’s retelling – and in some cases even makes it more exciting (for example, Bull Randleman killing the German in the barn is like half of an episode in the series but only has like two or three lines devoted to it in the book). But even if you’ve seen the miniseries, I’d still say this is worth the read.

Overall Rating: 8/10.

In other news, I should really decide on a consistent scale to use when rating my books! Suggestions are welcome, since I can’t seem to make up my mind!

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