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To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War - Jeff Shaara

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Jeff Shaara / Edition: New edition / Paperback / 848 Pages / Book is published 2006-01-02 by Bantam Books

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      09.03.2010 10:42
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      Another book I received from Readitswapit - just showing how that website can increase the range of books that you read!

      To the Last Man is described as a Novel of the First World War but it is based on real people and characters from the conflict and follows real events - so is probably more accurately described as a half novel, half historical book.

      Jeff Shaara has written a number of other books about conflicts which I havent yet read (but based on this will probably be trying to get my hands on!)

      Plot of To the Last Man

      The novel loosely follows the action of the first world war - but starting around the time when the Americans were considering entering the war. Jeff Shaara is an American so this is told from the American point of view. When reading this novel you just have to accept that and move on, all the early sacrifice by European troops is acknowledged but the action in this book mainly follows the Americans.

      The book tells the story of significant moments during the first world war from the view point of different historical figures.

      For example in the first chapter we meet a nameless Tommy who is being sent to the front line for the Battle of the Somme. No prizes for guessing what happens to him! But this said his story is extremely poignant and would have been typical at the time. Just because we know how many millions of men died doesn't mean that it is not upsetting to read about the awful conditions in the trenches and the horrible deaths the soldiers faced.

      The book then focusses on events later in the war, covering such incidents as the Americans joining the war, the exploits of the Red Baron and the Lafayette Squadren, and the final invasion of the war leading to Armistace day.

      Characters
      The main characters in the book that we get to know by name are described below.

      General Pershing
      The head of the American army force to be deployed to Europe - follow this soldier who desperately wants to get stuck in and is slowed down by slow decision making and a lack of desire for a war that many in the US government didnt really want.

      We are given a genuine insight to a character that I knew very little about and I thought that he was definitely a guy I would have liked to have known - passionate about his troops and about winning the war.

      The soldiers / pilots of the Lafayette Air Squadron
      I didnt know, before I read this book that there were a small group of Americans who somehow claimed french citizanship so that they could fly planes in the war. The stories of their daring exploits and the honour code that they shared with the GErman pilots is both interesting and touching. Even when they kill the enemy they treat them with respect - both sides understanding that there is little worse that not knowing what has happened to a pilot. The horrible fear of burning to death is ever present and helps to explain their actions.

      The Red Baron

      Proving that he doesnt just know the American side of the war Jeff Shaara tells the story of the Red Baron the most feared GErman pilot of the first world war. Again, we are given a real insight to this mans character and why he did what he did. Fascinating!

      A Marine
      Finally see the final days of world war one through the eyes of a marine.

      What did I think
      I loved the characters and the balanced nature of this novel - it is not just about America winning the war but tells the human story of some horrific events. You get to know the stars of the novel and realise that in war there are no winners and losers -just a lot of blood and suffering on all sides.

      I would highly recommend this book especially to those who don't do non fiction books as it is a great way of learning some of the facts whilst reading a human story!

      Whilst the reader has a vague idea of what happens in the book the detail that Shaara goes into really brings the first world war to life. It made me laugh in places and cry in others!

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