Rick Atkinson is the former Washington Post reporter who left the grind of daily journalism behind to answer a calling as a military historian. Atkinson won a Pulitzer Prize for a series he wrote for the Post on the West Point class of 1966. He turned the series into an outstanding book, The Long Gray Line. The book is full of unforgettable stories of the men of the class of ’66, through Vietnam and after. I believe the class suffered the highest number of casualties of any West Point class; it is a class full of heroes, dead and alive. The book made an indelible impression on me.
Inspired by the likes of Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote and their multivolume histories of the American Civil War, Atkinson has now undertaken a three-volume history of the American Army in the European theater during World War II. The first of the projected three volumes has just come out, An Army at Dawn. Today’s OpinionJournal carries Max Boot’s review of the book, “Sometimes victory comes hard.” I believe I posted the review when it was published in the Weekly Standard, but if you haven’t previously read it, please take a look. In any event, the book would make a perfect holiday gift for fans of American history–at least for those who haven’t already obtained their World Famous Nixon/Elvis T-Shirt from the Nixon Library Museum Store.
Having mentioned Bruce Catton, I would like to add a note regarding Catton’s three-volume history of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. That series concludes with his Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Stillness at Appomatox. I only thought to read that book because I heard David McCullough say during the course of a C-Span interview that he had been given the book as a gift when he graduated from Yale in the early 1950’s. He said that he had been so bowled over by the book that he traced his interest in writing history to his having read that book. I read the book about six years ago, and it is indeed an unbelievably powerful book.
The book tells the story of Army of the Potomac during the final year of the Civil War. By the time I finished it, I felt like I had lived and fought alongside the exhausted survivors of the devastating battles of that final year–emotionally spent, grateful to be alive, distraught over the carnage. What an utterly beautiful work of popular history it is.
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