Combat Jump by Ed Ruggero

Combat Jump by Ed Ruggero is an intriguing story of the formation and first combat jump of the 505th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II.

The book basically covers the formation of the first airborne units in the U.S. Army (including arguments for and against the formation) and then details the training and preparation that the paratroopers went through to get ready to battle the Germans and Italians. Most of the book details the 505th’s drop into Sicily.

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Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher’s recently released Crunchy Cons is a frustrating book. Dreher, a writer and editor at the Dallas Morning News, raises a number of issues worth discussing, and delivers interesting accounts of passionate people – including Dreher himself – who live out their ideals in ways difficult to categorize along simple right-left political lines. But the book’s tone, style, and structure undermine clear argument and limit its appeal beyond those already highly sympathetic to the label.

The epiphany for this entry in the ongoing hyphenization (or adjectivization) of conservatism came to Dreher when he mentioned to an editor at National Review that he had to pick up his organic fruits and vegetables at the local co-op. When she responded “Ewww, that’s so lefty” Dreher began to think about the political labels associated with certain activities.

After some thought, he realized that he was involved in a number of “counter cultural” activities that are usually associated with the left: organic and slow food, Birkenstocks, urban living, the Arts and Craft movement, giving up TV, etc. He went on to write an article for the magazine on the subject and was inundated with emails from likeminded individuals. With such an outpouring of interest, Dreher decided to dig a little deeper. Crunchy Cons is the result.

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The Fighting First by Flint Whitlock

I have always respected the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division – the “Big Red One” – but I have even more respect for it after reading The Fighting First by Flint Whitlock. It’s a combination of harrowing stories and narrative.

Whitlock briefly details the Division’s activity in World War II prior to D-Day – participation in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns. The majority of the book covers the training and preparation for, and the fighting on, D-Day. Whitlock then chronicles the exploits of the Divisions as it fought from Omaha – through Normandy, Aachen, and the Battle of the Bulge – to the end of the war. Of all American divisions that fought in World War II, the First Division suffered some of the highest casualties and was one of the longest serving in combat.

Whitlock does a superb job in bringing together stories of the rank-and-file soldiers and their commanders. I particularly liked Whitlock’s description of the Division’s hatred of General Patton. As one soldier stated about Old Blood and Guts, “Our blood, and his guts.”

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The Fighting First by Flint Whitlock

I have always respected the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division – the “Big Red One” – but I have even more respect for it after reading The Fighting First by Flint Whitlock. It’s a combination of harrowing stories and narrative.

Whitlock briefly details the Division’s activity in World War II prior to D-Day – participation in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns. The majority of the book covers the training and preparation for, and the fighting on, D-Day. Whitlock then chronicles the exploits of the Divisions as it fought from Omaha – through Normandy, Aachen, and the Battle of the Bulge – to the end of the war. Of all American divisions that fought in World War II, the First Division suffered some of the highest casualties and was one of the longest serving in combat.

Whitlock does a superb job in bringing together stories of the rank-and-file soldiers and their commanders. I particularly liked Whitlock’s description of the Division’s hatred of General Patton. As one soldier stated about Old Blood and Guts, “Our blood, and his guts.”

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Mercedes-Benz by Pawel Huelle

One of the great things about being a book blogger is the chance to learn something new; to widen your experience. I had just such an experience recently. As a student of the Cold War I am often intrigued by fiction that uses this period as a backdrop (see Olen Steinhauer for example). So when I received Pawel Huelle’s short autobiographical novella Mercedez-Benz in the mail I decided to move it to the top of the pile.

I am glad I did. It turned out to be a unique and captivating work. For such a short and simple work it has a lot of resonance and depth. It is both a tribute and a memoir; both a look back and a look ahead. If you enjoy elegant and humane writing you will enjoy Mercedes-Benz.

The basic story line is simple as Pawel narrates his experiences taking driving lessons in the Polish city of Gdansk in the post-Soviet 1990’s. The seeming simplicity of the style and story, however, obscure the underlying depth and emotion. As Pawel learns to drive with the help of his instructor Miss Ciwle, he tells her stories of his parents and grandparents. These stories center around his families ownership of a series of Mercedes-Benz automobiles – hence the title. Through these stories Pawel gives the reader an insightful glimpse into the last century of Polish life. In a way that straightforward history can not, these stories – based on actual events and illustrated with real photographs – take you inside the personal emotions and activities of the people on the ground as the world changing events take place around them; from pre-war independence to the long communist years to the new world of the post-communist era. The cars, and the driving lessons, serve as a useful hook to hang these vignettes on. Pawel nicely moves between the past and the present comparing and contrasting the periods and the people’s lives.

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An Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds

One of the eternal mysteries of the blogosphere is how Glenn Reynolds finds the time to post so much on his InstaPundit blog. After all, this is not some unemployed socially challenged teenager posting from his parent’s basement (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Reynolds is a law professor; columnist; musician, producer, and record label owner to name just a few of his varied activities. Add in the fact that he is married and has a daughter and it is hard to imagine where he finds the time to post all those entries or read just a fraction of the unending stream of emails he receives.

Clearly, Reynolds has a curious mind and a lot of energy. In the midst of all of the above, he found time to write a book. The recently released An Army of Davids, gives those unfamiliar with his writing an idea of the breadth of his interests. Subtitled “How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths,” the book is also a guided tour through some of the more interesting ways technology and markets are changing society.

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Tim Pritchard's Ambush Alley

If you want to read a hard-hitting, fast-paced book, read Tim Pritchard’s Ambush Alley. The book is about the U.S. Marines’ own version of Blackhawk Down – the battle to capture two bridges in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Pritchard’s book is based on the events that occurred on March 23, 2003. On that date, the U.S. Marines were expected to wait twenty-four hours before entering a city that was supposed to capitulate quickly. As many military planners know, the best-laid plans often go awry. After a U.S. Army convoy is ambushed near the city, the Marines are forced to advance their attack by twenty-four hours to rescue the missing soldiers from the convoy and seize the bridges. Unfortunately, the Marines find themselves in a life-or-death struggle with Iraqi forces.

Pritchard does not give a bland, general description of combat – he throws his descriptions in your face. You really feel as if you are with the Marines as they fight to survive. His raw descriptions of the casualties are heart-rending and moving. Anyone who has any romantic ideas of combat after reading Pritchard’s book needs to have their head examined.

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Saratoga by David Garland

David Garland’s Saratoga is a well-written, fictional account of one of the key turning points of the American Revolution – the Battle of Saratoga.

The book centers on Captain Jamie Skoyles, a career soldier in the British Army who has risen from the ranks (promoted to an officer from the enlisted ranks because of a courageous deed). As the campaign progresses toward the climax at Saratoga, Skoyles’ character changes in several ways. He falls in love with a woman who is betrothed to a fellow officer and he begins to have grave doubts about his military leaders.

I think that Garland did particularly well in describing the characters and their relationship with each other. You can understand Skoyles’ dilemma in regards to his relationship with Elizabeth Rainham – he is beginning to fall in love with her, but he does not want to create friction with the officer to whom Rainham is betrothed to (who happens to be his commanding officer). In addition, Garland nails his characterization of General John Burgoyne, the commander of the British Army, as an over-confident commander who ultimately underestimates the American forces at Saratoga.

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