Paul Fussell’s book is an unusual contribution to the Modern Library Chronicles series. Whereas most volumes provide short introductions to their respective subjects, as other reviewers have noted, this is not a straightforward military history of the war with Germany. Instead, Fussell offers a much more idiosyncratic work, a social and cultural history of the American riflemen who fought in northwestern Europe after Normandy.
This is not to say that this book isn’t worth reading – quite the contrary. Throughout this book, Fussell dispels much of the “greatest generation” mythology cultivated in recent years by writers such as Stephen Ambrose. A veteran of the war, Fussell provides a much more complicated portrait of inexperienced young boys thrown into the chaos and violence of combat. In a series of short chapters, he covers topics ranging from the interactions with the French to the treatment of the wounded and the dead to the discovery of the work camps – all of which he addresses with the same blunt and insightful analysis that is a hallmark of his work. Anyone seeking to get a more accurate portrait of what the “good war” was really like for the men who fought in it would do well to start here.