Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Kenneth C. Davis, the author of the popular “Don’t Know Much About….” series, attempts to illuminate readers about some of the “hidden history” that we should have learned in school but didn’t. He is a popular historian with a keen sense of detail and a lucid and engaging writing style. If you have read a lot about the period of history or science that is his topic, you aren’t likely to learn much new, but you will enjoy his retelling. If you are unfamiliar with the topic at hand, you will find his treatment full of interesting factoids.
In this book, Davis provides an in-depth examination of six landmark battles:
Yorktown, Virginia – October 1781
Petersburg, Virginia – June 1864
Balangiga, Philippines – September 1901
Berlin, Germany – April 1945
Hué, South Vietnam – February 1968
Fallujah, Iraq – March 2004
He argues that it is “nearly a moral imperative to understand war.” He discusses not only why these battles were fought, but who participated, how combat seemed to them, and how the conflicts affected America’s national identity. Although super patriots may be disappointed to learn that the American military has not always been perfect, Davis avoids either a pacifist or totally negative outlook.
His format here is to begin each chapter with several relevant quotes from prominent people, then take us into the midst of the battle, then fill in details of the “back story” that adds context and analysis to his narration. This technique occasionally leaves the reader with the feeling that he had an “Oops, I forgot to tell you that…” moment, and the story begins all over again. In the process, he sometimes repeats some very basic fact, which can be mildly annoying. Nonetheless, this book would make an appropriate text for a survey course on American military history at many colleges.
Evaluation: This is an enjoyable tour of select aspects of American history, and would make good reading for the many, many American citizens who have no idea what actually happened in the past but are nevertheless not loathe to pontificate about it. (See, for example, the statements by 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee about what Lincoln thought and did – statements that are totally wrong, and surely have Lincoln doing somersaults of despair in his grave.) All those who think they know history would do well to learn something from Kenneth C. Davis.
A Note on the Audio Production:
I listened to the audio version of the book, read competently by Arthur Morey, Mark Bramhall, and Paul Boehmer.
Published unabridged on 10 CDs (12 1/2 listening hours) by Random House Audio, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2015