Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review of Wild Blue by Stephen Ambrose (Pocket Books, 2001)

Stephen Ambrose has spent most of his life collecting the stories of servicemen and women who fought or were otherwise wrapped up in the conflict of World War Two. I’ve read a couple of his other books and they were interesting without being outstanding. He’s probably most famous for Band of Brothers, subsequently made into a successful TV series. Wild Blue’s subtitle is ‘The Men and Boys Who Flew The B-24s Over Germany’. It should really be called ‘A Gushing Biography of George McGovern’s Early Life.’

From the back cover I thought I would be getting the story of the 741 Squadron and, in particular, the crew of the Dakota Queen. What you actually get is the story of George McGovern from early days through his training and onto the end of the Second World War. Very little time is spent with any of the other crewmen or the wider 741 Squadron. This is very much the war as experienced by McGovern and the reader joins the squadron when McGovern does in September 1944, at the tail end of the war. If you skip the author’s note, as I did, then it’s a long way into the book before we discover why the focus is on McGovern. It turns out that he ran for President in 1972 on the Democrat ticket losing in a landslide to Nixon. I was two at the time and given I live in Ireland I’m not up on my US political history. What this meant was the book was very badly imbalanced and somewhat misleading. I wanted to know the wider history of the 741 Squadron and the diverse lives and experiences of people who flew with it. What I got was McGovern and some general context. And it’s hardly non-biased stuff. As Ambrose says in the author’s note: ‘I have been a friend and supporter of George McGovern for nearly three decades’. If you want to know about McGovern’s early life then this is your book; if you want a more rounded biographical history of the air war over Europe then look elsewhere.

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