Book Review: Band of Brothers

In Band of Brothers, veteran historian Stephen Ambrose tells the story of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne – one of the most successful light infantry units to fight in the European theater during World War II.

Formed in July 1942 and inactivated in November 1945, “Easy” Company saw its first action when it parachuted into France on the morning of D-Day. It participated in “Operation Market Garden” in Holland, and went on to play a crucial role in the Battle of the Bulge by holding the perimeter around Bastogne. It was also the first company to reach Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

Over the course of its 3-year service in the field, Easy took 150 percent casualities. It was a company that considered the Purple Heart not a decoration, but a badge of office.

With assiduous attention to detail and a compelling style, Ambrose traces the fortunes of the men in this brave unit who fought, bled, went hungry, froze, and died – for their country and for each other. We follow them through training and into combat and onto victory. To quote another reviewer, “In these pages, the reader can vicariously walk with the men of E Company, suffer and laugh with them.” And as we read, we can’t help but fiercely admire them.

Ambrose writes of Easy,

The company had been born in July 1942 at Toccoa. Its existence essentially came to an end almost exactly three years later… In those three years the men had seen more, endured more, and contributed more than most men can see, endure, or contribute in a lifetime.

They thought the Army was boring, unfeeling, and chicken, and they hated it. They found combat to be ugliness, destruction, and death, and hated it. Anything was better than the blood and carnage, the grime and filth, the impossible demands made on the body – anything, that is, except letting down their buddies.

They also found in combat the closest brotherhood they ever knew. They found selflessness. They found they could love the other guy in their foxhole more than themselves. They found that in war, men who loved life would give their lives for them.

The sacrificial actions of these men – and of soldiers in general – reflect the very essence of John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Such love is rare. Amid the rampant egotism of modern culture, it is even rarer.

One of the things I most appreciated about the book is how Ambrose gives the reader the big picture without ever compromising the small one. The account he shares is a very personal one, showcasing ordinary guys in extraordinary situations. We never lose sight of the fact that, however big the war was, the men who fought it were real men – not just pieces on a chess board being moved from place to place by generals and statesmen.

Suffice it to say, I loved Band of Brothers. And when I tell you to go read this book, I mean, go read this book. Don’t just add it to your wish list and hope you’ll get to it sometime: seek it out and get your hands on a copy the next time you’re in the library or the bookstore.

It’s a story of honor and sacrifice and courage in the face of unspeakable odds. It’s a story of great men, of heroes. It’s a story simply too powerful to be missed.

Now go read it.

23 thoughts on “Book Review: Band of Brothers”

  1. “We never lose sight of the fact that, however big the war was, the men who fought it were real men – not just pieces on a chess board being moved from place to place by generals and statesmen.”
    Wonderful words. Well-written and thorough review, my son! As I finish up To End All Wars, you might even see me attempt this one. I love you, and I’m so proud of you!

  2. I did see most of the miniseries on History Channel one time. I have wanted to read the book for a while and will certainly see if I can find it on my next library run.

    1. I think the movie to which you refer is something different. The miniseries based on this book was done by HBO, and I don’t think VF has shown anything produced by HBO.

      However, VF has made a couple WWII documentaries of their own. They did one called A League of Grateful Sons. Is that what you’re thinking of?

      You’d like the book, I’m sure of it. Just a warning, though: it’s a war book, so there’s a fair amount of foul language (quite strong, in one instance). Thankfully, the amount of cussing is much more toned down than in most books of the same genre.

      1. Well, you wouldn’t hear it on the 200YP recording, but they did show part of Band of Brothers and then Mr. Botkin elaborated on it. :) It was really good, I wish they *had* recorded it. They do mention something about it on the CDs they carry.

        The League of Grateful Sons is an excellent documentary too. We all love that one.

          1. It must be pretty uncomfortable to stand while you’re typing–I’ve tried it. But I’ll take your word that you did.

            :D

            And yes, it was *very* neat. There’s an atmosphere that you just can’t catch on recording.

  3. I love reading about WWII, but I don’t like violence at all. (Go figure. . . how can I like war stories but not like violence?) I LOVED Unbroken by Hillenbrand. Do you think I can stomach Band of Brothers? I’ve heard so many, many good things about it!

    1. Band of Brothers has war violence in it (of course), but seldom is it described in graphic detail. There are some grisly scenes to be sure, but overall, if you could stomach Unbroken and To End All Wars, I don’t think you’ll have a problem with this one. :)

  4. Ink, this book is one of my daughter Elizabeth’s all-time favorites. She’s majoring in history at Illinois State University. During high school she became fascinated with World War 2, and read pretty much all of Stephen Ambrose’s books. Now she’s added World War 1 and the Civil War to eras she’s fascinated by…she’s taking a class on the Civil War this semester.

    We also watched the Band of Brothers miniseries, which aside from some language and other content, is wonderful. I have such an appreciation for the WW 2 veterans, largely because of that series. I never meet a World War 2 vet without shaking his hand and thanking him for serving our country. They are, of course, a dying breed.

    Cindy @ Notes in the Key of Life

    1. I can see why it’s one of her favorites – it’s one of mine now, too. I’m planning to watch the miniseries since I’ve finished the book. Reading about what U.S. soldiers have gone through and continue to go through is truly a humbling experience.

  5. Excellent response to an excellent book! Thank you. It was a sad day January 2, 2011 when Dick Winter’s life ended. I think we need more role models like him.

    I also read Dick Winters’ book, Beyond Band of Brothers and Don Malarkey’s Easy Company Soldier. I think it was Don who went to University of Oregon after the war. His roommates (who had not been in the war) mocked him and jeered his touchiness at loud noises. They used to drop a stack of books onto the floor to see him jump. After the HBO miniseries came out (50 years later) those mockers were abashed to see what Malarkey had been through.

    1. I’ll have to read Winters’ and Malarkey’s books, as they sound like a great follow-up to BoB.

      As to the story about Malarkey’s roommates – wow. I’ll bet they were abashed. Talk about a slap in their arrogant faces.

  6. Great review of an incredible book. I had to read this after watching the HBO miniseries. I need to read the books by the other soldiers in this company, and I am also (very sporadically) reading the books on which HBO’s “The Pacific” was based. Such a compelling period of time….

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. :) WWII is one of my favorites periods of history to study. I’m planning to read The Pacific, as a friend recommended it to me since I liked Band of Brothers.

  7. I read this one a couple of years ago and Easy Company Soldier, too (for the Oregon connection). The miniseries is amazing, and Damien Lewis is spot-on as Winters. I’m so in awe of that generation that I generally watch Band of Brothers anytime it’s on.

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