by Richard Rubin
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Pp. x, 518.
Illus., maps, appends., biblio., index. $28.00. ISBN: 978-0-547-55443-3
Interviews with America’s Last Great War Veterans
Rubin is a journalist, crime writer, and author of Confederacy of Silence and Everyday American History of the 20th Century. In researching The Last of the Doughboys he conducted interviews with the several dozen surviving American veterans of the Great War, men and women aged from 101 to 113. Using these interviews, he has written an account not only of their wartime service, at the front or at sea or in an office in Washington or elsewhere. These stories tell us not only about the war as experienced by young Americans, but also about America’s role in war, and about the nature of American society at the time.
Many of these personal stories ring true, often vividly so, and they throw light on the minutiae of soldiering or life in early twentieth century America, and, as important, they can be verified from other sources. But in some cases, the accounts are flawed, memories having faded or been edited or otherwise altered by time, matters that could easily have been checked (e.g., the “Fighting 612th” in the New York National Guard!), reminding us of the fragility and malleability of memory.
Nevertheless, keeping these limitations in mind, The Last of the Doughboys is a good read for anyone interested in the experience of war, America’s role in the Great War, and the nature of memory.
Note: The Last of the Doughboys is also available in paperback, $15.95 , ISBN 978-0-5442-9048-8 and an e-book, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-5478-4369-8.