Thursday, May 14, 2015
Briefly Reviewed: To The Last Man by Jeff Shaara
Shaara has made his name writing well researched novels dealing with America's military history, starting with his prequel and sequels to his father's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels. In To the Last Man, Shaara turns his attention to World War One. He has four main characters: American Raoul Lufbery who volunteered to fly planes with the French air service before American came into the war; German pilot Manfred von Richthofen better known as the Red Baron; General John Pershing, who led the American expeditionary force when the US entered the war; and Private Roscoe Temple of the US Marine Corps. All of these are real historical characters on whom Shaara clearly did his research.
The structure of the book can be a little odd. It breaks into two halves, with the first half almost exclusively dealing with the air war and the two flying ace characters. The second half deals with the last year of the land war from a primarily American perspective. As such, this is very much an American view of the war, even though we have some French characters in Lufbery's sections and of course we get a German view in the chapters dealing with the Red Baron.
The writing is competent throughout, but I didn't find myself deeply emotionally invested in the characters. I wanted to find out what happened to them, but somehow I never felt that extra bit of immediacy which makes you shrink away as the character suffers, and hope at ever turn that good things will happen to the character.
However, I didn't dislike any of the characters and this is a good, workmanlike effort bringing a little known period of American history to life. I could wish for a novel that dealt with the war more widely, rather than a strictly American view, but that would simply be a different novel.
If I could do fractions, I'd rate this 3.5 stars, but I'll round up to 4 for the historical effort put forth and the fact that the characters do seem individual and detailed even if I wasn't emotionally invested in them. They are certainly not mere placeholders or ideological pawns (in that sense I'd rate it well above Ken Follet's Fall of Giants, also dealing with WW1, which I couldn't finish.)