What a fantastic series! Granted, it took me a while to work my way through its nearly 2000 pages, but I was completely absorbed and I loved every moment of it. Plus, the author is 102 years old this year and is still sharp as a tack!
A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction-The Great Novel of America's "Greatest Generation" Herman Wouk's sweeping epic of World War II, which begins with The Winds of War and continues in War and Remembrance, stands as the crowning achievement of one of America's most celebrated storytellers. Like no other books about the war, Wouk's spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events-and all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II-as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war's maelstrom.
The Winds of War
Pages: 896 / Audio: 45 hrs and 53 mins
Published February 5th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published November 15th 1971)
"The purpose of the author in both War and Remembrance and The Winds of War was to bring the past to vivid life through the experiences, perceptions, and passions of a few people caught in the war's maelstrom. This purpose was best served by scrupulous accuracy of locale and historical fact, as the backdrop against which the invented drama would play." ~ Herman Wouk in Notes by the Author
Carol's Rating: ★★★★★
Fantastic! This is How History Should be Told
If you're looking for an impactful, compelling, unputdownable, entertaining family drama packed with historical facts leading up to and into WWII, this is the series! I learned more about WWII from this book than from any other. Most history books tend to be a snooze for me, regardless of how badly I want to learn the information. But not this one. Herman Wouk is a masterful storyteller. His telling of history works because he humanizes it. You experience it through his characters.
Members of the fictional Henry family are completely believable characters; some lovable, some admirable, some total morons, and all with flaws we can relate to. As the members of this military family are spread across the world, we learn about the struggles of those affected by the war be it due to location, heritage, or personal convictions. We learn about the political players and strategic political plays. We learn historical details from different characters with different perspectives. I especially enjoyed that some chapters were devoted to Victor Henry's translation of "World Empire Lost", a history book written by a fictional German General, Armin von Roon, and to which Victor Henry offers his own insights.
My review hardly does justice to this series. But believe me, you don't want to pass this one by.
Born in 1915 into a Jewish family that immigrated from Russia to New York City, Herman Wouk is the author of such classics as The Caine Mutiny (1951), Marjorie Morningstar (1955), Youngblood Hawke (1961), Don't Stop the Carnival (1965), The Winds of War (1971), War and Remembrance (1978), and Inside, Outside (1985). His later works include The Hope (1993), The Glory (1994), and Hole in Texas (2004).
Among Mr. Wouk's laurels are the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Caine Mutiny; the cover of Timemagazine for Marjorie Morningstar, the bestselling novel of that year; and the cultural phenomenon of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, which he wrote over a thirteen-year period and which went on to become two of the most popular novels and TV miniseries events of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1998, he received the Guardian of Zion Award for support of Israel.
In 2008, Mr. Wouk was honored with the first Library of Congress Fiction Award, to be known as the Herman Wouk Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction. His more recent works include The Lawgiver (2012). His autobiography, Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author, came out on his 100th birthday (January 2016). He lives in Palm Springs, California.
5 Reasons This is the Best History Book Ever. Period.
I have always wanted to understand the causes and events of WWII better, but most history books are painfully dry and quite honestly, far over my head. Not so with this book! The history is delivered in such a way that I was able to connect with it. I not only learned a ton but enjoyed it, too!
1. It clearly explains some of the causes behind WWII.
Of course, there are many factors but here's a big one.
The Treaty of Versailles
Quote from the book - Chapter 21 pg 16
The Versailles Treaty, said the Fuhrer, had simply been the latest of these foreign efforts to mutilate the German heartland. Because it had been historically unsound and unjust it was now dead."
The Treaty of Versailles (French: Trait de Versailles) was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required "Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage" during the war ....and forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers.
The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content...
Video Source: Produced by the Department of Defense [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
An American silent film. "Shows views of the Palace of Versailles and of the gardens; the arrival of Fr. For. Min. Pichon, Premier Clemenceau, Robert Lansing, Gen. Bliss, Herbert Hoover, Fr. Gen. Mounory, Gens. Allen and Pershing, Col. House, Arthur Balfour, Ignace Paderewski, Lloyd George, Baron Sonnino, Amb. Hugh Wallace, and Pres. and Mrs. Wilson; Clemenceau addressing the gathering; the U.S. and British delegates signing the treaty; and Lloyd George, Premier Orlando, Clemenceau, and Pres. Wilson posing and being greeted by huge crowds."
2. It explains how Hitler was able to gain the position of power that he did.
Herman Wouk explains this rather brilliantly, through the memoirs of his fictional character, German Brigadier General Armin Von Roon, who directly served the Fuehrer, attempted to assassinate him, and was eventually sentenced to 21 years in prison for war crimes.
How Hitler Usurped Control of the Army
Quote from the book - Chapter 17 pg 6
In 1938, he and his Nazi minions did not scruple to frame grave charges of sexual misconduct against revered generals of the top command. ... the Nazis managed to topple the professional leadership in a bold underhanded coup based on such accusations. Hitler with sudden stunning arrogance then assumed supreme command himself! And he exacted an oath of loyalty to himself throughout the Wehrmacht, from foot soldier to general. In this act he showed his knowledge of the German character, which is the soul of honor, and takes such an oath as binding to the death."
Our staff, muted and disorganized by the disgusting revelations and pseudo-revelations about our honored leaders, offered no coherent resistance to this usurpation. So...the German army...came to an end; and the drive wheel of the world's strongest military machine was grasped by an Austrian street agitator."
3. It explains the roots of Hitler's anti-Semitism; his hostility toward Jews. Besides his being nuts.
A conversation between Byron Henry (youngest son of Victor & Rhoda Henry) and Leslie Slote (with the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland) cleared this up for me.
In an attempt to better understand the German people, Byron reads Adolf Hitler's 1925 autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) that describes Hitler's anti-Semitic views and political ideology. I was completely impressed (and envious) of Byron's ability to sum things up so succinctly.
Hitler's Anti-Semitism and Political Ideology - Mein Kampf
Quote from the book - Chapter 14 pg 15
Well, that's why I've been reading this book, to try to figure them out. It's their leader's book. Now, it turn out this is the writing of an absolute nut. The Jews are secretly running the world, he says. That's his whole message. They're the capitalist, but they're the Bolsheviks too, and they're conspiring to destroy the German people, who by right should really be running the world. Well, he's going to become dictator, see, wipe out the Jews, crush France, and carve off half of Bolshevist Russia for more German living space. Have I got it right so far?"
A bit simplified, but yes -- pretty much."
4. The author has stated that telling the history of the holocaust through the frame of WWII was his main task in life. I think he nailed it!
The theme and aim of The Winds of War can be found in a few words by the French Jew, Julien Benda:
Peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war, but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the coming of a state of mind. In this sense the most insignificant writer can serve peace, where the most powerful tribunals can do nothing."
5 . Lastly, the family drama portion of this story. Oh yeah 🙂 It includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the naughty, the honorable, the adventurous, the vain, the foolish, the busy-bodies, the morons - and I loved every moment of it.
With that in mind, I just have to share my impression of Natalie Jastrow's behavior in Volume 1. Thankfully, my opinion of her improved in Volume 2.
NPR Author Interview January 14, 2016 |by Lynn Neary Heard on All Things Considered | Listen 4:52
Herman Wouk has written a lot of well loved novels like The Winds of War, War and Remembrance and The Caine Mutiny, which won him a Pulitzer Prize. But his latest achievement is a rare one Wouk reached a milestone that few of us will ever see: the age of 100.
Many years ago, a well known biographer approached Wouk about writing his life story. He gave her access to his journals, but after reading them, "she said, your literary career would be wonderful material and I'd love to do it," Wouk recalls. "But there is a spiritual journey running through your volumes which only you can do." ... Read more or listen below
CBS Sunday Morning aired on July 2 an interview with author Herman Wouk, 102. Wouk's last book, the memoir Sailor and the Fiddler, was published in 2015. Now he says he will write no more new books, but he does write in his diary every day.
Frankly, the CBS interview seemed like the last word from Wouk. Just two years ago, in photos that accompanied a Sailor and Fiddler review in the New York Times, he was wearing nice, casual clothes (including a Panama-type hat) and was sporting a long, well-groomed white beard. However, in the CBS interview, he is in a bathrobe, in a wheelchair and has an oxygen tube up his nose. His beard is a bit ragged and he wears a simple yarmulke on his bald head.
Still, his mind is still sharp. He quickly discusses his most famous work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny (based on his World War II naval service). And he talks about the aim of his central life work: to fix down in literature what happened in World War II and the Holocaust. Besides The Caine Mutiny (1951), Wouk also wrote Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978). The latter graphically depicted the Holocaust and was the foundation for a 1988-89 TV miniseries of the same name.
TV Miniseries Promo Trailers
1. Do you feel you came to know the characters personally? Some characters more than others?
2. Has reading this book helped you feel closer to any of your friends or family members or helped you gain a better sense of what they may have lived through?
3. Do you believe the author gives an accurate account of history and human nature?
4. What has the author stated was the "main task of his life"? Do you feel he accomplished it?
5. Have you watched the television mini-series based on this book series? Â Does it follow the general rule that the book is better than the movie or is it an exception?
6. What were the most enlightening things you learned from reading this series?
7. Who were your favorite characters?
8. Which characters do you feel experienced the most growth and development? Give examples.
9. What do you think is the overall take away from this series?
10. Were you in Natalie's shoes throughout this story, would you have made similar decisions in her circumstances?