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The Good War: Oral History of WWII

4.25  ·  Rating Details ·  2,979 Ratings  ·  191 Reviews
Oral history evokes the innocent idealism, as well as the terror and horror, of ordinary Americans at home and abroad during World War II
Mass Market Paperback, 591 pages
Published October 12th 1985 by Ballantine (first published 1984)
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Sep 02, 2013 Ensiform rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, war
A collection of reminisces and insights on the war. It's mostly American, but there are German, Japanese and Russian voices as well. Even so, the years 1939-41 are almost totally ignored, which is a surprising weakness is what is otherwise an immensely important book. The tales told here present hundreds of horrifying, bizarre and amazing images that linger on later. Perhaps the most memorable is the legless ex-GI, deformed from radiation and now become head of the National Association of Atomic ...more
Dec 13, 2008 Ruth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
World War II was the background of my childhood. I was 6 when it started and 10 at the end. At that age, what is, is. I accepted this setting for my young years and never thought about how strange it was to be in this situation. It wasn’t until years later that I began to understand.

Here he interviews soldiers, sailors, marines, men, women, Americans, Germans, Japanese… A full panoply of the participants, no matter what age, no matter at home or in battle.

Studs Terkel is a maestro of the intervi
carl  theaker
Nov 18, 2015 carl theaker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2
Author Terkel made a radio career of interviewing and he did well continuing using the format of oral histories in books, which I think is an easy way to write a book, but there’s probably more to it than I suspect.

In ‘The Good War’ he continues the genre with short interviews of anywhere from a couple paragraphs to 5 or so pages in length, short and potent, of what folks did during World War 2 or how it affected their lives afterward.

Mostly Americans, but also a variety of all nationalities
If you've read Working, you probably know the score. Our interviewer, Studs Terkel, gets people from all walks of life, rich and poor, men and women, fighters and pacifists, Americans, Brits, Germans, Japanese, and so forth to open up about their experiences with World War II, that least morally ambiguous of American military actions.

I like This American Life, but it is a show that routinely dives into sentimentality, or into the worst sort of giggly low-level irony. What I like about Studs Terk
Dec 04, 2013 Cal40 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
My 89 year-old grandfather Joe fought in the war, and I know he's told me a few war stories before, but I'm sad that I can only remember one:

Joe was the head of his infantry, and his little group had gotten their jeeps stuck in a muddy ditch outside of base. They had been pushing for at least an hour, but the mud was really thick. A general from base was calling for their men to report back for lunch in the mess hall. Joe was getting annoyed that it was taking this long for the men to free their
"The Good War" is advertised as an oral history of World War II as told by veterans and citizens on many fronts - which, technically, it is. However, Terkel seems to have taken a definite anti-war stance with this book. Rather than presenting a balanced view of World War II by telling both the positive and the negative, he has chosen to include interviews with a disproportionate number of veterans who were discriminated against or were treated poorly by their officers; people who were victims of ...more
Dec 29, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An important, indispensable book that should be required reading. Terkel interviews a wide spectrum of people and gathers their reflections and experiences regarding World War II and the aftermath. The range of people is remarkable. We hear from GIs, Rosie the Riveters, scientists that helped make the A-Bomb, Japanese-Americans that were interred here in the U.S., and many, many other eyewitness accounts to history. Terkel does not paraphrase; the text retains the actual words of these individua ...more
Since that sailor snogged the face off that woman on Times Square in 1945, it has been universally agreed that the Second World War was the human race’s finest hour. Even with seventy million deaths and enough Nazis to suit the most avid fan playing on your mind, you’d be hard-pushed to actually argue against those glorious six years, when the peoples of the world – including, almost certainly, some of your older relatives – stood up to the leviathan of pure evil with technical know-how and hum ...more
Apr 12, 2009 Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolute must-read. These personal accounts show the varied tapestry of a war - make it something you can relate too. So many years in history classes left me with no real sense of the war - and I certainly couldn't be bothered to remember if the Battle of the Bulge was after D-day or what... no, this book has me understanding the war, knowing its important events and many, many unimportant ones.

The black soldier fired on by white soldiers in a US base on US soil - because they suspected thei
I love the format, though not gonna lie, 600 pages stretched me to my maximum. I didn't realize exactly how thoroughly WWII was woven into the American fabric, how much of a letdown and a betrayal Vietnam was, but also how thoroughly repulsed those who experienced it were by war. Today, Americana pulls on WWII imagery like nobody's business, without the absolute gore and horror and repulsion that those who lived through it seem to feel. I didn't realize how fundamental it was in creating America ...more
Aug 05, 2015 Jared rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think what impressed me most about this book is the way that Terkel was able to preserve the integrity of each person's voice; each interview is truly a unique perspective on the war (even though many of the interviews are built around the same events). Furthermore, the grouping of the interviews, while broadly thematic, is just random enough to preserve the feel of an actual conversation. For me, both of these aspects are huge wins and make this book a unique achievement.

Given the diversity,
Pat F.
Nov 19, 2014 Pat F. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the World War II info that you won't find in the history books. If you've read any of Terkel's books, you know what to expect: an expansive cross-section of people giving their perspectives on the topic at hand. It sounds so simple, but it isn't. I wish our military and civilian leaders would read a book like this before they get us into any more messes. (Note: I'm NOT saying that WW II wasn't worth fighting; it absolutely was.)

Just one little story by way of illustrating the value of Te
Shane Gower
Jan 18, 2016 Shane Gower rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These first hand accounts from all walks of life is a comprehensive overview of people who lived through World War Two. Almost every account challenges the idea of the war as the good war, thus the quotes in the title. Everything from a conscientious objector, to women who worked in factories, POW's, Bomber pilots, Japanese-Americans who were in the camps and more. You'd be hard pressed to find a voice not included here. Great for helping to understand society during the war.
Rather than provide a traditional narrative of World War II, Studs Terkel pieces together a large collection of oral histories to create a historical perspective of the global conflict. This perspective portrays World War II in a very ambiguous light. Folks involved in all aspects share experiences that are thrilling, compelling, heroic, heart-wrenching, humorous, sickening, and tragic. Within this scale of emotion lies Terkel's argument: World War II was anything but a "good war."

How could a w
Feb 04, 2014 Cecil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: High school students, anyone born after 1980
Recommended to Cecil by: no one in particular
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read it as a follow-up to this author's Great Depression release called, 'Hard Times,' which I enjoyed very much, too.

This book, in essence, is a collection of some 70-odd personal interviews of people who participated in World War II in one way or another. Since Terkel chose such a wide array of interviewees, the reader gets a well-deserved variety of what happened to the individuals who fought in and survived that war. Very real stories, both positive and ne
Jul 11, 2015 victoria.p rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Really 4.5, but I think the ending - the bits with the baby boomers and then the kids - were less interesting to me (it's also really interesting to compare the world in the early 80s, when this was written, and now; the economic problems persist, but I don't think we fear full-on nuclear war in the same visceral way). There also wasn't a lot from before the US entered the war. But overall, a genuinely moving read.
Jun 05, 2014 Alger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
More 4 1/2 since this is a mountain of a tome and inevitably includes some lengthy accounts that add nothing to the sum total of the book except more pages, but this is STUDS *freaking* TURKEL so the book gets a full star extra credit and I round down to stay within the bounds of Goodreads ratings.

This is such a Chicago kind of book, the kind that builds out of the grittiest possible material and ends up with something majestic. It is hard not to read this book as a correction to the more recent
Dana Gynther
I was fascinated by this book-- so much depth, so many points of view. A must-read for anyone interested in WWII (or American History). Too bad Studs T. wasn't around throughout history to cherry-pick interviews with major and minor players-- wouldn't it be fascinating to read real oral histories of Napoleon's wars, Roman invasions, etc?
Mike Kabongo
Dec 07, 2012 Mike Kabongo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Truly excellent oral history.
This is a collection of skillfully elicited accounts of the World War Two stories covering the lives of men and women from all walks of life. Studs Terkel was just an amazing historian and interviewer. These histories will give a personal touch to your knowledge of the war to end all wars.
Studs Terkel interviewed upward of a hundred people who relate their experiences during World War II. Most are US citizens but some were from Germany, Russia, and Japan. The author interviews soldiers, factory workers, citizens interned for having a Japanese heritage, black citizens who experienced racial prejudice, survivors of Hiroshima, US soldier and Japanese victims of many stories. While history books and war books relate battles, this book provides a unique experience from ...more
Dec 16, 2008 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I am not objective about the late great Studs Terkel. I miss him. Why couldn't he have stuck around another 50 years or so? Here is another example where Terkel lets the voices of other people shine through.
Margaret Elder
Jun 01, 2015 Margaret Elder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know a little about World War II. My Dad was a D Day survivor who fought throughout Europe until VE Day. I have read many books about the war and visited the Normandy battlefields, etc. But, it was this book, with an oxymoron for a title, that taught me more than any other about the war. What a great gift to history! The individual conversations with diverse individuals on diverse topics connected with the war opened my eyes to many facets of war. I never dreamed that people who lived through ...more
Simon Kissam
Aug 14, 2014 Simon Kissam rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was really good, and showed a lot of how the war affected Americans, along with a few other people. That's the major reason I'm giving this four stars, is because it says an "Oral History of WWII" which implies that it covers all of WWII from all sides, however it doesn't really, it's mostly American, though does have a few international people. The stories of those affected by the war were really well done, and showed how the American populace was led to believe things about the Japanese a ...more
Jan 22, 2015 Tamsyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A rather excellent book, gives you a look at the staggering amount of different ways that WWII affected people. It was a bit US-centric, but did have a few other perspectives.
Dec 10, 2014 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some time ago I read "World War Z: An oral history of the zombie war" by Max Brooks, a novel built as a collection of interviews with veterans of the war against the zombies. I discovered that the author was inspired by Terkel's "The Good War", so I decided to read this one too. I was afraid of discovering that World War Z was derivative respect to The Good War, though: get a great classic of the New Journalism, change names, substitute "World War II" with "World War Z", zombies instead of the N ...more
Jamien Sandhu
Mar 23, 2015 Jamien Sandhu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Notable Quotes:
"A man who had worked so hard for what he had and lost it overnight. There is a very strong word in Japanese, gaman. It means to persevere. Old people instilled this into the second generation: You persevere. Take what's coming, don't react." - Peter Ota p. 29

"The weaponry that came out of World War Two, nuclear weapons, so what has changed the world. We can no longer shake fists the way we used to." - W. Averell Harriman p. 331

"Paradoxically enough, though it was a great victory
Brenton Nichol
Feb 23, 2015 Brenton Nichol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I don't know that this book would have ever found its way onto my shelves if it weren't for Max Brooks stating that it was the inspiration for the 'oral history' structure of his novel World War Z. And that's a damn shame, because this should be required reading for anyone who has gone through or is going through the American school system. I never realized just how simplified, biased, and cleaned up my impressions of past American generations were until I was nose deep in these fascinating reme ...more
Read the STOP SMILING interview with Studs Terkel:

By Danny Postel and JC Gabel

(This interview originally appeared in the STOP SMILING Chicago Issue)

Studs Terkel is “as much a part of Chicago as the Sears Tower and Al Capone,” a BBC journalist once remarked.

Indeed, just as tourists to the “city of the century” throng to the skyscraper's observation deck and make their way to one or another of the gangster's old haunts, many a writer has pilgrimaged to the Uptown home of Chica
Jan 12, 2015 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“The Good War” by Studs Terkel

...I wish I had read this book a long time ago. “The Good War” covered the oral history of World War II from a wide variety of perspectives. Some were veterans, others were civilians. Of note, there were the conscientious objectors, the Latino zoot suit rioters, the physicists part of the atom bomb development, journalists and cartoonists during the war, African-Americans and minorities in the military, and regular small-town residents economically affected by the w
Daniel Harrison
Oct 07, 2009 Daniel Harrison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great and entertaining book based on first-person accounts of the tortures and pain that many suffered during in World War II. The accounts range from Jews in the halocaust to Japenese-Americanin citizens relocated for matters pretaining to national security after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The accounts also include German, American, Russian(and so on), soldiers that served from the front lines to working back at command. The stories tell of the terrifying demands of some and the hate targeti ...more
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Louis "Studs" Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985 for "The Good War", and is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.

Terkel was acclaimed for his efforts to preserve American oral history. His 1985 book "The Good War: An Oral History
More about Studs Terkel...

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