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The Good War: An Oral History of World War II
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The Good War: An Oral History of World War II

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  2,626 ratings  ·  169 reviews
In The Good War Terkel presents the good, the bad, and the ugly memories of World War II from a perspective of forty years of after the events. No matter how gruesome the memories are, relatively few of the interviewees said they would have been better off without the experience. It was a central and formative experience in their lives. Although 400,000 Americans perished, ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published January 1st 1997 by The New Press (first published 1984)
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Community Reviews

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Ensiform
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
Ruth
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
...more
Cal40
Dec 04, 2013 Cal40 is currently reading it
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
...more
Tommccoy26
"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
Marie
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
...more
Mark
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
Jared
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,
...more
Pat F.
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
...more
Douglas Cavanaugh
Feb 04, 2014 Douglas Cavanaugh rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: High school students, anyone born after 1980
Recommended to Douglas 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
...more
victoria.p
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.
Alger
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
...more
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
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.
Lori
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
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
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
Tamsyn
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.
Andrea
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
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
...more
Brenton Nichol
Feb 23, 2015 Brenton Nichol rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Dave
Nov 25, 2014 Dave added it
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
Stop
Jun 10, 2009 Stop added it
Shelves: interviewees
Read the STOP SMILING interview with Studs Terkel:

BEHIND THE BILLBOARDS
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
...more
Jack
“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
...more
Daniel Harrison
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
Ilya
Interviews with about 100 Americans and about a dozen foreigners about the Second World War. These run the gamut from ordinary GIs and deported Japanese Americans to, for example, John Kenneth Galbraith, the economist who implemented price controls and fought inflation during the war, and Telford Taylor, the chief American prosecutor at Nuremberg. When people in their 60s reminisce about their 20s, there are bound to be mistakes; an American soldier who met the Russians at the Elbe mentions a he ...more
Tim
Of course it was amazing- it's Studs Terkel. Dood had a knack for getting awesome interviews with such a breadth of people. It took me forever to read this because I've been reading stuff on the side and reading a lot of comics lately, so the beginning of the book is somewhat hazy for me. There was really amazing/crazy stuff in the beginning about the Pacific theatre and the Japanese policy of living off the land (ie. stealing farmers' stuff) wherever they were in the Pacific instead of providin ...more
Justin
An indispensable work. A straightforward oral history of World War II, from the grunts to the top brass, from women at the factories to women at home, from Japanese-American internees to war profiteers, from FDR's bureaucrats to Red Cross workers.

The quote marks around "The Good War" are not accidental. To wit:

For the old Iowa farmer, it was something else. Oh yes, he remembered the Depression and what it did to the farmers: foreclosures the norm; grain burned; corn at minus three cents a bushe
...more
Will Fleming
This is a fascinating book, as an alternate perspective on a piece of history that is such an ingrained piece of our cultural memory and that is so often adapted for film & TV that the reality of it can sometimes seem remote. This isn't a history of WW II in the way most histories are. It's a collection of interviews with people who were involved: mostly american soldiers, but also women who became "Rosie the Riveter", Asian-Americans who dealt with the internment camps, and even a few Germa ...more
Ryan
A wonderful collection of oral interviews with men and women who participated in World War II, in all places and on both sides. The viewpoints are as varied as the interviewees, their unfiltered words providing a look into facets of the war passed over or incompletely represented by history books and documentaries. One gets a sense not only of what the war was like, but of the politics, culture, attitudes, and everyday realities of the era, a part of the picture all too often muted in war docume ...more
Samuel
Whereas I will always love Howard Zinn for exposing me to the simple fact that there is an entirely different interpretation of History, and also of the world out there. I appreciate Turkel's obvious effort to get multiple perspectives from various sources in all areas of society men, women, rich, poor, officer, enlisted, civilian white and non-white. Through these efforts he is able to better weave a fabric of stories which paints a more accurate and complete picture of America in that era, at ...more
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Terkel won the Pulitzer prize in 1985 for his interviews with ordinary people in such books as Working, The Good War, and Hard Times. Often called an Oral Historian, Studs Terkel preferred to be known for playing music on the radio.
More about Studs Terkel...
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression Division Street: America Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth and Hunger for a Faith Race: How Blacks And Whites Think And Feel About The American Obsession

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