A quirky sad/funny, mystery/comedy/tragedy that disturbs one moment, tickles the next, and left me uncomfortable more than I wanted to admit. At times...moreA quirky sad/funny, mystery/comedy/tragedy that disturbs one moment, tickles the next, and left me uncomfortable more than I wanted to admit. At times it read like "Holes" for adults.
On one level, this book is a satire on the literary world and its pretensions. The author even makes a cameo appearance as a writer the main character/narrator makes fun of. Along the way there is a mystery to be solved, but the mystery is never so deep as to get in the way of the deeper mysteries the novel wants to explore: why do we hurt the ones we love the most, and is truth really the balm for wounds we'd like to think it is?
Having just finished a seminary course on biblical wisdom literature, I was struck by parallels in this book. The narrator seems on a quest for wisdom. Like Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes, he finds that most of the conventional wisdom on wisdom doesn't really hold up. We even meet Job's friends, in the form of a group of convicted bond analysts who advise the narrator "just tell the truth, Dude. It will make you feel better," a notion the narrator finds not always true, to his great pain.
In the end, the novel turns out to be about sacrifice for the sake of love, and the acceptance that while human love often stinks and hurts, it's better than the alternatives.(less)
What can you say about one of the recognized great classics that hasn't been said. I've read this five times so far. I'm a sucker for wooden ships and...moreWhat can you say about one of the recognized great classics that hasn't been said. I've read this five times so far. I'm a sucker for wooden ships and metaphors of a wrathful god ;-)(less)
Fascinating insights into a world that has disappeared.
Derek Lundy signed on to a modern-day yacht trip around perilous Cape Horn to retrace part of t...moreFascinating insights into a world that has disappeared.
Derek Lundy signed on to a modern-day yacht trip around perilous Cape Horn to retrace part of the journey his forebear Benjamin took a century before. As Derek traveled in the relative safety of a contemporary vessel, he became fascinated with how different, and how much more dangerous, Benjamin's immigration trip must have been.
In the end, Derek decided to tell Benjamin's story in a unique way. Way of a Ship alternates chapters of factual information about the lives of 19th century square-rigged sailors with a semi-imagined, fictional novelization of Benjamin Lundy's time "before the mast."
As someone who has had a lifetime love affair with the era of tall ships--and who will read any novel or book about those times--I can say that I have never read anything that informed me better about square-rigged ships and the men that sailed them. While the novels of Patrick O'Brian and Herman Melville certainly are rich in such detail, they also assume a lot without much explanation. Derek Lundy, on the other hand, patiently and lovingly helps those who wouldn't know a back stay from a yardarm to get a deep working knowledge of those glorious vessels. Part of his genius is to show us how sailing ships necessitated and bred a symbiotic relationship between man and machine that has rarely been seen before or since.
The Way of a Ship is not only a novel about turn of the 19th-to-20th century sailing, it is also a beautiful elegy for the passing of a time never to return. Benjamin Lundy made his passage 'round the Horn during the dying days of sail. The big square riggers were already being replaced by the faster, more efficient steam ships. Benjamin's ancestor Derek captures for us a thought-provoking picture of one of the hidden costs of progress: the loss of a way of life, the way of a ship.(less)
If you're a scholar (or just live with one, as I do) you will appreciate this dry, droll, but very human poke at the world of academia. Prof. Dr. Dr....moreIf you're a scholar (or just live with one, as I do) you will appreciate this dry, droll, but very human poke at the world of academia. Prof. Dr. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld means well, but the world seems so against him. All he wants is the proper recognition that is due to the author of the groundbreaking treatise Portuguese Irregular Verbs (200 copies sold). When his publisher informs him that the best offer they can get for the remaining 700 copies in their warehouse is from an interior decorating firm that wants to use them to "look good" on clients' bookshelves, von Iglefeld goes on a personal campaign for his due fame.
Smith's talent comes forth best in how lovable he makes von Iglefeld. Instead of painting him as the sort of detestable beast we would consider someone so ego-obsessed to be, Smith reminds us that there is von Iglefeld in all of us.(less)
As other reviewers have noted, don't read Wodehouse for plot or character development. Read him for the richness of language and his keen satire of th...moreAs other reviewers have noted, don't read Wodehouse for plot or character development. Read him for the richness of language and his keen satire of the vacuousness of the monied class.(less)
This is not so much a novel as it is a sermon. It starts out looking like there will be an interesting story, but ends up being just a vehicle for Ran...moreThis is not so much a novel as it is a sermon. It starts out looking like there will be an interesting story, but ends up being just a vehicle for Rand to preach her individualist gospel.
Anthem is set in a distant future when only the dimmest memories of our "Unmentionable Times" remain. All traces of individuality have been stamped out. Everyone has a number instead of a name and speaks of themselves and others in a collective plural ("we" never "I" and "they" never "him/her"). The main character discovers remnants of the science of the Unmentionable Times, and his knowledge leads him to rebel against the authorities of his world.
I think I might have enjoyed this book more if I had thought of it as a poem or parable, rather than as a novel. The characters were flat and lifeless who only speak to each other in speeches instead of real dialog.
Stylistic considerations aside, this book's usefulness is as a rather brief introduction to the radical individualism that was Ayn Rand's gospel.(less)
This book just about took my breath away. Haunting, disturbing, unsettling...yet so beautifully written I often found myself stopping after a particul...moreThis book just about took my breath away. Haunting, disturbing, unsettling...yet so beautifully written I often found myself stopping after a particular passage or even a sentence and marveling that such a thing had come from human pen. It's a good thing the story is set in such exquisite prose-poetry; otherwise it's tale might be unbearable.
This novel works on many levels. Most obviously, it is a family saga; an often painful examination of how a family learns to cope with unbearable circumstances, at least partly of their own making. Kingsolver brilliantly paints that picture through the eyes and voices of the five Price women (mother and four daughters) dragged into the seething Congo of the early 1960s by their overzealous, overconfident missionary father/husband. Each of the women's voices is entirely unique and believable.
Poisonwood Bible is also a case study in megalomania, whether on the personal or national level. Firebrand missionary Nathan Price serves as a metaphor for everything wrong with American and Western European colonialism: believing ourselves to already have the right answers, we continually fail to be able to hear anything from those we come to "help," and thus end up destroying both them and ourselves.
On another level, this book personalizes the suffering Africa has endured over the stretch of its colonial history on into its modern independence movements. It forces us to see the price paid for "modernization" and "democritization."
Finally, Poisonwood Bible is an indictment of religion misused as abuse. The title refers to what turns out to be Nathan Price's unwitting self-parody of his own deliberate ignorance. When attempting to say, "Jesus is worthy of praise" in the local language, he unknowingly slightly mispronounces a word, resulting in "Jesus is the Poisonwood Tree," a tree that causes a bitter sting and rash to anyone who comes in contact with it.
The lesson of The Poisonwood Bible is that in our attempts to do good to those who are different from us, we would do well to listen and learn for a long time before we ever attempt to act.(less)
A much more subtle, balanced, and realistic account than The Poisonwood Bible of what may happen when Western religion and science directly confront t...moreA much more subtle, balanced, and realistic account than The Poisonwood Bible of what may happen when Western religion and science directly confront tribal religion and culture. A young anthropologist succeeds in breaking through the wall that had frustrated the fieldwork of so many before her, the seemingly impenetrable wall that prevents members of one culture from truly experiencing and understanding another culture through the eyes if its own people. She does so, however, at tragic cost to herself and others.
The story is told through the narration of a young, bored American freelance journalist living in Thailand. He comes across the story of an anthropologist who murdered a Christian missionary, and becomes obsessed with finding out how and why. Along the way he uncovers the fascinating back stories of both the anthropologist and the dynastic missionary family working with the people she came to study.
SPOILER BELOW! For me the most powerful moment of this story is the revelation that the event that triggers the murder of the missionary and eventual destruction of the anthropologist is the failure of one representative of the religion of forgiveness to forgive when it is most needed. (less)
Charming, funny, sad, witty, moving...all these describe this gorgeous first novel by Brigid Pasulka. Set in both World War II and present Poland (and...moreCharming, funny, sad, witty, moving...all these describe this gorgeous first novel by Brigid Pasulka. Set in both World War II and present Poland (and the times in between), A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True is a ringing affirmation of the value of sacrifice of one generation for the next, whether for the building of a family or a nation.
The story is built in alternating chapters. One set tells the tale of a family in a remote Polish mountain village starting just before the German invasion, and in particular the love story between the beautiful Anielica and her heroic suitor, "The Pigeon." The other set of chapters brings us to present-day "New" Poland and the humdrum existence in Krakow of three women all descended from that mountain village family. As the novel progresses, the story of the war-time family races forward on a collision course with the contemporary story, and we more and more come to understand how much the present is rooted in the past. The challenge: will the present-day characters rise to the challenge of living lives worthy of the amazing sacrifices made for them by the generation before?
Pasulka often portrays village life with effective humor, but never at the expense of the characters' dignity and worth. The humor helps soften the reader to the characters, and in some way prepare for the suffering that is to come.
A personal note: A number of years ago, while teaching at an English-language summer camp in Hungary, I had the opportunity to visit Krakow for a few days. Though the visit was short, I fell forever in love with the Old City, particularly the Rynek square and Wawel Castle, both of which play prominent roles in this novel. The author did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of this marvelous city.
One note about the title. It appears from the acknowledgments at the end of the book that Pasulka based her story on interviews with very real stories of survivors of World War II and the subsequent years of Russian occupation. Thus, I think, the "Essentially True" part of the title.(less)
Historical fiction is a daring enterprise, which is a polite way of saying that it borders on the foolhardy at one extreme and the arrogant at the oth...moreHistorical fiction is a daring enterprise, which is a polite way of saying that it borders on the foolhardy at one extreme and the arrogant at the other. If attempting to recreate a time and place neither author nor reader can visit to verify smacks of foolhardy hubris, then fictionalized autobiography might be something worse. However, after reading The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, the reader is glad author Jerome Charyn risked something worse to achieve something better: an engaging, intriguing, dreamscape creation of an Emily Dickinson who, if not the one who actually existed, leads a “secret life” we would wish for the reclusive bard of Amherst.
Emily Dickinson does not seem like the most fertile ground for novelization. Aside from the words of poetry she left us, she is best known for hiding out in her bedroom for decades, communicating with others only by notes or from behind a partially-opened door. Charyn seemed to want to pursue the question “how could someone who barely ever left her room write so convincingly and sensuously about the world?” Charyn’s answer is to hypothesize that shy Emily may have been more the adventuress than we have known.
Charyn’s Emily certainly gets out more than her historical counterpart did. Though for the most part Emily of Secret Life stays true to the famous reclusive image, she can’t resist getting herself up close and personal with flesh-and-blood representatives of some of the more salacious eroticisms hinted at throughout her poetry.
To facilitate those adventures, Charyn freely mixes his own created characters in among the real historical persons who surrounded Miss Dickinson. Some of these act as the chief dramatic foils to the poetess’s otherwise carefully controlled and constructed life. Most intriguing is Zilpah Marsh, one of Emily’s classmates at the Holyoke Seminary. Zilpah is every bit as intelligent and witty as Emily, but her lower class origins drag her down a different, more ignominious path. Even still, Emily finds herself often envious of her less fortunate rival. We are introduced to Zilpah as she and Emily battle over Tom, the school handyman, who oozes both raw sexuality and pure romance. Though Emily seems to appreciate Tom more, it is Zilpah who ends up living with him.
Tom is another fictitious character, who Charyn brings into Emily’s life to be that ideal of the pure man whom she will always pursue but never own. Tom is “that blond Assassin in the sunlight” (from Dickinson’s poem “Apparently with no surprise…”). Like an assassin, he appears unexpectedly and in many disguises throughout Emily’s life, and the bullets he shoots at her are the ways his presence reminds her of what she sacrificed for her art.
But the character who looms largest in the life of Jerome Charyn’s Emily is her very real father. Emily may have an active “secret life,” but the central motivator for all she does is a need to please and be admired by her father. Squire Dickinson of the novel is at the same time Emily’s biggest cheerleader and harshest judge, though he almost never speaks either a word of praise or of judgment. His ability to be both intimately close and coldly distant is a painful enigma for Emily. He is a driven man, well-aware of his position as the most prominent citizen of Amherst. She describes him as “a ferocious engine on a lonely track.” Yet Emily is able to see a warm and tender heart that she wishes he could turn more toward her. When her father laments that Emily’s return from Holyoke Seminary means no more of her letters at the post office, she teases that she could plant letters there for him. He tells her it wouldn’t be the same, “because I couldn’t hear the hunger in your lines.” Her father’s aloofness is his way of encouraging the hunger he knows essential to her art, and it is both Emily’s greatest pain and her most useful inspiration.
A painful and shocking sampling of this tough love occurs fairly early in the novel. Visiting her rival doppelgänger Zilpah in an insane asylum, Emily observes her father showing the half-mad woman a tenderness and compassion she herself had never known from him. Though she takes this as the universe’s recompense on her for her earlier mistreatment of Zilpah, she also realizes that this will be the way of her life. Denial of intimacy with those from whom she most desires it drives her to the world she can create on slips of paper with the pencil stub always tied by a string to her dress.
Yet Emily’s relationship with her father is not all ice and distance. When she discovers that her father actually had read some of her poetry she had left out for him to find, she asks why he never told her. “Dolly [his pet name for her:],” he said, “it’s taken me two years to recover. They nearly tore my head off.” For Emily, such an impact on her father is nearly as good as a tender embrace, though she would have welcomed the latter. She seeks a replacement for that embrace in a succession of men she courts from afar, but that kind of fulfillment is not to be hers.
While these interpersonal conflicts drive the plot of the novel and sketch out Charyn’s thesis for possibilities of why Emily turned out the way she did, it is the language of the novel, its use of words and turns of phrase, that raise The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson to a work of brilliance. The author succeeds in creating a voice for Emily that rings true. We can never know, of course, if this is really how she felt and thought, but if somehow it turned out to be close to the truth, we would not be surprised. Once when a friend asks Emily what the actual subject of one of her poems was, Charyn has her respond, “Verses do not have a subject, I should think, but a kind of shudder, as if the whole world were born again within the flash of an eye.” Another time she remarks, “I have no terrain. I dance on a precipice, knowing I will fall.” These are lines we could easily believe the Belle of Amherst actually uttered.
Historical fiction and biography at their best offer us an alternate world of the past. While almost certainly not “historical” in the strictest sense, nonetheless they provide us not only with insight into the past figures who serve as characters, but also a window into the human condition which transcends all time and place. While many of Emily’s struggles as depicted by Jerome Charyn are specific to her historical situatedness (e.g., the resistance to women as “serious” authors), yet we recognize the universal joys and sufferings of any creative person in any time. That The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson succeeds in doing this with one of the more obscure personages of modern literary history is a credit to the skill of the author.
**spoiler alert** The first thing to keep in mind when approaching The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is that it was written as part of a ser...more**spoiler alert** The first thing to keep in mind when approaching The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is that it was written as part of a series called The Myths. Canongate Books commissioned a number of the best-known authors alive today to retell classic myths in a modern/post-modern perspective. I put this caveat up front because, for those like me whose previous experience with Philip Pullman was through the His Dark Materials Trilogy series, the style of Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ may at first be off-putting. He writes here in the sparse, matter-of-fact style of classic myth-telling, but once the reader is aware of that, the different cadence becomes natural and even beautiful. So at its most basic level, this book is a retelling of the Jesus myth/story as found in the canonical Gospels as well as a few gospels (such as those of "Thomas" and "James") that didn't make the cut into the New Testament. Think the style of Tolkien's Silmarillion as contrasted to The Lord of the Rings.
Of course, treating the story of Jesus as myth is going to result in controversy, to say the least. Pullman has already reported receiving numerous death threats. To those familiar with his Dark Materials books, his very negative take on organized Christianity (and the Roman Catholic Church in particular) should come as no surprise. More about this controversial aspect below.
Myths usually come about to explore something core to the civilization that produces them. Pullman casts his myth to deal with two engines humming in the sub-basement of Western Civilization (one general and one very specific): the Christian Church and the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Again, readers of His Dark Materials will not be surprised that Pullman takes a very dark view of the organized church. In Good Man / Scoundrel, the Christ character is mentored by a shadowy figure known only as "The Stranger," who is reminiscent of the officials of the Magisterium in Dark Materials. The Stranger seems to be part of an unnamed conspiracy to use the popular Jesus to produce what will become the organized Church. To that end, The Stranger pushes Christ to embellish the historical record of Jesus' life and teachings he is writing. (Christ would seem to be the elusive Q recorder many scholars posit must lie behind the synoptic gospels.) The Stranger wants to deemphasize the very "earthy" Jesus, who is mostly concerned with issues of justice and how his followers treat each other, and build up a more ethereal, spiritualized, "heavenly" Jesus Christ, the more better to manipulate the masses into cooperation with the larger aims of the Church.
It is in exploring the question of who exactly Jesus was that Pullman's myth takes its most startling (and therefore bound-to-produce-outrage) bend on the story as we know it. He has Mary giving birth to twin boys. The older is given the name Jesus and grows up to become the itinerant preacher/teacher who runs afoul of the powers-that-be and ends up getting himself crucified. We are never told the given name of the younger brother (shades of the Man in Black in the TV series LOST!). He is referred to by Mary's pet name for him: Christ. Christ turns out to be many characters in "real life" who would later be renamed and recast in the finished gospels, among them the Satan of Jesus' wilderness temptations and Judas the betrayer. At the end of the novel, Pullman hints strongly that Christ in later life took on one more role crucial in Christian history, but that hint will only be picked up by those most familiar with the New Testament.
Pullman uses this twin brother schema to deal with the at times nearly schizophrenic portrayal of Jesus that many modern scholars have found in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Specifically, while there are tantalizing hints in those gospels that this Jesus must be something more than an ordinary man, exactly what he was is never completely clear. What was his primary message and purpose? To push his followers toward a better, more just and loving, life in this world, or to get them to ignore the suffering of this world in light of a better world to come? Pullman casts Jesus as the preacher of the former and Christ as the re-interpreter of Jesus toward the latter aim.
Certainly many Christian believers will protest that this bifurcation is unnecessary. Why can't Jesus be concerned with both this world and the next? But readers must remember that Pullman's novel is first and foremost an exploration of how and why stories/myths/accounts develop toward their canonical form. As he says in a quotation on the back cover, "Parts of [my story:] read like a novel, parts like a history, and parts like a fairy tale. I wanted it to be like that because it is, among other things, a story about how stories become stories" (emphasis added). Even conservative scholars now concede that there is diversity among the canonical gospels primarily because each shapes the story around certain themes and with a certain community of readers in mind. Pullman isn't so much trying to propose "this is how it might have happened" (as was Hugh Schonfield's notorious The Passover Plot) as he is trying to get us to consider honestly that there is no such thing as uninterpreted history or an unshaped story.
For that reason, my one criticism of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is similar to my main criticism of his His Dark Matters series. In both, Pullman's writing becomes weakest when he can't resist getting preachy about his obsession with perceived evils of the Church. His critique works best when he keeps it subtle, as he does in the first book of the Dark Materials trilogy or in early parts of Good Man / Scoundrel. When he feels the need to get "in our face" about it, it becomes annoying and distracting. A good example of this is in his rewriting of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he has Jesus angrily protesting in foresight the present priestly pedophilia scandal of the Roman Catholic Church. It leaves one surprised that he didn't also have Jesus mention Ted Haggard and Jimmy Swaggart by name in his prayer.
On the other hand, a great strength of the novel is Pullman's complex portrayal of both of his main characters. I believe that the "good man vs. scoundrel" duality of the title is meant to be ironic. Jesus is not wholly a "good man"--as a child he often gets into mischief that Christ has to bail him out of, and as an adult preacher he is portrayed as undermining family life. Neither is Christ wholly a scoundrel. In common with many postmodern portrayals of Judas, Christ is shown as a man of complex motives. It is difficult to separate at times his lust for fame and reputation with his sincere (if misguided?) desire to see the life and message of his brother result in some greater good that lasts forever.
I won't give away any more of the plot as Pullman develops it, but suffice it to say that Christ finds himself drawn further and further into the conspiratorial web being cast by The Stranger. Christ ends up being a key player in the great climax of the Jesus narrative. And, in a deliciously subtle exercise in restrained clue-dropping, it turns out that Christ would go on to become yet another highly influential New Testament character.
It is sad that inevitably many Christians will probably view The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as an anti-Jesus book. It is anything but. It is true that Pullman a la Thomas Jefferson removes the supernatural from the "actual" life of Jesus, substituting naturalistic explanations for most of the miracles (Mary is essentially date raped by a neighbor she believes to be an angel; the feeding of the five thousand turns out to result from Jesus' shaming his listeners into sharing their food with each other). But he seems to do this mostly to aid his larger purpose of demonstrating how historical accounts can come to be altered by those who believe insertion of their "timeless truths" into an account are justified by the greater good of their agenda.
Moreover, Pullman's novel serves as an exploration of the postmodern critique of narratives. According to postmodern theory, narratives often exist--whether intentionally or not--as tools of manipulative power over others. When intentional such manipulation can become quite insidious (think of all the evil that has resulted from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion for example). The Stranger pushes Christ to enhance the stories and sayings he is writing down, teaching him that "truth belongs to what is beyond time. In writing of things as they should have been, you are letting truth into history. You are the word of God." The intentional shaping of a narrative is often justified as "letting truth into history," but the discerning individual should always ask, "Whose truth, and to what end?"
The strong protests of many against this book and some of Pullman's previous writings I think points to modern readers' inability to grasp myth. We have been taught to expect ancient accounts to adhere to journalistic standards of "truth." But in the ancient world there was not such a clear dividing line between truth and storytelling. In fact, it was assumed that story/myth was a better conveyor of truth than literal, "factual" accounts (witness the parables that dominate Jesus' teaching in the gospels). At one point in Good Man / Scoundrel Christ is upset by the apparent injustice in one of Jesus' parables. However, Pullman writes, "Christ knew as he wrote it down that, for all its unfairness, people would remember that story much longer than they’d remember a legal definition." In the modern world--and in modern theology in particular--we are obsessed with the "legal definition" of things. Pullman's work serves as a reminder that such definitions can never be containers of the whole truth about anything.(less)
It's been a while since I read a novel that truly fit the old cliche "page turner." I can truly say, though, that I only ever put my copy of Gates of...moreIt's been a while since I read a novel that truly fit the old cliche "page turner." I can truly say, though, that I only ever put my copy of Gates of Fire down because of the necessities of life. It gripped me from page one and did not let go.
Gates of Fire is so much more than an attempt to recreate the legendary last stand of a handful of Spartan warriors against multitudes of Persian invaders, though it accomplishes that task beautifully. It also manages to serve as a philosophical treatise on courage, brotherhood, sacrifice, dedication, love, and a host of other themes without ever becoming pedantic or boring.
As his storytelling device, Steven Pressfield employs a fictional Spartan squire who, though mortally wounded, survives the slaughter at the "hot gates" and falls into the hands of the Persians. He is brought before king Xerxes, who commands the squire Xeo to educate the king on the nature and background of these soldiers who managed to hold off his world-conquering troops for three days. Xeo agrees, but only if he can tell the tale as "the muse" leads him. The court historian records his words verbatim, and thus we have the text of the book before us.
This narrative device allows Pressfield to give us moving and deeply personal insights into the Spartan culture and how it produced these men (and women) of great valor. He humanizes Sparta for us, digging beneath the stereotype of cold, heartless killing machines. One of my favorite aspects is his highlighting of the critical role women played in the deliverance of their homeland.
One of the central questions of the novel is, "What is the opposite of fear?" In a campfire talk with some youthful warriors, an old veteran raises this question. He tells them it can't be "fearlessness," which is just a non-thing; it must be something positive. When this warrior finally discloses his discovery of the answer, at the climax of the epic battle, you have the true theme of the novel. I'll only say that it is a theme that can be fully embraced and appreciated by even pacifists, such as myself. Though this novel takes one into the brutal realities of war, it is about so much more than that. It is about what it means to be truly human; to be human in ways even the gods can never know.
(Disclosure: a free copy of this book was provided to me by the author's publicist.)(less)
Every bit as good and non-put-downable as Pressfield's Gates of Fire. Both intricately detailed and emotionally satisfying account of the allies impro...moreEvery bit as good and non-put-downable as Pressfield's Gates of Fire. Both intricately detailed and emotionally satisfying account of the allies improbable push-back victory against the forces of Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox."
The book follows the exploits of a Long Range Desert Group patrol in the vast North African deserts in 1942-3. The group is tasked with a seemingly-impossible mission: infiltrate behind German lines and kill Rommel. It turns into a nail-biting saga of survival, as these semi-autonomous desert rats time and again have to evade an ever-pressing enemy, not to mention the enemies of desert privation and mechanical breakdowns.
As with Gates of Fire, Killing Rommel celebrates the courage and heroism of the warrior, but also explores with philosophical depth the terror, madness--but also the extraordinary humanity--that takes place in war.(less)