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To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War

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Jeff Shaara has enthralled readers with his New York Times bestselling novels set during the Civil War and the American Revolution. Now the acclaimed author turns to World War I, bringing to life the sweeping, emotional story of the war that devastated a generation and established America as a world power.
Spring 1916: the horror of a stalemate on Europe’s western front. France and Great Britain are on one side of the barbed wire, a fierce German army is on the other. Shaara opens the window onto the otherworldly tableau of trench warfare as seen through the eyes of a typical British soldier who experiences the bizarre and the horrible–a “Tommy” whose innocent youth is cast into the hell of a terrifying war.

In the skies, meanwhile, technology has provided a devastating new tool, the aeroplane, and with it a different kind of hero emerges–the flying ace. Soaring high above the chaos on the ground, these solitary knights duel in the splendor and terror of the skies, their courage and steel tested with every flight.

As the conflict stretches into its third year, a neutral America is goaded into war, its reluctant president, Woodrow Wilson, finally accepting the repeated challenges to his stance of nonalignment. Yet the Americans are woefully unprepared and ill equipped to enter a war that has become worldwide in scope. The responsibility is placed on the shoulders of General John “Blackjack” Pershing, and by mid-1917 the first wave of the American Expeditionary Force arrives in Europe. Encouraged by the bold spirit and strength of the untested Americans, the world waits to see if the tide of war can finally be turned.

From Blackjack Pershing to the Marine in the trenches, from the Red Baron to the American pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, To the Last Man is written with the moving vividness and accuracy that characterizes all of Shaara’s work. This spellbinding new novel carries readers–the way only Shaara can–to the heart of one of the greatest conflicts in human history, and puts them face-to-face with the characters who made a lasting impact on the world.

636 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

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About the author

Jeff Shaara

80 books1,751 followers
JEFF SHAARA is the award-winning, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of seventeen novels, including Rise to Rebellion and The Rising Tide, as well as Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure—two novels that complete his father's Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, The Killer Angels. Shaara was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 421 reviews
Profile Image for Dan.
1,106 reviews52 followers
November 6, 2018
To the Last Man was a frustrating read for me, especially the first half of the book. The author fell into the trap of writing WWI historical fiction about well known figures John Pershing, the Red Baron and to a lesser extent about Patton and Von Hindenburg. The book didn't really dispense much information on WWI or in the case of these figures approach the drama of at least a dozen great books on WW1, non-fiction or fiction.

This is a serious book and the tone matches it so it is no amateur hack job. The problem however with selecting well known figures and attributing all the fictional dialogue to them is that the characters must be drawn exceptionally well for there to be any point of it. I know of only a handful of authors who have done this well, Gore Vidal and Robert Graves to name a few. There is a lot of information about the Red Baron already available. Pershing even won a Pulitzer prize for his autobiography of the war. Unfortunately for Shaara, his rendering of their personalities etc was unconvincing. In the case of the Red Baron, I am not convinced that the author knows much of anything about WWI aerial combat or at least how to describe it in lyrical terms that isn't so dry and factual. There are other books on aerial combat and flight, mostly from other war periods, that are more captivating.

The one area in this book that shines is the story that follows the fictional or at least anonymous character, Pvt. Roscoe Temple. Temple is a farm boy from the South who fights his way through Belleau Wood and the Meuse Argonne battles. The character was well drawn and Shaara's descriptions about trench warfare, no-mans land and the other horrors of war that resulted from these late war offensives were top notch and convincing.

Jeff Shaara has the tools of a serious writer and has written many best sellers. It seems however that this book is in that milieu of Newt Gingrich and Bill O'Reilly type of historical fiction that I don't especially care for. There are many different points of view presented. If the book had focused on one anonymous soldier from each side, it would have been much better for the reasons stated above.

I give the book three stars.

Here is my ranked list of books on WW1 that I can highly recommend, all 5 stars.

1. Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography by Robert Graves
2. The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen
3. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Enrique
4. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
5. The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman
6. The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart
7. The War Poems by Siegfried Sassoon
8. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
9. Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington
10. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
11. The Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Laura M. MacDonald
Profile Image for Zee Ashworth.
2 reviews4 followers
April 23, 2008
The disclaimer should read "sucker for historical fiction." I found this book to be packed with historical detail, but not historically overwhelming. This is a book about the men who fought the "war to end all wars" -- from both sides of the trenches. Have you always wanted to know about the Red Baron (and wonder why Snoopy has a fixation)? Have you wondered about Pershing? (probably not... who remembers these days?) The Sopwith Camel? the fly-boys of the Lafayette Escadrille? Here are riveting answers -- laced with emotion and the reality of what I've always considered the most stupid of stupid wars.

However, that said (the stupid part), I learned quite a lot about how PR began to frame the public view of war; how early fighter pilots thought about engaging the enemy; how the US was ill-prepared for entrance and fought a battle of national identity against the Brits and French, who wanted to merely add the American soldiers to men already mired in muddy trenches.

My grandfather fought in tanks in France and returned from WWI. I have his helmet, many pictures, and his diary which is in code (and I can't read it... drat!). I've always been attracted to this war -- questioning and wondering about events and men, death and survival, nations and generations lost.

Jeff Shaara creates a world of personal interaction, getting into the heads of the "real" characters Red Baron and Pershing, and several amazing fictitious characters who seem so real we should be able to find their names in the history books.

I switched back and froth from listening to an excellent narrated version to reading the big book -- doing time on the treadmill (hey! we're just finishing a harsh winter in Vermont) one day, and sitting with a cozy dish of popcorn and a warm blanket the next. I read myself to sleep each night and couldn't put the book down for long without wanting to pick it up again, to discover what happened next, even though I knew the ending before I started.
350 reviews57 followers
December 27, 2016
Gripping account of the horrors of World War 1. From Black Jack Pershing who was the US Commander to a doughboy in the trenches and 2 airplane fighter pilots, the story wove facts of actual people in the war with brilliant dialogue. Was sad to finish the book.
One of the top 5 books in 2016 for me-highly recommended if you want to know about how the politics of fighting the war and the tremendous physical and mental pain that the soldiers went through. The afterword about how the their lives played out was chilling !!
Profile Image for Mike.
1,115 reviews152 followers
May 13, 2018
Can't rate a book about two aviation heroes less than 4 Stars. Four historic characters form the backbone of the story: Manfred von Richthofen, Raoul Lufbery, John "Black Jack" Pershing and Roscoe Temple (a Marine rifleman). Shaara weaves an excellent story around these figures and you get an understanding of what they must have dealt with. Really liked the flying history and gained new respect for those aviators. Pershing's story was interesting and you will understand why the AEF was so determined to keep the American Army together, the Brits and French desperately tried to get the Americans to fill out their ranks. Temple's story was ground-level, no big picture, just bloody fights. Excellent history with just a little fiction thrown in. Liked it.
Profile Image for Joyce.
1,671 reviews33 followers
December 20, 2019
5 stars

In this fantastic book about WWI, we meet Manfred Baron von Richoften the "Red Baron" who single-handedly shot down over eighty planes for Germany. He might be mechanically inept, but oh can he fly! He loves being up in the air. He has a Great Dane that follows him everywhere and they seem very well suited to one another. The British pilots were to name Richoften's squad as “Richoften's Flying Circus” for the colorful ways in which each pilot decorated his plane. Richoften's was painted completely red. I found it particularly interesting that his younger brother Lothar joined his unit and was a very good ace as well, shooting down nearly as many planes as his world famous older brother.

On the other side there is Gervais Raoul Lufbery, a French/American fighter pilot who volunteered to go to France to fly airplanes for the war effort while the United States was still neutral. Unlike von Richoften, he is a whiz at mechanics and takes a very active interest in everything mechanical about his plane, even polishing his bullets before inserting them into the belt of the machine gun. He loves walking in the woods and searching for mushrooms.

We also meet German Generals Ludendorff and von Hindenberg. Ludendorff does the heavy lifting for von Hindenberg whom the soldiers admire and love. There is also British Field Commander Sir Douglas Haig. The Russians are also fighting the Germans and Austrians with the autocratic and aloof Czar Nicholas II in command. He is an awful military leader. There is much dissent and political unrest in Russia. Even the soldiers are beginning to rebel under the influence of men like Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin. Essentially, the Russian forces have given up the fight.

Once the United States finally decided to get into the war, they seemed to be slow off the mark. Endless meetings and a failure to name commanders, organize troops and arrange for the ordnance and materials needed to conduct a war were the routine of the day. Even six months later, the Americans were still dragging their collective feet. They thus entered the war totally unprepared. When General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing named the overall commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe arrives in England and France, he is utterly shocked and amazed at what the British and French believe about his mission. In fact, the French even have it in writing from Washington. His closest aide and friend is then Captain George Patton.

Major Billy Mitchell is appointed the leader of the American Air Service under Brigadier General William Kenly. When he meets Lufbery's Lafayette Escadrille, he is honest with them. There is no air force; they are it for the time being. He offers them the option of flying for their own flag – the United States. Raoul Lufbery and his friend Bill Thaw are promoted to Majors and take on the task of teaching the new American recruits to fly. Eddie Rickenbacker is one of the new men.

And then there was the ground war. After many delays and much bureaucratic nonsense, the Americans are finally on the move in France.

We meet Private Roscoe Temple whose initiation into the war are drastic and horrific. He sees old buddies shot and killed and makes new friends in the attempt to drive the Germans out of Belleau Wood. He moves on through France with the other men in his battalion; their numbers dwindling by the day. He must deal with hunger, exhaustion, new replacements, new officers and most of all, the mighty German Army. The fierce and fiery (then) tank leader George Patton is in the thick of battle. Even wounded, he is still bellowing orders.

One thing that astounded me was the Sedition Act and its effect on everyday citizens who spoke against the war, even in mild terms.

The reader has the experience of being in the battle with the Marines. Mr. Shaara describes the terrain, the weather and the men's sheer terror and determination to survive. This is a fantastically well written book. The characters are colorful and interesting – and very true to life. I have enjoyed Mr. Shaara's books for a very long time from the Revolutionary War and right on through the Korean War. I am hoping that he does a treatment for the VietNam war as well. (My war, so to speak.)
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,820 followers
July 1, 2021
You will note I include this book on both my history and historical fiction shelves. That's because the events portrayed in the book are accurate. However, the people are depicted with thoughts and dialogues that are (of course) fictional. Thus the book is actually fiction. But as noted the events related are real.

I think that the importance of WW1 and the events that lead to the war as well as the tragic surrender terms after the war are something more of us should be aware of. (Of course that's true of most history anymore. We live in an era where knowledge of history and consequently the lessons to be learned from history are sadly lacking).

The war began in an almost accidental way with the major participants all thinking the other would pull back. Strings of alliances set up an almost domino effect bringing one nation after another into conflict. In almost every case the young men marched off believing that they would in a few months sweep the enemy from the field and return home in glorious victory.

All participants began fighting the war using new advanced ways of killing each other while using tactics from the past. Thus you got hordes of men charging into the teeth of machine gun fire. Instead of a few weeks of months of glory what ensued were years of hell, ending in a peace that only set up a second war scarcely twenty years later.

Told through the eyes of those who fought the war this is a realistic yet readable account of that hell and I can recommend it.
2 reviews
September 24, 2008
I'm sure many Gods and Generals fans will disagree with me, but I truly believe this to be Jeff Shaara's finest novel to date. Although the first two thirds can be more on the educational side with less action, the fact that he spent any time at all on early aviation is extraordinary. As my dad was a pilot, I find the incredible achievements of the Red Baron awe-inspiring, for such primitive planes. The first American combat pilots were required to use machine guns placed on the roof so as not to disturb the propellers.
It only gets better as the focus changes from the air to the ground. As everyone begins to die around the main character, you really get a fell for what it was like for the WW1 soldier.
Profile Image for Philip.
1,389 reviews72 followers
October 7, 2021

Not a fan of 600-page books in general, and have little interest in Shaara's endless trilogies on the Civil War and World War II. However, I really enjoyed his stand-alone on the Mexican War, Gone For Soldiers (which is basically a Civil War prequel), and as I've been reading a lot about World War I these past few years, I thought I'd finally give this a go, since it's been sitting on my nightstand for over a year.

PARTS 1-3: The first 2/3s of the book focus on the air war, which is what mainly attracted me to this story in the first place. I've been fascinated by WWI aircraft since I was a kid, making all the Revell plastic models (as well as a few balsa and paper ones), taking multiple trips to the amazing and nearby Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome (which included a flight on an actual 1941 Tiger Moth), even playing the old "Dogfight" board game:

And so I probably found this part of the book more interesting than it really is - because frankly, not a lot happens. Planes go up, (some) planes come home, the surviving pilots mourn and/or drink. But this isn't a fault of the book so much as the war itself, which was bogged down for literal years at a time, with few major battles and little overall movement other than the sad ebb and flow of trench warfare. Still, for the biplane/triplane-loving kid in me, I found it fascinating to follow the introduction of new aircraft as technology and the war progressed - from Eindecker to Albatross to Fokker D-7 and ultimately the infamous DR-7 triplane on the German side; and from Nieuport to Sopwith Camel (with its own lesser-known triplane) to SPAD (which I finally learned stood for "Societe pour Aviation et ses Derives") for the Allies.

Which reminds me: for anyone who shares my enthusiasm for these planes, you really should pick up the long-out-of-print (but still available on Amazon) Color Profiles of World War I Combat Planes, which has gorgeous technical illustrations of 25 of the war's remarkable aircraft, (don't let the lame cover dissuade you; the pictures inside are awesome).

PART 4: The last section of the book then focuses on American involvement in the ground war, which to my surprise (although I should have known this) only lasted for the last six months from May-November 1918. And while it started off fairly interesting, it soon came to reflect the war itself, lasting far too long and becoming a real slog by the end.

Interestingly, other than America's seemingly "could-do-no-wrong" General Pershing and the French Marshal Pétain (who later went on to become France's biggest collaborator with the Nazis, and who went on to die in island exile like Napoleon), none of the leadership characters - military or political - come off particularly well. It is the men in the trenches and the men in the air who fought and won this too-forgotten war, and it is their well-described sacrifice which elevates this book to its final 4-star rating. That said, if you are only going to read one book on "The Great War," you would do better with any of the following:

The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War

A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front

Or else you can watch either the fictional "1917," or Peter Jackson's tour-de-force documentary "They Shall Not Grow Old." And while James Franco's "Flyboys" is just awful as a movie, it does have some outstanding aerial combat scenes, if you want to see what the air war might have looked like.
Profile Image for Brian.
689 reviews332 followers
February 1, 2016
One of the things I most appreciate about Jeff Shaara is the organization and alternating point of view that he uses in all of his novels. It allows the reader different perspectives, and allows the author to cover more ground with the ability to "location hop" with ease. When one is writing about war, this is a handy tool to have at one's disposal. When you are as uneven a writer as Mr. Shaara, it is a necessary one.
"To The Last Man" starts off with an engrossing chapter depicting a new English recruit arriving at the front lines in Belgium in 1915. It literally starts out with a bang and quickly draws the reader into the text, and the war. Most of the first third of the book is from the perspectives of Baron Ricthofen (later the Red Baron) and Raoul Lufbery an American pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille. I easily confess that I liked Mr. Shaara's focus on the aerial war for much of the novel. Other reviewers have been greatly bothered by it. He portrays aerial warfare, and its birthing pains as a means to make war, with skill and suspense and I sailed through the first part of the text. Occasionally he waxed a little too philosophic for my taste with the musings of Baron Richtofen, but I quickly forgave the flourish, and to Shaara's credit, I have vivid images of these two aviators in my head, and that is a result of his creation on the page.
Unfortunately historical novelists are limited by history, and these two pilots did not survive the war. Upon their deaths Shaara all but abandons the aerial war, and the last part of the book is divided between American infantryman Roscoe Temple, and General "Black Jack" Pershing. The chapters from Temple's perspective are engaging war writing, and also informative, as the historical Temple had the unfortunate luck to be in the front lines at many of the big battles that the American troops participated in. However, Shaara focuses a lot of time on the behind the scenes maneuvering between the Allies, and the politics that are always a part of war. The bad news is that he has no skill doing this. He is out of his element, and it shows. His rendering of Pershing and the political and military leaders of the war are tone deaf and didactic. Shaara's Pershing does not talk, he pontificates, and as a result the reader quickly comes to loathe him. His inclusion in the novel seems only to me to make the point that the Allies would not have won without American intervention. With his tin ear for realistic dialogue anyway this was a dangerous ground for Shaara to explore, and I don't think he succeeded.
Still, despite the characterization of Pershing, (and the grinding halt his chapters bring the novel to) and some historical inaccuracies in the novel's Afterward, I enjoyed the text. At times I really loved it.
Mr. Shaara is a decent and prolific historical novelist, and I will continue to read his works.
Profile Image for Lori.
190 reviews14 followers
June 2, 2018
Only Jeff Shaara can take a possible info-dump and mold it into a gripping and captivating novel. To the Last Man recounts the experiences of American and German troops in the air, the trenches, and command during The Great War. We intimately follow "Black Jack" Pershing, an American Marine in the trenches, the Red Baron, and American pilot Lufbery to develop a better understanding of the real plights and thoughts of those involved in the War to End All Wars.

I cannot express this enough, I respect this work with every fiber of my being. Shaara researched each of the men this novel follows extensively. It shows. The images created are so vivid. I've yet to read a historical book that has put me into the the shoes of the men who have experienced the event discussed like this. Shaara uses just enough creative liberties to make this novel read just so, but does not sacrifice historical accuracy in the slightest. It is absolutely wonderfully written.

That being said, one star is missing from this rating. This star was taken away because a book this stupendous can afford to be rated more critically. The missing star is due to a craving left unsatisfied within this novel. I understand that Shaara writes his novels to put American history in the limelight, but I so wish that some of this novel followed a German foot soldier. The chapters dedicated to The Red Baron where phenomenal, but they did not shed very much light to what the life of the common soldier would have been like. There is a lot of war for Shaara to have packed into one book, but I wish it would have been slightly longer in order to expand the experiences the reader walks through. I never thought I'd say that a 600+ page book wasn't long enough. If that isn't testament to how beautifully this novel was done, I don't know what is.

I can't recommend this novel enough. I enjoyed every moment of this read, and if you are also a history buff, I know you will too.
437 reviews5 followers
November 11, 2014
My goal in reading this book, was to gain a bit more of a general understanding of WW I. I want to study this war in more detail, because my knowledge and understanding of it is very limited. I like Shaara, and I figured that this would be a good place to start. And it was. Beautifully written in the style that Shaara uses so well: history written like a novel/a novel written like history.

The book doesn't cover the whole war, just the main conflict on the Western Front between Germany and France/Belgium. But there is certainly enough there to give one the basic gist of what was going on, and how it all came to be. I now have my bearings enough to start looking into some straight history on this conflict, in order to study it's specific aspects.

I certainly gained a greater appreciation for the horror, devastation, and heartache of WW I.

Jeff Shaara continues to be one of my favorite authors; and I look forward to reading more from him in the future.
Profile Image for travelgirlut.
936 reviews23 followers
November 25, 2012
I don't know too much about WWI, so this was a pretty decent introduction. However, be aware that this mainly deals with Americans in the war, so you miss a lot of what went on in the first 4 years before the U.S. officially joined the fighting.

There were a few things I didn't like about this book. I found the author's way of writing in short choppy connected phrases to be extremely distracting. All of the main characters had the same kind of idealistic inner voice. It was all a bit overly emotional to me, though that's not quite the right word. The main characters do a lot of deep, probing introspection that I'm not sure real people actually do.

If you've read a lot about WWI then this book may not appeal to you, but if you're just starting out, you wouldn't be too off the mark starting here.
Profile Image for Kate.
337 reviews10 followers
January 16, 2016
Jeff Shaara has done it again, bringing the intensity of war to a immediacy that gives the reader the sense that they are right there: in the trenches, marching to the assaults on German lines or in the air battles over allied or enemy territory. This is achieved by narrowing the cast of characters to a few commanders and a few Marines or Airman whose stories he crafts extremely well.
He also covers the politics of war and the general inability of those who sit in the seats of power to grasp the needs of the fighting men on the front...the logistical nightmares that lead to unnecessary deaths that seem to reoccur in all wars.
I was aware of the difficulties that Gen. Pershing had with both allies and their respective governments, but in less detail. I found it interesting that Pershing's hero was Grant who Lincoln promised would not allow interference in the prosecution of war, and that Pershing found an equal to Lincoln in this matter, with Wilson protecting him from the interference of Washington politics and desktop Generals.
Sadly it seems that every war fails to learn the right lessons from the previous war and embraces all of the wrong lessons. This can be seen in the unprecedented slaughter of over one million men thrown against the new machinery of war: machine guns, heavy artillery, mortars and hand
grenades in a mindless war of attrition. We see it in the inability of some General Staff to appreciate the aeroplanes and tanks that were to become the major machinery of the next war. France ignored the young DeGaulles' Treatise on tank warfare placing all of their defensive strategy on the Maginot line discounting that unwieldy tank who they could not see as a tool of war, the Germans would show them in the Blitzkrieg that led to the fall of France just what tank brigades covered by air power could do. The U.S. General staff completely discounted both tank and air power making no effort to develop the very weapons which the outbreak of WWII would leave us scrambling to bring up to the state of the art weapons. We took the wrong lesson of WWII thinking we could bomb the Viet Minh into submission with our extraordinary air power and failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam in the error we made in not understanding the concept of a counter insurgency which we carried into Iraq with Shock and Awe and the hubris that created another counter insurgency. We make the same logistical errors over and over both in readiness and in wartime. It is not that we do not have brilliant military commanders, but that the politics of Washington normally supports the ones who tell the politicians what they want to hear and punish those who speak out against their stupidities. We build and foist weapons systems on the arm services they don't want, because lobbyists can convince congress that the weapons they are pushing will create jobs for their constituents, with no regard to what the services want or need. Sad that we cannot learn.
This is an excellent read which finally gives credit to the quieter warriors who generally are disdainful of hubris, boasting publicity seekers, and unearned grabs for glory...praising men like Lufberry and the other quiet men that bring us victory.
Profile Image for Glen Robinson.
Author 30 books161 followers
February 15, 2021
What Shaara does well is balance an overview of the big picture of what’s going on in the war with the nuts-and-bolts details that happens to the trench soldier and the biplane pilot. He does that by choosing the characters carefully who are telling the story. In this situation, the story is told by real, historical people. He gives the reader a summary of what happened to each of them after the war at the end of the book. Those characters include John J. Pershing, the general who led American forces in Europe; Roscoe Temple, an American Marine from Florida; Raoul Lufbery, an American volunteer pilot flying with Lafayette Escadrille; Baron Manfred Richtofen, the most famous German flying ace of the war.

I normally don’t enjoy books that get into the politics behind wars, but I found it fascinating to learn what Pershing had to deal with, both in Washington where he had multiple politicians and military people trying to control the war effort, and in Europe, where British and French wanted the Americans to simply turn their soldiers over to them to be used as cannon fodder. It covers famous battles that Americans were involved in such as Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, as well as other bloody conflicts such as Battle of Mont Blanc Ridge and the Crossing of the Meuse River. It was a real eye opener to me, from a lot of perspectives, as it showed the war from the political side, from the trenches, and from the air.

The depiction of Baron von Richtofen, the Red Baron as most people know him, was especially well done, as was the story of Raoul Lufbery, a little-known American ace who was one of the few men to survive the Lafayette Escadrille to train other Americans for the fledgling American Air Service, only to be tragically shot down at the end of the war. Eddie Rickenbacker, probably the most famous American ace from the war, stated that he owed everything he was to Lufbery.

If you are interested in knowing more about World War I, or just want some entertaining historical fiction, get this book. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for JM.
425 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2010
If you like historical fiction, Shaara is the man. Pershing, the Red Baron, and a host of other historical figures are depicted. I really enjoyed this one.

"The numbers tell the tale. In four years of the most brutal combat the world has ever seen, nearly ten million men die on the battlefield or in the hospitals nearby. The cost in human life can be translated to the loss of more than five thousand men every day the war was fought. Thus an entire generation of young men is erased from the future of humanity. . . . . .

In the United States, the cost of the war is horrifying in its own way. Over fifty thousand men die, a number that pales in comparison to the losses of the other major participants. But the American deaths occur in the relatively brief period from May to November 1918. The number is eerily similar to the losses suffered in the Vietnam War, losses that occur over a period of fourteen years . . . . . .

If the United States army had not arrived when it did and had not fought the way it did, the Allies would have lost the war."
Profile Image for Bob.
530 reviews11 followers
October 1, 2014
A good book, but not what I was expecting, although I admit I don't know exactly what I was expecting. I loved Jeff Shaara's Civil War books, but I didn't enjoy this as much. It's focused pretty much solely on the American perspective of the World War I, so you've got kind of a limited viewpoint there. Except that he randomly threw in the Red Baron as one of his perspective characters, which is a totally different look, and feels jarring. Also, 2 of his 4 main viewpoint characters are pilots, which gives a strangely aviation-centric view of the war. The background to the war is given in long narratives in the middle of the perspective character stories, and seem out-of-place when you come to them.

Okay, so those were the downsides. However, I'm still giving it 3 stars because it was still interesting to read and informative, and I liked reading it. It was an entertaining book, if you like military history.
Profile Image for Brian Eshleman.
831 reviews103 followers
July 24, 2011
The Red Baron and General Pershing were both figures that I did not know much about, and this treatment was able to present them in the war a gallantry s gallantry a whole in is so jarring to modern news that is so jarring to modern years a compelling fashion. The "Knights of the air" gallantry is so jarring to modern modern cynicism that it supports the idea that this war marks the end of the 19th century. Very much worth reading.
Profile Image for Roberta Cheadle.
Author 16 books106 followers
June 2, 2021
I listened to the 30 hour audio book of To the Last Man. It was well narrated and the narrator, Paul Michael, had a pleasant voice which is important for such a long listen.

I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about the USA’s involvement in WW1 and it certainly surpassed my expectations in that regard.

The fist half of the book is devoted to the role of aviators in this terrible war and focuses on the establishment of the American escadrille, called the Lafayette Escadrille, comprising of American pilots who flew for France prior to America’s late entrance into the war.

Raoul Lufbery is the central character for the telling of this perspective. Lufbery is not a war hero I’d heard of before reading this book, but he was my favourite character. Through Lufbery's eyes, the reader meets other American aviation heroes from this flying corp including Kiffin Rockwell, Victor Chapman, Norman Prince, William Thaw, and others. I found the descriptions of the in air fights, different aeroplanes and guns, and attitudes and attire of the pilots fascinating. This is exactly the sort of detail I enjoy in a historical novel as it makes the people and events very real.

This section of the book also presents the German aviation perspective through the eyes of the famous Red Baron. I had, of course, heard of Manfred Von Richthofen, but I didn’t know all the details presented in this book. I thought the Red Baron and the attitudes and culture of the German military were well described.

The second half of this book was devoted to the story of America’s entry into the war and the appointment of General John Pershing to head up the USA army. The first part of this section included a lot of detail about the politics of America’s entrance into the war both internally, and among the British and the French. I found it very intriguing.

The last part of the book details the experiences of an American farm boy turned doughboy and his experiences in The trenches and on the ground in France. The details about the tanks, weapons and battles were extraordinarily well researched and the fights and battles vivid and horrifying.

These are two short extracts which illustrate the detailed descriptions of life for soldiers in this war:

"Soaked and thoroughly embarrassed, they were given soft blobs of foul-smelling soup that carried away the last remnants of the creatures who had taken up residence on the skin and hair of each man, and then, more hoses."

"The darkness was complete, a slow march into a black, wet hell. He was the last man in the short column, one part of a line of twenty men, guided by the low sounds in front of him, soft thumps, boots on the sagging duckboards."

The reason I am allocating 4 stars to this book is because the short clipped style of writing was a bit irritating in some parts. There was also a relentless usage of the word - said. I found it quite distracting and started listening for it.

For me, the disclosures about ‘the doughboy’ Roscoe Temples feelings of complete displacement and worry he’ll never fit in at home again we’re realistic and vivid. I was glad, however, that the book ended on a bit of a high note after all the misery and loss.

This book is a must read for people interested in learning more about America’s participation in the war.
Profile Image for Brendan Hodge.
Author 1 book30 followers
May 14, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Greg Pettit.
262 reviews3 followers
February 27, 2011
I enjoy historical fiction and I've always been fascinated by the first World War, so I thought this book was tailor-made for me. Unfortunately, it came across as a little too dense and not as engrossing as it should have been.

The author follows the careers of several real-life personalities through the course of the war to describe different aspects of it: Richtofen (the Red Baron) and Lufbery (of the Lafayette Escadrille) to portray the air war; Ludendorf and Pershing provide details of the German strategy and growing American involvement; and Temple, a private in the Marines for the American perspective of ground combat. I liked that decision over all, because it provided a lot of different perspectives on things. However, it didn't always work for me.

In particular, the last third of the book really bogged down. Going into the novel, I was most interested in the air aces, but by this point they're both dead. I had become very interested in the details of gearing America up for war, and the extensive planning and politicking necessary to get it done, but by this point that's mostly accomplished. So the last part of the book covers Temple and the horrors he experiences in combat. Although this was probably designed and written to be the most exciting part of the novel, to me it was the least interesting.

Still, it was a good book and provided a good overview of many facets of the war. The writing felt a little thick at times, but it was just a style I had to get used to. I liked that it gave life and personality to these historical figures, but there are other straight historical accounts that I have found more compelling.
Profile Image for Jason.
244 reviews2 followers
May 13, 2011
Shaara takes his father's formula from The Killer Angels (the same formula he's followed throughout his writing career) and tells the story of World War I from the points of view of its major players: The Red Baron, Pershing, the common foot soldier in the trenches, the American pilots who volunteered to fight in the French air force. It's dense, and not everyone will appreciate the minute attention to detail Shaara observes, but this is the book where he seems to have found his own unique voice, even as he still follows his father's novel-writing formula. He is currently at work on a World War II trilogy, the first of which (The Rising Tide) has been out for a few months. But to truly understand the political landscape that led to WW II one MUST understand WW I, and this is a great place to begin. See also The First World War: A Complete History by Martin Gilbert and/or The Guns of August (Non-fic Pulitzer Winner, 1962) by Barbra Tuchman.

On my second reading now, and it holds up pretty well. There's so much content that it's almost like reading it for the first time, as I had forgotten so much of what happened because, frankly, there's a LOT that happens. Having done some studying on this part of history over the past year I feel I understand the context much better, so maybe that's why it seems to be sticking better this time around. I think I'll add a star to my review from last time.
Profile Image for Stuart Lutzenhiser.
485 reviews4 followers
August 22, 2012
World War I was a war of "too much". Too many people died for too few reasons from too many countries. Why the author would want to add to this by writing a book trying to cover too much ground is beyond me. He does try to focus on a few people, much like in the Civil War novels. However, instead of just one battle (Gettysburg) or one campaign in the war, he spreads his novel over almost the entire breadth of the war - which leaves the book long and disjointed. The Kindle version that I read also didn't help by having odd typo problems that I'm convinced were fixed in the printed edition. The critical last few months of the war, as seen by a US Marine Private was jarring as it moved from early September to early October then back again before moving forward. This, it turns out, was from a series of typos that said September when it was really October. Seems like a minor nit - but in a war that ends in November (spoiler!), the difference between September and October is pretty important. Anyway - I gave it low marks as it didn't really work for me because the author bit off way too much material and thus I never felt like he had done any justice to the people or the events that he was writing about. A Cliff Notes version (in the form of a novel) of World War I. If this is your goal, then this is your book.
Profile Image for Anthony.
310 reviews
October 15, 2014
I read this book in the Kindle format and discovered that I could actually expand the charts laying out the battle positions, something that was heretofore frustrating to me.

This was a book well written and documented. It is about the struggles of the US involvement in the "Great War". It was gritty and captivating with well developed characters and a very strict adherence to historical facts. Jeff Shaara is an author of our times but he has a head and a heart for history. he uses these talents to weave a story you do not want to end. I have to say, I was able to feel the thrill of both battle and flight. I could easily smell and feel the pain of the characters. If I was to do a study or a class on World War I, this book would be required reading. I love history and have read numerous books by this author and have never been disappointed irrespective of the time period he wrote about. I loved the fact that he highlighted after the book, what happened historically too the characters in this book after the Great War. Some results were surprising and disappointing.
Profile Image for Mandy D.
364 reviews
May 27, 2019
This book was a departure from what I usually read, but as an Army Wife and history buff, I found this to be well written and both educational and easy to read.

Names like Drum, Hood, LeJeune, and many others stand out for their historical impact and their current day namesake Army posts and Marine base.

In many cases I was able to put a story behind the streets and buildings I’ve lived near for 20+ years.

I know that this is not a history book, but I’m quite sure I learned a lot about WWI in reading it.

Joseph Persico is spot on when he says “Jeff Shaara has again demonstrated that rarest of writing gifts, making literature read like history and history read like literature...”
Profile Image for Duane.
227 reviews2 followers
May 18, 2018
Another very poor offering fro Jeff Shaara. This is a poorly written novelized history of World War I. The author is sadly not up to the task of saying anything really important about this horrifying war. As in his World War II books, his ineptitude is most jarring when trying to get in the heads of the German characters--but he's not that much better with the Americans. I certainly hope that Black Jack Pershing was a more sophisticated and interesting character than the one portrayed here. I'm curious about whether Pershing really thought the peace was too easy on Germany--that's a heck of a minority view if so, maybe I'll take the time to look it up.

There are many reasons to dislike this book: above all, the very pedestrian writing, of course, but also the odd and confusing structure: it's very odd the way he decided where to provide in depth descriptions and where not.

Where Shaara doesn't do too badly is in direct depictions of the actual experience of the infantryman in battle. It's too bad that he can't make us really understand either the experience of high command (when he writes from the point of view of Pershing or Ludendorff) or of flying (when he writes from the point of view of the pilots.)

A decent way to pass the time on the commute and remind yourself a bit about an awful, disastrous war. But not a book I can recommend.
Profile Image for Jerry Kolwinska.
90 reviews6 followers
June 13, 2017
I always enjoy Shaara's work. This was especially fulfilling as it tags nicely onto the PBS special on WW1 that was shown earlier this year.

The characters that Shaara follows in this novel are well developed and authentic. The Lafayette escadrille was fascinating as I had not read much about the squadron and its cast of characters. The German characters were interesting as well.

The trench war was gruesome, and Shaara's attempt to capture that element of the war is quite successful in my estimation.

I liked his development of the armistice. He focused on several things that I was not familiar with regarding the ending of the war.

If you like historic fiction, you will like this book. It reads well, and while not a spellbinder, I was engaged through every chapter and episode. I would have finished it earlier, but spending time with family, and several major work projects cut into my reading time.

To avoid spoilers, I will only say that the title of the book is well chosen.
Profile Image for Nate Hendrix.
964 reviews6 followers
June 22, 2019
I have enjoyed all of his books and this one was no different. If you enjoy military historical fiction Shaara is your man.
Profile Image for Abby Jones.
545 reviews24 followers
April 18, 2023
This book reminded me a lot of Once an Eagle, probably because of the Civil War/WW1 overlap generationally. I feel like I have a better grasp of the politics of WW1, why it led right into WW2, and greater respect for the logistics of the military. I found a love for the Air Force, as well. There were some really beautifully written moments, but Temple's survivor's guilt at the end had me in tears. I love Black Jack Pershing, Patton, and finally getting a feel for some of the fighter pilot heroes of history on both sides.
It's a really well-done historical fiction. I highly recommend it. It really shows you the loss of life, the horror of trench warfare, the frustrations of gearing up a military, and how America did her part. I very much enjoyed this book. The end was truly so sad, from the last pages leading up to November 11th and the ending biographies of broken men trying to go on with life, several right into WW2, or their sons going and dying in WW2.
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