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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

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  3,865 ratings  ·  241 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, 589 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by New Press (first published 1984)
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 ·  3,865 ratings  ·  241 reviews

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Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war, non-fiction
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
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
See there really ain’t anything especially noble about the US of A despite the oft heard fairy tales that might lead one to believe so. No, Americans can be as benevolent and as malicious as any other folk out there, and in the most unpredictable proportions. Mr. Terkel’s excellent work is a solid reminder of this truth, which would be just an interesting passing observation were it not for the many millions of lives so unfortunately and sorrowfully affected.
Aug 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military
This was a really readable history of different aspects of World War Two, covering the European and Pacific theatres, through interviews with participants and eyewitnesses. While mostly oral histories with Americans, Turkel has also interviewed people from Japan, Germany and several other countries as well.
Sep 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
"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
Nov 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 13, 2012 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
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
carl  theaker
Nov 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2
Author Terkel made a radio career of interviewing and he did well continuing using the format of oral histories in books, which I think is an easy way to write a book, but there’s probably more to it than I suspect.

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

Mostly Americans, but also a variety of all nationalities
Want to know how we fought Nazis since things are starting to look a little Nazi-like? Fearing a totalitarian regime and fascism? Want to know how Americans of all walks of life came together and what came out of that? This book is filled with their personal stories. Studs Terkel is the man, he won the Pulitzer for this, and you should read it at least once in your life.
Nofar Spalter
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A must read, although it's not a simple one. I learned so much about WWII as seen and experienced by people who lived and fought through it. So much sadly hasn't changed in the world, while so much (especially the threat of the bomb and the wars that the US fights) have. You hear from soldiers fighting in the European and Pacific theatre, women going to work outside the house for the first time, men who survived Pearl Harbor, POWs, resistance members, Holocaust survivors, conscientious objectors ...more
Jennifer Juffer
Perfectly written, at times, laborious in meticulous detail. How can I fault that?
Terkel had a true gift for describing what’s important and captivating the reader.
The stories these individuals tell are absolutely necessary to explain our World’s history.
I truly wish more people would read this book. History is not something that should simply slide from our memories.
Everything detailed in this book is an example of human nature that continues to exist.
Terkel has a profoundly talented way of ex
Todd Stockslager
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Review title: Talkin' World War III Blues

Dylan's song, serious in its frivolous lyrics, was poetry. Terkel's oral transcripts of interviews about World War Two are poetic, but lyrical in their seriousness. And the magic of Terkel's oral histories is that while we know that the raw material must be just that--oral transcripts of interviews--the finished product feels both less edited somehow, like snatches of kitchen table conversations, and more profound because of it.

By this point in his caree
Dave Loftus
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
Nov 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 with 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 ...more
Mar 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every adolescent and adult
Studs Terkel is the definitive oral historian, and this is one of the most masterful works on the Second World War ever written. A detail often missed is the fact that he put "The Good War" in parentheses in the title, to reflect that there is no such thing as a good war, no matter how necessary this war was - and it may have been the most necessary in human history - or how much reminiscences may often gloss over the bad parts. In this work he follows the experiences of Americans in the war fro ...more
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Really 4.5, but I think the ending - the bits with the baby boomers and then the kids - were less interesting to me (it's also really interesting to compare the world in the early 80s, when this was written, and now; the economic problems persist, but I don't think we fear full-on nuclear war in the same visceral way). There also wasn't a lot from before the US entered the war. But overall, a genuinely moving read. ...more
Shane Gower
Sep 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
These first hand accounts from all walks of life is a comprehensive overview of people who lived through World War Two. Almost every account challenges the idea of the war as the good war, thus the quotes in the title. Everything from a conscientious objector, to women who worked in factories, POW's, Bomber pilots, Japanese-Americans who were in the camps and more. You'd be hard pressed to find a voice not included here. Great for helping to understand society during the war. ...more
Mike Kabongo
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Truly excellent oral history.
This is a collection of skillfully elicited accounts of the World War Two stories covering the lives of men and women from all walks of life. Studs Terkel was just an amazing historian and interviewer. These histories will give a personal touch to your knowledge of the war to end all wars.
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? ...more
Dec 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I am not objective about the late great Studs Terkel. I miss him. Why couldn't he have stuck around another 50 years or so? Here is another example where Terkel lets the voices of other people shine through. ...more
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Steven Hull
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book came out in 1984. I remember it. Although I like the history of World War II, I didn’t read it. I was in the middle of raising three children with my wife and building a stable work career. Yet, I cannot remember why I didn’t read the book. I wish I had.
The book is a collection of oral histories in roughly chronological order. Included are a number of recognizable individuals, but most are just common, average people. All were caught up in the war. In most cases it was involuntary.
Constance Siobhán
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is hard to imagine a way to truly review this collection of people’s remembrances. World War 2 is the stuff of legend, but now the people who lived through it are falling to history’s most constant marker: the gravestone, which stands in silence. This book keeps their voices alive in all their astonishing diversity, and the history they relate is both deeper and richer than most could imagine.

It is often a very difficult book to read. The stories are frequently poignant, stark, heartbreaking.
Eric Bettencourt
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I can't get into any of the stories. It's just too much and there's way too many. From front cover to back cover it's simply too damn much to take in or summerize. Even though part of me becomes hopelessly fatigued by these accounts a more tenacious side can't look away. Basically I'm addicted to reading real-life accounts the people who lived through extraordinary real-life situations like WWII. It's better than any fiction out there and you can learn amazing lessons from nearly every story. If ...more
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Five stars... If you are interested in ww2 history and/or the effects of war on people and society, this book is great. It covers a staggering spectrum of wartime life - spies, soldiers, factory workers, military police, children, singers, generals, sailors, logistics workers, conscientious objectors, nuclear bomb survivors and prisoners of war. Their stories are as varied as you can imagine. American, Russian, French, Belgian, Japanese. Men and women. Young and old. For and against. You see all ...more
Jak Krumholtz
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started reading this at the beginning of my corona quarantine to remind myself how easy I have life. Terkel’s books are best read with just a couple people’s stories a day, not straight through like a novel. Think less like reading and more like being a good listener. I wish I kept a pencil with me to mark passages, some stories in here are moving and the collection as a whole is historically important.

— — — — — — — — — —
On the fifth of May, Americans surrounded the camp and the guards were no
Tom Anstett
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"The Good BOOK" The late, great author Studs Terkel's Pulitzer Prize winner contains an enlightening account World War II, seen only through survivors' eyes. The accounts contain information that illustrates the war's necessity, the war's empathy, the war's inhumanity. Such an oral history provides an appreciation for the reader of the significance of this time in history and its effects on culture today. Written in a rather chronological order, the book's accounts surface from people of all ran ...more
Linda Mcadams
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book left me thinking outside the classroom history books from years ago. It is WW2 from a different perspective. That being from those interviewed after the war, some as many as 40 years later.
Those interviewed included citizens, veterans, and the families of those who did not return. They were from Russia, Germany, Japan, and yes the USA. It was quite different hearing it from their individual viewpoint(s). These were farmers, shop keepers, etc. many of whom weren't aware of the Nazi atro
David Devine
Apr 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
An excellent book that covers personal stories of individuals who were affected by WW !! in one way or another. The people range from the poverty stricken to the affluent, from farmers to businessmen and politicians, servicemembers, both enlisted and officer. Americans, Germans, Japanese, Russians. It covers all aspects of life from stateside to the battlefield, small town to big cities to bombed out ruins in Germany and the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People tell of their life before, duri ...more
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Louis "Studs" Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985 for "The Good War", and is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.

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

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