One-Minute Book Reviews

August 13, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Marcus Luttrell’s ‘Lone Survivor’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Lone Survivor
The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10

By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

In 2005 Marcus Luttrell set out with three other U.S. Navy SEALs to capture an al Qaeda leader hiding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Luttrell and his unit soon became engaged in a fierce firefight with Taliban soldiers that he alone survived. He tells his story in his memoir, Lone Survivor, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

Questions for Readers

1. Military books don’t usually become immediate bestsellers unless they have famous authors, such as Private Jessica Lynch or General Colin Powell. Lone Survivor reached the No. 1 spot on the New York Times list quickly even though Marcus Luttrell was little-known. Why do you think accounts for this? What drew you to the book? What do you think attracted others to it?

2. Luttrell is the son of Texas horse ranchers and had something of a cowboy childhood. For example, his father taught him to shoot a .22-caliber rifle at the age of seven. [Page 51] Is Lone Survivor a kind of cowboy story? Why or why not?

3. At times Luttrell rails against what he calls “the liberal media.” But you might wonder whether he means “the liberal media” as opposed to “the conservative media” or “the media in general, which tend to be liberal.” What do you think he meant? Does it matter to his story?

4. Luttrell says that on an earlier assignment in Iraq, he realized that some people thought “we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.” They included “the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line.” [Page 37] Was this a fair comment when so many reporters are embedded with troops? Why or why not?

5. Luttrell also lashes out against provisions of the Geneva Conventions that prevent civilians from becoming targets of attacks. He argues that these are unfair in wars such the one SEALs were fighting in Afghanistan, because soldiers often disguise themselves as civilians. [Page 367 and elsewhere] How well does Luttrell make his case against some provisions of the Conventions?

6. Nations clearly have several options if some provisions of the Geneva Conventions don’t work in wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq: 1) Obey all the provisions, even those put soldiers’ lives at risk; 2) Ignore provisions that would endanger soldiers (even if this would anger other countries); 3) Don’t get involved in wars that would require soldiers to make such choices. Luttrell seems to favor a variation on the second option: Either repeal some provisions or allow soldiers to disregard them. Which option makes most sense to you?

7. Some of America’s greatest books involve sole survivors of disasters. These include Moby-Dick. (Its epilogue includes a line from the Book of Job: “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”) What accounts for the appeal of these survival narratives? Do Americans tend to see themselves as “alone” in some fundamental way and identify with their characters? Or is something else at work?

8. In an interview with the New York Times, Luttrell said his main goal in writing Lone Survivor was to tell the story of the SEALs who did not survive. ”Now I think the American public knows who they are, and now they are forever immortalized,” he said. ”Their memory will never die out, and that’s what I wanted.” [“He Lived to Tell the Tale (And Write a Best Seller), by Motoko Rich, in the New York Times, Aug 9, 2007, page E1.] Did he achieve his goal? Do you agree that his friends’ memory “will never die”?

9. Many studies have shown that schoolchildren today have trouble identifying major battles of the Civil War or World War II, let alone their winners, losers, and individual participants. In that context, do you think that people will remember Operation Redwing years from now? Or will they forget it after other military memoirs appear? Why or why not? What does your answer say to you about our country?

10. Luttrell says early in his book, “I am not a political person.” [Page 39] After reading Lone Survivor, do you agree? Why or why not?

Vital statistics:

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Little Brown, 249 pp., $24.99. First American edition: June 2007.

Links: You can read an excerpt and listen to a podcast at www.hachettebookgroupusa.com. You can learn about other military books by Patrick Robinson at www.patrickrobinson.com.

Your book group may also want to read:

Return With Honor (Doubleday, 1995). By Captian Scott O’Grady with Jeff Coplon. This gripping bestseller tells the true story of a U.S. Air Force caption who was shot down while enforcing a NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia in 1995 and eluded capture for six days until rescued by Marines. Return With Honor lacks the angry political rhetoric of Lone Survivor, and for that reason, some people may prefer it to Luttrell’s book.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She does not accept free books from editors, publishers or agents, and all or her reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark One-Minute Book Reviews or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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August 10, 2007

A Children’s Book That Honors the Men and Women of the U.S. Military

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:07 pm
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An explanation of the military alphabet in a Golf Oscar Oscar Delta, Bravo Oscar Oscar Kilo

Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet. By Chris L. Demarest. Margaret K. McElderry, 32 pp., $16.95. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The buzz this week might be about Lone Survivor (Little, Brown, $24.99), Marcus Luttrell’s book for adults about the dangerous work of Navy SEALs in Afghanistan. But you can also find good children’s books about servicemen and -women, including picture books that honor both veterans of past wars and those who are serving in Iraq.

One of the best is Chris Demarest’s Alpha Bravo Charlie. This vibrant picture book introduces children to the International Communications Alphabet (ICA) used in the U.S. military and in civil aviation worldwide. It also gives an excellent overview of the many kinds of jobs performed by U.S. servicemen and -women.

Each page or spread in Alpha Bravo Charlie shows a letter of the English alphabet and its military counterpart and signal flag. Then a picture and line of text illustrate the use of the letter. The page for M (MIKE in the ICA) shows a man and woman in scrubs dashing toward an arriving helicopter emblazoned with a Red Cross: “Medical personnel work to save lives at mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) units.”

Alpha Bravo Charlie is intended for children old enough to enjoy words or phrases like “flak jacket” (F or FOXTROT) and “Nuclear Class submarine” (N or NOVEMBER). But it could also make a great baby gift for the child or grandchild of a proud U.S. veteran. It depicts the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and even those of us who soldier at computers. The page for J (JULIET) reads: “Journalists travel in jeeps to report news from the front lines.”

Best line or picture: The page for W (WHISKEY), which shows ugly but ferocious-looking U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts (“Warthogs”). You’ll understand how those planes got their nickname after seeing this one.

Worst line or picture: A line in an author’s note at the end, which explains how the military and later the airline industry adopted the ICA. “When service people transfer information verbally, confusion between certain letters, such as the similar-sounding B and D, could bring disastrous results.” Good information. But “orally” would have been better than “verbally,” which means “with words” and can apply to spoken or written words.

Recommendation? This is the rare alphabet book that could appeal to children who have long since learned their ABC’s.

Published: June 2005 www.simonsayskids.com

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

A new review of a book or books for teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. The site does not accept advertising or free books from publishers, and all reviews offer an independent evaluation by an award-winning critic. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these reviews and, if you work for a school or library, consider adding the site to your Ready Reference links.

July 30, 2007

The English Language Goes Down With the USS Arizona in Newt Gingrich’s ‘Pearl Harbor’

Characters “chuckle” all the way to disaster in an alternate version of history

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th. By Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. Contributing Editor: Albert S. Hanser. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, 366 pp., $25.95.

By Janice Harayda

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich writes fiction about as well as Danielle Steel could draft legislation. But I wouldn’t be too hard on his alternate version of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, changed by the presence of one man who decides to take part at the last minute.

It’s true that if people stereotyped men’s novels as they do women’s, critics might call this book “dick lit” without the sex. But Pearl Harbor isn’t as bad as, say, Tom Clancy’s novels. For one thing, it moves faster. And if Gingrich and co-author William Forstchen give you plenty of descriptions of weapons and strategy, you’re never drowning in an alphabet-soup of acronyms as in Clancy’s lumbering behemoths.

Pearl Harbor also provides many moments of unintended comedy. Some of these occur when the novel takes us inside the minds of world leaders. At the Atlantic Conference, Winston Churchill looks gravely at Franklin D. Roosevelt and says, “Mr. President, I feel that despite all our problems in Russia, North Africa, and the Atlantic, I also have to remind you that we could face a very nasty situation in the Pacific.”

William Manchester was never like this, and neither was his English. Lynne Truss might have written Eats, Shoots and Leaves for Gingrich and Forstchen, who pile on run-on sentences and other forms of mangled grammar. “No time to replace the wires, splice, and tape,” they write after an American plane takes a hit at Hickam Field, leaving you wondering whether they intended “splice” and “tape” as verbs or nouns.

Even so, Pearl Harbor shows that the Americans, British, and Japanese had more in common than you might imagine. One is they all “chuckled” a lot when faced with world-shattering events. Gingrich and Forstchen and tell us Churchill “chuckled” as the German bombs rattled his bunker. Admiral Yamamoto “chuckled” over naiveté of the U.S. and “chuckled derisively” when he thought of its diplomats. And Commander James Watson of the U.S. Navy, the closest the book has to a hero, “chuckled” when asked by a British correspondent how many aircraft carriers were near Pearl Harbor. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

Gingrich and Forstchen say that this novels is the first in a series that will show how World War II might have turned out if the events of Pearl Harbor had taken place. On the evidence of this book, some characters will be chuckling all the way to V-J Day.

Best line: Many details of wartime life would be more memorable if they didn’t appear in grammatical train wrecks. The authors write of No. 10 Downing Street during the Blitz: “The windows, of course were all cross-hatched with tape, inside, blackout curtains darkened the room.” It’s interesting that air-raid precautions against air-raids were so primitive even in the British prime minister’s residence. But that fact appears in the kind of run-on sentence known as a comma splice (in which two independent clauses are joined with a comma instead of a conjunction, such as an “and” before “inside”). The sentence is also missing a comma after “course.”

Worst line (tie): No. 1: “James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked at bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversation to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.” No. 2: “To withdraw backward was impossible.” So withdrawing forward was still an option?

Editor: Pete Wolverton

Published: May 2007 www.newt.org/pacificwarseries/

Conflict alert: A different imprint of St. Martin’s published my first novel. I almost never review books by my publishers but have made an exception in this case because Gingrich is talking about running for president in 2008. And this novel has had fewer reviews than you might expect for someone who may have his eye on the White House.

For more on the alarming number of characters in Pearl Harbor who “chuckled” on the way to diaster, see the Newt Gingrich Chuckle Meter, posted earlier today on One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/30/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

Janice Harayda is has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

May 27, 2007

Military Obituaries Worthy of a Memorial Day Salute

Filed under: Biography,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 am
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A collection celebrates men and women who wore their uniforms with courage and eccentricity

By Janice Harayda

Digby Tatham-Warter led a bayonet charge during the Battle of Arnhem sporting a bowler hat and an umbrella. Nell Allgrove and other captured Australian nurses survived on two ounces of rice a day in Japanese camps in Sumatra. Charles Fraser-Smith sent golf balls with compasses inside and other gadgets to British prisoners in Germany, an effort so successful that he became the model for “Q” in the James Bond books.

The stories of these and other extraordinary men and women appear in The Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventures (Macmillan, 1993), edited by Hugh Massingberd, the second volume in a series from the British newspaper. Most of the subjects of this book were British or Commonwealth soldiers, sailors, aviators, spies, or nurses, though some never wore a uniform. And their stories show why military-obituary writers at the Telegraph are seen as five-star generals of a vanishing art. Written with verve and candor, the pieces in this book reflect a deep sympathy for both the courage and the eccentricities of their subjects. Few American newspapers would have the wit to begin an obituary like this: “Major General Micky Whistler, who has died aged 83, had a career of remarkable variety in which his cheerful disrespect for pompous and hidebound senior officers brought numerous reprimands, but did much to improve the efficiency and morale of his men.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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