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.
Moving on from the American Revolution and the Civil War, Shaara (The Glorious Cause, etc.) delivers an epic account of the American experience in WWI. As usual, he narrates from the perspective of actual historical figures, moving from the complexity of high-level politics and diplomacy to the romance of the air fight and the horrors of trench warfare. Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing commands all American forces in France in 1917-1918 and must prepare his army for a new kind of war while resisting French and British efforts to absorb his troops into their depleted, worn-out units. Two aviators, American Raoul Lufbery and German Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) fly primitive aircraft in an air war that introduces new ways to die. And Pvt. Roscoe Temple, U.S. Marine Corps, fights with rifle and bayonet in the mud and blood of Belleau Wood and the Argonne Forest. These men and a supporting cast of other real-life characters provide a gruesomely graphic portrayal of the brutality and folly of total war. Shaara's storytelling is occasionally mechanical-he has yet to rise to the Pulitzer Prize-winning level of his father, Michael Shaara (The Killer Angels, etc.)-but his descriptions of individual combat in the air and the mass slaughter on the ground are stark, vivid and gripping. He also offers compelling portraits of the politicians and generals whose strategies and decisions killed millions and left Europe a discontented wasteland. (Nov.) Forecast: Numbers-wise, this should match Shaara's previous efforts, helped along by a 12-city author tour and vigorous promotion. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 25, 2004
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Excerpt from To the Last Man by Jeff Shaara
1. THE REPLACEMENT
The British Lines, Near Ypres,
Western Belgium Autumn 1915
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. There were voices, hard whispers, and, close to him, a hissing growl from the sergeant: Keep together, you bloody laggards! No stopping!
No one answered, no protests. Each man held himself tightly inside, the words of the sergeant swept aside by the voices in their own minds, a tight screaming fear, the only response they could have to this march into the black unknown.
They had come as so many had come, crossing the Channel on small steamers, filing through the chaos of the seaports, and after a few days, they had boarded the trains. There was singing, bands playing along the way, the raucous enthusiasm of young recruits. They had stared curiously at the French and Belgian countryside, returning the smiles of the people who greeted them at every stop, and few noticed that as the trains moved farther inland, closer to the vast desolation of the Western Front, the villagers were quieter, the faces more grim. Then the trains stopped, and the men were ordered out onto roads that had seen too much use, repaired and repaired again. They would march now only at night, hidden from the eyes in the air, the aeroplanes that sought out targets for German artillery. If the roads were bad, the small trails and pathways were worse, men stumbling in tight files, moving closer still to the front. The fire in the recruits was dampened now, by the weather, the ever-present mud, the soggy lowlands of Flanders. Then came the first sounds, low rumbles, louder as they marched forward. Even in the darkness, both sides threw a nightly artillery barrage at the other, some firing blind, some relying on the memory of the daytime, a brief glimpse of movement on the road, convoys of trucks and horse-drawn carts. Some had the range, knew every foot of the road that stretched out behind the enemy's lines. Throughout the night, the targets might be unseen, but they were there, and every man at every big gun knew that in the darkness, each road, each small path might be hiding great long lines of men, new recruits, the replacements who marched quietly to the front.
His guts were a twisted knot, his arms pulled to his sides, one hand tightly curled around his rifle, his eyes straining at the unseen man in front of him. The soft wood beneath him was bouncing now, sagging low, and his knees buckled, trying to match the rhythm of the footing. There were more soft sounds, splashes, the duckboards spread across some chasm of black water. His mind tried to focus, one foot in front of the other, keeping his boots on the narrow wooden boards. He imagined a great pond, inky and deep, the duckboards some kind of bridge, but the image was not complete, his mind shouting at him, to the front, focus to the front. The man in front of him made a low grunt, water splashing, the man stepping hard, trying to catch himself.