This review is special because it’s a modified version of the official book review I submitted for a history class I took this summer (which is also why it sort of reads like an essay/why it’s sooo long 😉 ). One of the best things about this history class I took was that I got to choose the book I needed to review for my final project. So I picked a book I had bought almost two years prior that I’d been meaning to read ever since–The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin. Rubin managed to interview the last couple dozen surviving World War 1 veterans of the U.S. (and a couple from Canada!) before the last one passed away in 2013. Then he compiled their stories in his book. It was such a pleasure to read and I learned so much about the war and the people who served our country in it! I was moved multiple times, sometimes to tears, but regardless, I really appreciated how deeply he touched on the emotions of the stories he heard and not just focus on the facts. Read my review to find out more!
Beginning in 2003 until 2013, Richard Rubin set out to do something no one else will ever be able to do again. He interviewed the last surviving American veterans of World War 1. These men and women ranged from ages 103 to 113 by the time he found them, all scattered throughout the nation. In 2011, the very last World War 1 veteran, not just of the United States, but of the world, passed away at the age of 110. This man, Frank Woodruff Buckles, was just sixteen when he enlisted into the Army. Once Rubin had interviewed as many of these veterans as he could find, he started to write a book about them. He titled this book The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War. At first he expected these veterans to be, essentially, like everyone else, only older. He quickly discovered that he was wrong. Not only were these men and women different because of what they went through, they were different because they grew up in a different time. And yet, there’s nothing especially extraordinary about them. As different as they are, they are human just like us. Nevertheless, these individuals have been largely forgotten, neglected and ignored throughout their lives. Ultimately, the stories of these ordinary men and women who served during World War 1 demonstrate that they did extraordinary things in a strange time in history. Therefore, they have earned the right to be heard, remembered and so much more.
Richard Rubin had a big project on his hands. When he began to compile these interviews into one comprehensive book, he decided to also include whole chapters on several different topics concerning World War 1 in order to give his readers a broader perspective of the period. Some examples include a chapter on songs composed during the war, a chapter on the experience of immigrants and African-Americans serving in the war and even another on soldiers’ biographies written either during the war or within a decade after it ended. This style helped break up the long line of interviews while also giving Rubin a chance to share all he had learned from the research he had made. Almost all of this research was inspired by the stories the veterans told him. Several times a veteran would remember part of something he had participated in while serving, but not know the whole context behind it. In these situations, after the interview, Rubin would painstakingly research as much as he could to find out what, or where, or how what the veteran had tried to describe to him had happened. In the process, he often found out about obscure pieces of history that no one else seemed to know about, or at least talk about. Besides detailing the veterans’ interviews, Rubin also discussed his thoughts (and research) on what he called the Forgotten Generation that these men and women were a part of. This helps readers feel that these men and women he interviewed were real—as if we have met them, too. At the end, he always asked the veterans what life was like for each of them post-war and in the process, found out how they perceived the war eighty-five years after it had ended
Check out the rest of my review here!