In honor of Memorial Day, here is a list of recent nonfiction books about American soldiers (and in one case, merchant marines) and the enormous sacrifices that they make.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - This could be described as the quintessential Memorial Day read. If you've already read the book, or seen the movie, or read the young adult adaptation, you can read Louis Zamperini's own account of his life in his autobiography Devil at My Heels.
The Mathews Men by William Geroux - This is an inspiring, fascinating account of the sacrifices that members of our merchant marine made during World War II. It's a great book about an underappreciated group of heroes, and I hope more readers will discover it.
Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Phibrick - We tend to focus on the beginning of the American Revolution (Boston Massacre:1770; Lexington and Concord: 1773) and a few key dates along the way (Valley Forge: winter of 1777-1778), but the Paris Treaty ending the war was not signed until 1783. This is a nonfiction account of the middle years of the Revolutionary War, focusing on two dominant but different American generals, George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Amazon Senior Editor Adrian Liang writes of the book: "Riveting and relevant, Valiant Ambition explodes the myth that a triumphant revolution was inevitable."
The Red Platoon by Clinton Romesha - Here is the riveting account of a fourteen hour firefight that took place in a remote, isolated, and ill-advised outpost constructed to slow the passage of the Taliban between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sebastian Junger calls the book, "a vitally important story that needs to be understood by the public, and I cannot imagine an account that does it better justice that Romesha's." Two additional notes here: The author Romesha is a Medal of Honor recipient, and Sebastian Junger has just published a new book, entitled Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.
Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild - In the 1930s Americans signed up to fight in a war that did not directly involve the U.S. government. Guided by their bravery and their consciences, these volunteers flooded to Spain to help its democratic government fight off a fascist uprising led by Francisco Franco and aided by Hitler and Mussolini. When we think of this war, we tend to focus on Hemingway's involvement. But there were many more volunteers, and many of their stories were more interesting.
Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel - If you've ever wondered about the difficulties that some soldiers face after returning from battle (Finkel calls it the "After-War"), read Thank You For Your Service. This is a difficult but important book--but it's time to face that we should not just talk about treating our returning soldiers better. We should actually do it.