Edward Hahn, February 15, 2014 (view all comments by Edward Hahn)
This very well done historical novel presents a rare detailed look at the Mexican-American War. It covers the period from the arrival of the U.S. expeditionary force off the Mexican Coast at Vera Cruz to the signing of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the return of the troops to the U.S.
Shaara's technique is somewhat unique. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific U.S. combatant mostly Robert E. Lee, at that time a 40 year old engineer and Winfield Scott, Commander-in-chief of the U.S.Army and the expeditionary force as well as Santa Ana, the dictator of Mexico. Shaara imagines what these guys would be thinking as they pursue the invasion and defense of Mexico. This war was a training ground for many of the key combatants in the U.S. Civil War, Lee, Grant, Jackson, Johnston, Beauregard, etc.
The description of the battle scenes are very detailed and compelling. Shaara does a good job of relating how these soldiers reacted to the carnage and bloodshed of war. There is also quite a bit of time spent exploring the various relationships among the generals and other officers, unfortunately, sometimes too detailed. There is also quite a bit of time spent on the political situation especially between Scott and President Polk. The story drags in places.
There were many illuminating disclosures having to do with the way that Lee and others viewed their relationship with God. I had read in other books how Lee, in particular, felt he had a special relationship with God and was operating according to God's plan. Shaara underlines and reinforces that continuously almost to the point where it became hard to believe that anyone could be so devout.
While the story does drag in places, the last 100 pages or so are hard to put down. I recommend this book to anyone interested in either the war itself or looking for insight into the combatants.
KASEYGRAM, November 23, 2008 (view all comments by KASEYGRAM)
This was a real learning experience - A period of our history which was not covered in my public education. Meeting Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and several other future players in the US Civil War, earlier in their careers. You've heard the quote: "Great leaders are made, not born" - this is where many of the great leaders of the Civil War were made.
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by Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
"Brilliant does not even begin to describe the Shaara gift."
by The Washington Post Book World,
"[Shaara relies] on the history behind the men and their campaigns to tell the tale....Most poignant of all is the appearance of so many characters who will fight under opposing flags 13 years later. Stonewall Jackson shows up as a humorless young lieutenant with a spiritual reverence for his artillery, and Ulysses S. Grant awkwardly meets [Robert E.] Lee....The salvaging of such episodes from history is ultimately a patriotic task, deserving of gratitude."
by The Philadelphia Inquirer,
"Shaara, as usual, is at his best in action and confrontation and in evoking how it felt to be there."
"Having novelized the Civil War to monstrous commercial success in Gods and Generals (1996) and The Last Full Measure (1998), Shaara here alights upon the training ground for that war's future officers, the Mexican-American War....Because Shaara dwells so much on Lee's thoughts, battle narrative unfolds roughly. Even the narrative of Lee's most famous exploit in the war, his reconnaissance that proved the key to victory at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, seems conventional and lacks vivacity....Despite a palpable dip in quality from the author's previous historical fiction, most of Shaara's fans will ride with Lee on this campaign."
by Civil War Book Review,
"Compelling....Thrilling....Shaara briskly drives the U.S. forces to Mexico City, building suspense at each battle, all towards the climactic storming of the gates of the capital....[He] has humanized the mythos of Lee as no one ever has and, in doing, makes an enduring contribution to literature."
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