Friday, March 20, 2015

I Don't Know Lots of Things About World War II

Perhaps this is presumptuous, but despite not being alive yet in the 1940s and 1950s, I thought that I had a pretty good grasp of the goings-on during World War II. Through high school and college, it was one of only two historical periods that I was interested in (the other being Tudor England), and I didn't care at all about any of my other history classes.

Thankfully I've become more interested in other time periods since then, because there's a lot of interesting stuff that's happened in the world, but WWII still fascinates me. And there have been a few good books and movies that I've experienced lately that have shown me just how little my pool of knowledge is. There is SO MUCH that I didn't know, and, I'm sure, still so much to learn.

"The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II" by Denise Kiernan
I started thinking about my knowledge — or lack thereof — when one of my book clubs chose to read "The Girls of Atomic City" a few months back. The book is about the compounds at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the women (and men) who worked to build the Atomic bombs that fell at the end of the war. Only they didn't know what they were working on, they were just recruited for these high-paying government jobs and knew they were contributing to the war effort, but the project was kept so hush-hush that no one ever talked about what they were doing. I found it fascinating because I really had no concept of the Manhattan Project and what the U.S. was doing through most of the war (though I did watch Bomb Girls on Netflix? and it was kind of sort of similar, except in Canada?). Most of the people in my book club didn't like "The Girls of Atomic City" and tore it to shreds, but I thought it was interesting, even if it had some weaknesses. (I agreed that there were too many characters and that they were difficult to distinguish [there was a summary of characters, places and events at the beginning for reference], but thought the overall view of the Project was very interesting.)

The Imitation Game
A few weeks back, Matt and I went to go see The Imitation Game at this little local theater by campus, and sorry to yell but IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS YOU SHOULD DO SO IMMEDIATELY. It was fantastic. Benedict Cumberbatch is so good. Everyone in it is so good. It's about the code-breakers at Bletchley Park in England, led by mathematician Alan Turing, and how they were trying to crack the Enigma machine that the Germans were using to communicate with their military. It was deemed to be an impossible task, as there were some 190,000,000 possible settings for Enigma and the settings were changed every night at midnight. The movie was wonderful, funny, fast-paced, heartbreaking and smart all at once. Now I very much want to pick up the book that it was based off, "Alan Turing: The Enigma." (Catherine has also suggested the show The Bletchley Circle, which is on Netflix, but I haven't gotten around to seeing it yet. Also, I have since read about some inaccuracies in the script, but it was still a beautifully done movie.)

"All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr
I loved this book. Loved loved loved. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who evacuates Paris during the German occupation to live with her uncle. Werner is a German orphan that is recruited into the German army when it's discovered that he has a talent for fixing radios. Two teenagers growing up in war-time with such different expectations for life.

I loved the main characters. I loved the secondary characters. I loved that the good guys were flawed, and that the bad guys could have been good guys, depending on your perspective. I loved that this book gave me such a unique glimpse into the German armies: prior to reading "All The Light," I had this idea of what a Nazi was, and what that person must be/believe, and this book completely threw me through a loop; the idea that there were people fighting under the German flag that may not have agreed with any of the things the Nazis were doing, but that were afraid to refuse to fight for their country? It was a fascinating perspective and an excellent read, and it made for a GREAT book club discussion.

What historical periods are you obsessed with? Have you read any good historical books — fiction or non — lately?


  1. I have a really good book on women stepping it up on the homefront. I'll look up the name of it when I get home. I had to read it for my WWII class, but it's one of those would've read it for pleasure anyway books. :)

    Also, Ambrose is one of my favorite WWII authors. He's very factual but I like his way of storytelling.

  2. Ooh yes, please share! I added some Ambrose to my Goodreads too.

  3. I love WWII stories, too, and when I taught 8th grade, we did a huge unit on it, with the play version of _The Diary of Anne Frank_. I have always been captivated by that time period. We're waiting for The Imitation Game to show up on Amazon streaming and I'm going to add the Doerr book to my list. Another great book about a small German town during the war is Stones from the River. It shows how the Nazis were able to infiltrate the entire country through propaganda before people even realized what was going on.

    My favorite books of all time are the Cazalet Chronicles (4 books in all) by Elizabeth Jane Howard. She recreates the time and talks about life in England down to the tiniest detail, with three young female cousins as the main characters. And I read that PBS is releasing a new show sometime this year called Home Front, about the women left behind during the war.

  4. Katie @ A Beautiful Little AdvMarch 23, 2015 at 1:43 PM

    I absolutely loved All The Light We Cannot See As Well! Best book of the year!! I want to read The Girls of Atomic City now. I get really swept up in ww2 historical fiction.

  5. Added all those books to my to-read list! Especially interested in Stones From The River.