When I opened this military treasure trove,a complimentary read from the fine folks at Net Galley, I expected to see what had been described, which is the story of Bastogne during World War II. Two other World War II memoirs had been written by the same author, but I have not yet read them. The teaser that advertised The Battered Bastards of Bastogne claimed that this recounting was the result of many, many letters, interviews, and other primary documents collected from the participants themselves; it is a researcher’s dream to run across something like this, and Mr. Koskimaki deserves a great deal of credit for sorting through it all and then piecing it together in a readable, generally interesting narrative. Nearly all of the veterans of World War II are gone now, and not all of the remaining veterans are reliable resources anymore. To be able to come up with the whole story, impeccably documented, is a real achievement.
The writer says that he wrote this third volume, the completion of a trilogy, because other old soldiers urged him to do it, and this is the audience to whom he appears to be speaking much of the time. The informative lists and charts provided at the front of the book, with a glossary, list of maps, key to ranking, and photographs, is useful for those of us who have not served in the military, or perhaps even to those who have, but may have forgotten bits and pieces.
If anything is missing here, it is a more descriptive narrative, admittedly a very tricky business when writing nonfiction. Perhaps to add the feelings, scenery and sensations that would make this tale a bestseller would be considered unprofessional or unmilitary to those who are in a position to do so. I can think of just two nonfiction titles in which the narrative is as well done as a good novel, a compelling read with rising action and a climax: The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman, and The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. The Battered Bastards, though colorfully titled, loses its fifth star because the writing is dry in places, transitions sometimes bumpy. Though it becomes more colorful as one reaches further into the text, there are other lengthy sections that feel like quotations that have been hurriedly shoved together.
In addition, assumed knowledge, despite the excellent resources earlier mentioned, left me scratching my head. Why would parachutists consider themselves superior to those who used gliders? A lot is left to the imagination of the general, nonmilitary public.
For World War II veterans, a waning target audience, this might well merit five stars. For the general reading public—even those who teach or have taught American history, as I have—it is a four star read, important and informative, and very useful to researchers and scholars, but a little dry around the edges.
Still, a good read in my book, and recommended.