Into the Book


History/Current Events

  1. In Band of Brothers, veteran historian Stephen Ambrose tells the story of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne – one of the most successful light infantry units to fight in the European theater during World War II.

    Formed in July 1942 and inactivated in November 1945, “Easy” Company saw its first action when it parachuted into France on the morning of D-Day. It participated in “Operation Market Garden” in Holland, and went on to play a crucial role in the Battle of the Bulge by holding the perimeter around Bastogne. It was also the first company to reach Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

    Over the course of its 3-year service in the field, Easy took 150 percent casualities. It was a company that considered the Purple Heart not a decoration, but a badge of office.

    With assiduous attention to detail and a compelling style, Ambrose traces the fortunes of the men in this brave unit who fought, bled, went hungry, froze, and died – for their country and for each other. We follow them through training and into combat and onto victory. To quote another reviewer, “In these pages, the reader can vicariously walk with the men of E Company, suffer and laugh with them.” And as we read, we can’t help but fiercely admire them.

    Ambrose writes of Easy,

    The company had been born in July 1942 at Toccoa. Its existence essentially came to an end almost exactly three years later… In those three years the men had seen more, endured more, and contributed more than most men can see, endure, or contribute in a lifetime. 

    They thought the Army was boring, unfeeling, and chicken, and they hated it. They found combat to be ugliness, destruction, and death, and hated it. Anything was better than the blood and carnage, the grime and filth, the impossible demands made on the body – anything, that is, except letting down their buddies.

    They also found in combat the closest brotherhood they ever knew. They found selflessness. They found they could love the other guy in their foxhole more than themselves. They found that in war, men who loved life would give their lives for them.

    The sacrificial actions of these men – and of soldiers in general – reflect the very essence of John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Such love is rare. Amid the rampant egotism of modern culture, it is even rarer.

    One of the things I most appreciated about the book is how Ambrose gives the reader the big picture without ever compromising the small one. The account he shares is a very personal one, showcasing ordinary guys in extraordinary situations. We never lose sight of the fact that, however big the war was, the men who fought it were real men – not just pieces on a chess board being moved from place to place by generals and statesmen.

    For those concerned about content, I should note that – compared to most war sagas – Band of Brothers is a surprisingly tame. That said, it’s still not a book I’d recommend to readers under 16 years of age. Ambrose touches upon some mature themes, and there’s some foul language (in one instance, quite strong) scattered throughout.

    Suffice it to say, I loved Band of Brothers. And when I tell you to go read this book, I mean, go read this book. Don’t just add it to your wish list and hope you’ll get to it sometime: seek it out and get your hands on a copy the next time you’re in the library or the bookstore.

    It’s a story of honor and sacrifice and courage in the face of unspeakable odds. It’s a story of great men, of heroes. It’s a story simply too powerful to be missed.

    Now go read it.

    – Corey P.

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  2. They say truth is stranger than fiction. I would tend to agree – especially in regards to the story of Jan Baalsrud, a story brilliantly recorded by David Howarth in We Die Alone.

    In March of 1943, a skilled team of expatriate Norwegian commandos set sail from northern England. Their destination was Nazi-occupied Norway; their mission was to organize and supply the Norwegian resistance. Shortly after landfall, however, they were betrayed, resulting in an ambush by the Nazis that left only one of the team alive – Jan Baalsrud.

    Pursued by Germans, suffering from severe frostbite, and blinded by the unrelenting snow and wind, Jan forced himself onward, leaving a trail of blood behind him as he went. He eventually found his way to a small arctic village, where he sought shelter, half-dead, delirious, and virtually a cripple. At great risk to themselves and their families, the villagers undertook to save him… and through impossible feats, they did.

    David Howarth won my utmost respect with his marvelous book The Voyage of the Armada: The Spanish Story. It blew me away completely. He blew me away a second time with We Die Alone, which has to be one of the most riveting survival stories I have ever read.

    I mentioned that truth is stranger than fiction, particularly in the case of Jan’s story. Why? Because if Howarth’s book were a novel, I would probably shrug off the James Bond-like exploits of its hero as pure nonsense. But this is not a novel. It is a meticulously researched piece of history. Says Howarth in the preface,

    I heard the bare bones of this story during the war, soon after it happened… All that I knew about it then was based on a report which was written in a Swedish hospital by a man called Jan Baalsrud… it was not until ten years later that I had a chance to talk it over with him, and persuade him to come with me to the far north of Norway where it happened, to try to find out the whole truth of it.

    Now that I have found it and written it down, I am rather afraid of being accused of exaggeration. Parts of it are difficult to believe. But I have seen nearly all the places which are mentioned in this book, and met nearly all the people. Not one of the people knew the whole story, but each of them had a most vivid recollection of his own part in it. Each of their individual stories fit together, and also confirm what Baalsrud himself remembered. Some minor events are matters of deduction, but none of it is imaginary. Here and there I have altered a name or an unimportant detail to avoid offending people; but otherwise, I am convinced that this account is true.

    By the end of the book, the reader is convinced, too, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    And while one could argue that the book’s primary focus is Jan, Howarth never neglects the bravery of the villagers who aided him. To quote Steven Ambrose, who provides the introduction, “[They] ceaselessly risked their lives to save his, even when he was apparently a hopeless cripple with nothing whatsoever to offer anyone, and managed impossible-to-believe feats in keeping him alive.” Their boldness and sacrifice truly is one of the most touching elements of the story.

    By all means, read this book. If you do not read another survival story this year, read this book. As a reviewer for the New York Times wrote, “We Die Alone fills one with humble admiration for the stubborn courage of a man who refused to die.”

    – Corey P.

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  3. I love history, plain and simple. It fascinates me. And when I encounter a good history book, I can’t help but sing its praises.

    David Howarth’s monumental book, The Voyage of the Armada: The Spanish Story, easily ranks among my favorite history books. Historical narratives seldom get better than this.

    Some writers are able to take history, and turn it into an apallingly dull affair. By the time they’re finished, you’d think history was merely a bunch of facts, numbers, names and dates. In the end, a dislike of history can indicate at least one of two things: one, you’ve got problems; or two, you’ve been reading badly-written history books.

    Thankfully, however, there are writers who are able to make history interesting, and David Howarth is among them. History books like his are the ones worth reading. They have the power to make you love history in a way you might never have thought possible.

    The Voyage of the Armada is well-written, engaging, and stretches the mind. To be sure, I began it skeptically; but when I was finished, I walked away awestruck. Set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it recounts the history of the Spanish Armada sent by the Catholic King of Spain to invade Protestant England. Until the publication of this book, the story of the Armada had been told primarily from the English viewpoint, which glorified the English victory far beyond the truth. Howarth ably sets the record straight, and gives us the other side of the story. Drawing from a plethora of original Spanish sources, he tells the Armada’s story from a different perspective – the Spanish perspective.

    One can best grasp the story from this excerpt:

    … the soldiers were marched back to the quays and taken in boats and shut up in their ships again. They were the only people who were supposed not to know what the fleet was for. A few weeks earlier, the king himself had sent instructions that the soldiers and sailors had better be told they were going to the Indies. But for once his instructions were ignored; it was too late for deception. Everyone in Lisbon knew the truth. All over Europe, indeed, everyone of consequence knew it: the fleet was bound for the conquest of England. The men who manned it had not been told a lie, as the king proposed. Officially, the had not been told anything at all. But even the most dimwitted of them had been discussing it for months. Without any information, their ideas of England, and of what they were in for, can only have been the vaguest: a cold, wet, windy and altogether unpleasant island for to the north – barbaric and said to be guilty of devilish heresies. Rumor said the conquest would be easy.

    In reality, the conquest would be far from easy. And instead of fulfilling its mission, the Armada would ultimately return home, driven back in defeat. Howarth does an excellent job of injecting the narrative with a real sense of urgency and danger. He also brings the characters to vivid life, making them much more than dry, dusty figures from the past.

    There’s really nothing objectionable in Howarth’s book (other than a few references to an affair by which Phillip II had an illegitimate son), and most readers over the age of 13 will probably find it as fascinating as I did. Watch out, though: history buffs will inevitably have a hard time putting it down.

    – Corey P.

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  4. Gripping. Poignant. Inspiring. Thought-provoking. Every one of these words could be used to describe Ernest Gordon’s To End All Wars. And yet, strangely enough, none of them would fully do it justice. It is a war story, to be sure: but it’s unlike any other war story I’ve ever read.

    Originally published in 1963 under the title Through the Valley of the Kwai, this book is Ernest Gordon’s first-hand account of the time he spent in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. A native of Scotland, and an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Gordon was captured by Japanese troops at the age of twenty-four and forced, along with other Bitish prisoners, to build the infamous “Death Railway” – a 285 mile long railway stretching between Thailand and Burma. Faced by the brutality of the guards and the squalor of the prison camp, Gordon and many others gave themselves over to anger, bitterness, and despair.

    But then something unexpected happened. Inspired by Dusty Miller, a fellow inmate and ardent Christian, Gordon began reading the Bible anew, and came to a saving knowledge of Christ as a result (when the war was over, he went on to become a Presbyterian minister). He organized a regular Bible study so he and the other prisoners could meet to discuss what they had read in God’s Word. A change both dramatic and profound was wrought in the attitude of the men.

    Gordon writes,

    As we became more aware of our responsibility to God the Father, we realized that we were put into this world not to be served but to serve. This truth touched and influenced many of us to some degree – even some of those who shunned any religious quest. Men began to smile – even to laugh – and sing.

    The resurgence of life increased. It grew and leavened the camp, expressing itself in men’s increased concern for their neighbors.

    But these men also faced another challenge, and one that was much more difficult: that of loving and forgiving their enemies. The Japanese prison guards were savage men who enacted countless cruelties on their prisoners without a second thought. To demonstrate love towards them exceeded the bounds of all human reason.

    But since when was human reason the scale by which Christians measure their actions?

    Through God’s grace, Gordon and the others found the strength to return good for evil. One particularly striking example of this occurs when the prisoners administer aid to wounded Japanese soldiers:

    They were in a shocking state; I had never seen men filthier. Their uniforms were encrusted with mud, blood, and excrement. Their wounds, sorely enflamed and full of pus, crawled with maggots…

    We understood now why the Japanese were so cruel to their prisoners. If they didn’t care a tinker’s damn for their own, why should they care for us?

    The wounded men looked at us forlornly as they sat with their heads resting against the carriages waiting fatalistically for death…

    Without a word, most of the officers in my section unbuckled their packs, took out part of their ration and a rag or two, and, with water canteens in their hands went over to the Japanese train to help them. Our guards tried to prevent us… but we ignored them and knelt by the side of the enemy to give them food and water, to clean and bind up their wounds, to smile and say a kind word. Grateful cries of “Aragatto!” (“Thank you!”) followed us when we left…

    We had experienced a moment of grace, there in those blood-stained railway cars. God had broken through the barriers of our prejudice and had given us the will to obey His command, “Thou shalt love”.

    Powerful stuff, indeed.

    The story behind this book is one which inspired two major motion pictures, the Academy Award-winning The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957) and David Cunningham’s more recent adaption To End All Wars (2001). The former, however, is grossly inaccurate and touts the myth that the POWs gleefully assisted in the building of the railway in order to demonstrate British superiority; in reality, the POWs did all they could to sabotage the construction. The latter film remains primarily true to the book, but it’s underscored by a more pacifistic message and the Christian themes are somewhat watered-down.

    If you read this book – and I highly recommend you do – be warned that it contains some graphic subject matter. It is a POW story after all, and Gordon doesn’t pull any punches in describing the horrors endured by the inmates of the prison camps.

    In conclusion, the description on the back cover of the book states that To End All Wars is an “example of the triumph of the human spirit against all odds”. But human spirit has nothing to do with it. Rather, Gordon’s story is a testament to the redemptive power of God’s grace in the most horrific of circumstances.

    – Corey P.

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  5. There are some books which are quite fascinating to read, but also quite difficult to get through. Down with Big Brother: the Fall of the Soviet Union, by Michael Dobbs, is one of these books. This book covers in detail the Soviet sphere of influence during Mikhail Gorbachev’s days as General Secretary of the Soviet Union. The amount of information which it carries between its two covers is stunning.

    More than simply telling that the Soviet Union fell apart, a fact we all know, Michael Dobbs goes more in depth, and analyzes why the Soviet Union fell apart. His expose of events that is five hundred pages long gives him a large sample space from which he draws his conclusions. Basically, he decides that it is not surprising that the Soviet Union fell so suddenly. Rather, he decides it is surprising that it held together for so long. His specific timeline of events and revealing facts about Gorbachev counter the reasoning many people hold about the USSR and its eventual fall.

    I found this book very difficult to read, and I read at a college level. There is a lot of obscure vocabulary and the sheer length of the book – five hundred pages, makes it a difficult read. It took me about two or three weeks to plow through this volume. The chapters are short, however, and you can knock out three or four in a short sitting. Each chapter takes place and is named after a specific location, and represents a single scene in the entire story told by the book.

    As with all books I read, this book was not perfect. There are quite a few instances of curse words within this book, and there is also several incidents of violence described in detail. For this reason and for the difficulty of the book, I definitely don’t recommend this book to anyone below highs-chool level. Even high-school students, such as I, would likely find the book difficult.

    I highly recommend this book to any student of history, but particularly history students interested in the Soviet Union. This book is extremely eye-opening and helps the reader to understand some of the motivations of the everyday Joe, men such as Walesa and Kravchuk who helped lead the everyday man to protesting the situation which they found themselves in. Again, I highly recommend this book for its historical value.

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  6. The Fight of Our Lives is a very recent book by William J. Bennett. I was at first very against this book’s message, and didn’t even want to finish it, but by the end my viewpoint has changed, at least slightly. That being said, I still don’t recommend the book. Choose for yourself in the review following.


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    Redcoats and Rebels, by Christopher Hibbert, is the first history book I’ve read about the Revolutionary War. Perhaps it’s just Hibbert’s masterful telling of the story, but I found this book to be the most interesting history book I’ve ever read. With clear, easy to understand sentences, Hibbert vividly paints a picture of life during the Revolutionary War, and explores many factors that explain why the British lost the war.


  8. The Man who Never Was is the thrilling (true) story of a deception carried on by the Allies during World War II, codenamed Operation Mincemeat. It involved the creation of a false identity for a soldier who never existed, carrying false high-level documents that would fool the Germans into defending a spot other than that which the Allies were planning on attacking. Throughout the book, the author tells how they accomplished that aim.

    The story begins with a crazy idea, that is later considered as a possibility. One officer has the idea of fooling the Germans with a fake body carrying important papers. When a cover operation is needed for the invasion of Sicily, this idea is reconsidered and ultimately ends up being what they do.

    The small committee works through every aspect of creating a fake Navy officer named Major Martin. Everything from parents, to a fiancée, to army rank, to ID, to personal debt is considered and used to make Major Martin a realistic person. The book details the creation of fake love letters from Major Martin’s fiancée, Pam (who also never existed) and several documents about the soldier’s debts at stores and banks. Everything is thought of to make it seem as if this soldier had really existed.

    Once everything is prepared, they launch the body off the coast of Spain from a submarine, hoping that the Spaniards will forward any important documents on to the German officials in the area. After the war is over, they find that the Germans diverted several large units of men to protect what was thought to be the attack spot, leaving Sicily lightly defended. The plan worked perfectly.

    The Man Who Never Was is a great read, only being about one hundred pages long. Written in a light and almost humorous style, the book is entertaining and is a nice glimpse at some of the finer arts of deception in war-time. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about historical events.

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  9. ‘The Blood of the Moon’, by George Grant, is a very interesting book. It documents the historic struggle between Arabs and Israelis (Isaac and Ishmael) and some of the root reasons of that problem.

    Firstly, Mr. Grant analyzes why conflict between Jews/Christians and Arabs, is inevitable. Through several passages of the Koran and insight on the history and creation of Islam, the author concludes that even though many muslims don’t believe it, destroying the infidels is a crucial point of Islam, one of the first which Muhammad stressed. Therefore, he says, peace will never be evident unless Islam can be defeated.

    Throughout the book I like how the author does not play favorites. Though he very clearly tells us that the muslim philosophy is wrong, he also points out problems of christian nations such as the United States in dealing with the middle east. He is very clear in saying that our problem is not religion; our problem is The Fall. It was refreshing not to read another book saying Christians are right and Muslims are wrong, but instead, all are sinful, but the Muslims are also lost.

    The author gives us several insights into the Middle East historically, and tells us of the ancient kingdoms of Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and Afghanistan, and how each controlled the Middle East for a time. He summarizes the terrorist attacks and the attempts of powerful nations to control the area: France, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States.

    He concludes, by the end of the book, the solution to the Middle Eastern problem. Everyone needs Jesus. The Muslims need Jesus, the Jews need Jesus, and sometimes even the ‘Christians’ need Jesus. Without Him, none of the problems in the Middle East will be able to be solved by mere human efforts. He finishes the book with a call to evangelize and to reach the Muslims with the Gospel.

    I was very impressed with this book, and I especially liked how much scripture was in it. Though he used the Koran a couple of times to validate Muslim beliefs, everything he wrote was literally bathed in Scripture with a reference at least every paragraph! All in all, the book was a very good read, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the Middle East and its historic conflict.