On the surface, this is your usual, run-of-the-mill biography of an undeniably quite amazing career air-force soldier. But when reading you find it is actually more than that – far more. In fact, the life story of World War Two bomber pilot Colonel Harold McNeese, known to all as Mac, is a relatively very small part of this book, which rather seems to deliver two narratives simultaneously. Whilst the opening chapters and the final third delves more intimately into Mac’s life, the large majority of this book is actually a deep and comprehensive story of World War Two, as it unfolded and played out on both sides of the world, and then the simmering events leading to the Vietnam War after it – and it is outstanding. Sherry has delivered a masterclass in educational history. In fact, Mac, for the lion’s share, is little more than a viewpoint character, who pops into the narrative from time to time, to provide its arc. It’s fair to say that you will learn a great deal more about these major wars than you will about Mac.
That said, his story is a pretty awe-inspiring one, as one of the flood of recruits rushing to fight the Japanese over the Atlantic, following their tripartite pact with Hitler (and Mussolini) and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There is no doubt that these pilots were brave to the point of absurdity; they clearly must have had nerves (and other body parts) of steel! As mentioned, after WW2 is over, we learn much more about Mac and his family, in the words of his very own daughter, Sherry Hobbs, née McNeese. But the thing we learn more than anything, apart from the obvious love Sherry has for her dad, is just how proud he made her; the affection is crystal clear every time his name is mentioned – and from this account, she has every right to be. Whilst most of this book is about the wars themselves, it is probably at its most affecting during its more poignant and moving moments, none less so than when narrating the letters sent between Mac and his family, and those of friends he lost. At the end of the day, it is a sad book. War is sad.
The informative content, of which there is a great deal, is superbly, meticulously and profoundly researched, and delivered with detail and copious well-sourced reference material, helpfully supported by footnotes. Then Mac will always pop up like a lynchpin, pulling it all together. This is more than a simple book, or a biography by a loving daughter; it is a project, an educational achievement on a pretty immense scale, by a genuine professional investigative author. If you know little about why these three major wars came about or unfolded (counting the Europe and Pacific wars separately, and Vietnam), you will learn far more from this book than any biography I have read to date – most of all, from a most poignant and human perspective. The book is a triumph.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: sherry-hobbs war memoir biography world-war-two historical non-fiction