Silent Night and April 1865

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Silent Night
The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce
by Stanley Weintraub

During World War I, German, French, British and Belgian soldiers found solace in the “enemy” for a brief period. On Christmas Eve in 1914 the men were dug into miserable trenches, up to their ankles in mud and filth. Despite warnings from their superiors and even at the risk of losing their own lives, the soldiers declared a momentary truce and enjoyed the holiday.

They crossed into no man’s land and swapped cigarettes and food. They ever played soccer and buried their dead. This occurred all along the front, with different groups of men deciding to initiate a cease-fire.

Weintaub’s book is wonderfully researched, pulling information from soldiers’ letters, newspaper articles, etc. he recreates the scenes. The details are what really stuck with me, a German soldier giving a British soldier buttons from his uniform, a soldier who was accidently shot in the midst of the peace. The event itself is so unbelievable that’s it’s fascinating to read about, but the author’s writing is a bit dry. To me, it was still worth it, because it shows a gleaming light of humanity in the face of an awful war, but it’s not a page-turner.

April 1865
The Month That Saved America

by Jay Winik

It’s unbelievable how much hangs on the simplest details. An error in a shipping order, an individual’s mood, these things can affect the fate of a nation. In April 1865 we’re given an in-depth look at the final days of the Civil War and the resonating effect they had on the USA.

One of the things that stood out to me was how vital the character of the leaders was. If Grant or Lee or some of the others had wanted the war to continue they could have made very different choices. They men on both sides truly wanted peace in the end and their magnanimous actions prevented further bloodshed.

Before reading this I had a pretty good grasp of both Lincoln and Lee’s personal histories, but I knew very little about Grant’s background. This book expanded my knowledge on all three men and gave me a much better understanding of the parts they all played. It also taught me just how controversial some of their decisions were.

Winik’s voice worked well for me. He balanced the details and the big picture, giving just enough of both. He focused on individual’s motivations, not just outcomes. He delved farther back, into the creation of our nation and Jefferson’s role in that, to set the stage for the Civil War. If you want to learn more about the Civil War and America’s history, this book does a wonderful job.


Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

There’s a beautiful French movie - Joyeux Noel - based on the events of Christmas Eve 1914:

Have you seen it?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I haven't seen it, or even heard of it. Thanks for the recommendation! I added it to my netflix queue and I can't wait to see it.