To Hell and Back



by Audie Murphy

Published 1949

This is classic World War II reading material, in my mind.  The memoirs of a decorated soldier, who went on to become a movie star (including playing himself in a film based on his book), make for interesting reading.

When studying history, I like to read books that were written during that time as well as books about that time.  The latter can provide retrospective big-picture views, but the former give us insight into the more personal nature of history–history is comprised of people who had feelings and fears and hopes and joys just as we do every day.  Books like this one give us a glimpse of that, reminding us of the very humanness of history.  It is easy to read a log of numbers of people killed; it is something different to read a story that gives names to those deaths.

While Murphy’s account makes for interesting reading, it can also be confusing.  He doesn’t bother a whole lot with telling you where he is or when it is–although, in truth, as a soldier, quite often he didn’t know where he was or when it was, so I suppose that makes sense.  A lot of his book is conversation in the trenches, so it’s stories being told by other soldiers, stories of their past lives, stories of the lives they yearn to have someday.  In some ways, this book is almost dull–day after day of trudging, of death, of waiting for death, of stupidity and frustration and hunger and cold and wet.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for very young readers–there is some language, and some discussion about women that makes the book a bit inappropriate for the pre-teen crowd, but overall a good read.