Reviews: Shadow Warriors and A Rare Book Saga

This week I’m breaking with tradition again.  Instead of a typical post, I’m copying over two book reviews I posted on Goodreads.  Both are tied to history, though the focus of the latter is the rare book trade.  I had hoped to have a full post written or edited for today, but three family situations all combined to prevent it.  It has been an extremely busy week.

Shadow Warriors:  The Untold Stories of American Special Operations During WWII by Dick Camp

Note:  I won a copy of this on Goodreads’ Giveaways and wrote this review Friday.

Published July 14th, 2013 by Zenith Press; 256 pages.

Part One of Shadow Warriors covered the Office of Strategic Services activities in North Africa and Europe. Instead of presenting a full picture of the activities, it honed in on four main examples: The story of William Eddy, Operation Torch, operations in Yugoslavia, and a unit sent into France in January, 1944. In each of these examples, the information was detailed, but one often wondered how these activities fit into others going on nearby, both American and British Special Operations Executive. This question is only answered in regards to the mission in Yugoslavia.

Shadow Warriors cover.  Image from Barnes and Noble.  Copyright held by Zentih Press.

Shadow Warriors cover. Image from Barnes and Noble. Copyright held by Zentih Press.

Part Two dealt with OSS operations in the Pacific. With the exception of the final chapter, this section followed the 1st Marine Raider Battalion at Tulagi and Guadalcanal, 1st Marine Parachute Battalion at Gavutu-Tanambogo and Guadalcanal, 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at Makin Atoll, and 2nd Parachute Battalion at Choiseul during 1942-43. Here, the detail was much more in-depth than what was presented in Part One and we learned how the units discussed interacted with other Allied forces in the area and about the Japanese they faced. The final chapter of this section should have been presented as a Part Three. It followed Captain Francis Thomas “Frank” Ferrell as he worked to uncover the German spy ring in China between 1945 and 1946.

Overall, I have a few comments. First, the gray boxes of additional information within the chapters are best read first. I found I understood the main chapter text better if I did so. Second, there was clear bias. The Pacific Theater was clearly given more prominence (over 2/3rds of the book) and all the actions covered were undertaken by Marine units. I know from past research, the OSS had quite a bit of sabotage and espionage activities in Europe and I’m sure other branches had roles within the OSS. Third, the book did make good use of incorporating oral history interviews, occasionally utilizing large segments. In conclusion, the book did well in presenting the included stories but I wish there had been more about Europe. The description on Goodreads does not precisely match the one on the dust jacket, as the jacket makes the focus on the Marines and the Pacific clear.

A Rare Book Saga:  The Autobiography Of H. P. Kraus

Published in 1978 by Putnam; 386 pages.

Note: Originally written in July; Expanded for this post and subsequently updated on Goodreads.

A Rare Book Saga is divided into two parts and both should be examined separately. The first part is a traditional narrative biography of Hans Peter Kraus‘ life. I thoroughly enjoyed this part, especially the descriptions of his initial interest in rare books (it began with a rare atlas found in an attic he was given), his first rare book dealership in Austria, and his experience as Jew in pre-WWII Europe. The latter experience would also be an interesting read for those who study World War II and the Holocaust, as Kraus spent time in a labor camp before being forced out of Austria.

The second and longest part of the book is a collection of stories about his rare book dealings. These were hit and miss; some were great and others boring. In the majority, we learned about several regular customers who were high-profile rare book collectors.  However, no matter what, his expertise shined through. Kraus clearly exhibited his knowledge of the trade and the read was quite educational.

While perhaps not for the average reader, I would recommend this title to those who deal in rare books, special collections, or enjoy the history of the book.

Do you think you might seek out these books to read?  Have you read anything similar to recommend for either topic?

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