World War I as seen through the private writings of American participants.
Using Gen. John Pershing (1860-1948), the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, as a centerpiece, Legacy Project founder and bestselling author Carroll (Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History, 2013, etc.) sets the ambitious task of telling "the story of the American experience in World War I…primarily through the letters, journals and other personal writings that Pershing and his countrymen wrote throughout the conflict." The narrative features an eclectic cast of characters. Some were leaders famous at the time—e.g., President Woodrow Wilson and Gen. Leonard Wood—while others became famous later, including George Patton, George Marshall, and Harry Truman. Most were humble individuals caught up in the war: ambulance drivers, fledgling aviators, an Army nurse, and soldiers in all-black regiments who found themselves used as stevedores or seconded to the French army once they were "over there." The personal anecdotes are engaging and well-told; the selected written materials, particularly the ones from the ordinary people, ring with a down-home authenticity and an earnest moral naiveté impossible to imagine in 21st-century youth. However, even as Carroll limits his attention to writers directly connected to the war, his attempt to present the viewpoints of everyone from president to private, while putting it all in the context of the flow of events, necessarily restricts readers’ contact with most individuals to little more than a superficial introduction. Nor are the source materials always particularly helpful. While Pershing's tender letters to his young son and to female companions (his wife had died in a fire) help to humanize a man who cultivated a stony public image, they do not illuminate his conduct of the war or his professional relations with others; rather, they seem to stand to one side as unexpected curiosities.
A diverting view of some Americans' roles in this century-old conflict. For a more fine-grained focus on the ordinary man, see Peter Englund’s The Beauty and the Sorrow (2012).