Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest
By Stephen E. Ambrose
Published by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004.
Sorry for the delay. . . This review is going to be slightly different than my usual format as a lot of my observations on the book relate directly to my experiences watching the 2001 HBO miniseries, which has come to hold a special place in my heart.
When I moved back to the states last December from England, I moved back to a life that had largely moved on without me. While in the UK I’d had a solid group of friends and coworkers, a steady means of income and a publishing internship to pass the time, back in NJ I had nothing. I moved back in with my parents and struggled to find even a parttime job. I started watching movies and spent most of my time watching HBO.
I remembered my mom watching the Band of Brothers miniseries when it first came out. I was only 12 years old at the time, so wasn’t too interested, but one image stuck with me: that of battered and beaten looking soldiers charging through the snow towards grey, dilapidated buildings. Twelve years later, as I sat watching the entire series for the very first time, I came to realize that I’d remembered scenes from one of the most heart-wrenching episodes in the entire 10-episode production, one that would soon become a favorite of mine.
Since December, I’ve watched Band of Brothers in its entirety at least five times. I’ve watched particular episodes (“Crossroads”, “Bastogne”, and “Breaking Point”) countless times in my efforts to find sleep. There was something about the series itself that called to me at a time when I myself was feeling downtrodden and alone. I’ve never been in war, and I hope that I never have to see the things Easy Company, or any soldier before or since, has faced, but at the time I felt like I could relate to these characters and draw hope from them. Whatever the reason, watching Band of Brothers made me feel better and let me sleep at night. After discovering Band of Brothers was a book, I knew I had to read it, but I can’t write an objective review, because I’ve already fallen in love with the story of Easy Company.
What I can say is that the miniseries follows the book very well, but there are some very noticeable changes and liberties that have been taken with the “characters”. Many of the characters that were featured so prominently in HBO’s Band of Brothers are mentioned only briefly in the book, and some that are mentioned quite a bit in the book are barely portrayed in the miniseries. Ambrose’s book is clearly a more factual, historical approach to the subject of E Company and its experiences through Toccoa to the end of the Second World War. Ambrose draws an extensive amount of his material from soldiers’ letters and personal diaries, as well as interviews with Easy veterans. He also uses a great deal of material from the unpublished memoir and letters of Pvt. David Webster.
The book, like the miniseries, follows the story of the men of E Company from their initial training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, through D-Day and Normandy, from the failed Operation Market Garden, to the freezing cold of Bastogne, and finally to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and then Austria, where they remained until the end of the war. I loved all of the extra details that the book had to offer, and Ambrose’s explanations of battle maneuvers, while very matter-of-fact, helped clarify scenes I’d seen tens of times on the small screen. The book is overall really clear and easy to follow, and I didn’t find it hard at all picturing the scenes Ambrose was describing.
In the end, I couldn’t help but feel a stronger connection to these soldiers, even ones that were barely mentioned in the miniseries, knowing that everything that happened was true. The end of the book rolls around too fast and doesn’t offer the same comfort as the miniseries. Not only did I want to continue hearing about the lives of Easy men through their civilian lives, but I also found the brevity of some of Ambrose’s descriptions truly heartbreaking, in particular, hearing about the sad post-war lives of Captain Sobel and Sergeant Talbert.
As I mentioned above, I find it really difficult to pinpoint what it is that has drawn me to this story so much. I’m very glad that I read the book, and even more glad that the miniseries exists to effectively dramatize the events that Easy went through. I’d wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who has seen the miniseries and wants to continue the experience.
Are there any television, film, or book series that you feel an inexplicable connection to? I’d love to hear!