Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

lost-in-shangri-laLost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff

I’ve read so much about World War II but I love that I can still come across new-to-me stories on some aspect of the war. The latest? A rescue mission in New Guinea that had me reading sections out loud to my husband (always a sign of an interesting book). What an incredible story!

The book is filled with photographs, which helps visualize the people and setting. One drawback to reading the book on my Kindle is that the included map was too small to be of much use, so keep that in mind if you’re debating which format.

Zuckoff does a decent job of bringing the individuals to life, but there isn’t as strong an emotional connection with any of them as the very best narrative nonfiction provides. I did appreciate his follow-up interviews in New Guinea, and assume he did the best he could with the historical record available.

There are some definite moments of “can you believe this!” that could lead to a fun discussion, and make me think it would be a good choice as a book club selection.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over Shangri-La, a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals. But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed.

Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside–a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio–dehydrated, sick, and in pain–traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.

By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives’ remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.


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Book Review: Women Heroes of World War II – Pacific Theatre

Women Heroes of World War IIWomen Heroes of World War II—the Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival by Kathryn J. Atwood

I’ve been highly impressed with Atwood’s earlier books in this series: Women Heroes of World War II, and Women Heroes of World War I, and was thrilled to learn that she had a third being published – this one focused on the Pacific Theater. As with the previous books, she continues her excellent work at writing an engaging and informative text.

I appreciated the introductory information providing background on the war in the Pacific. My history books in high school didn’t do as well at giving that sort of overview – they all seemed to start when Pearl Harbor, ignoring everything that happened to lead up to that.

Especially impressive is the delicate job she does of writing about some horrific events. While I still would be sure you know the sensitivity of your reader, I wouldn’t hesitate to have younger teens and even tweens read it.

Since the book is a compilation of biographical sketches, there isn’t space for a great amount of detail on any one individual. However, the included bibliography gives ideas for other books to read if you want to know more about any specific person or event.

Highly recommended. It’s aimed at teens, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
After glamorous American singer Claire Phillips opened her own night club in Manila, using the proceeds to secretly feed starving American POWs, she also began working as a spy, chatting up Japanese military men and passing their secrets along to local guerilla resistance fighters. Australian Army nurse Vivian Bullwinkel, stationed in Singapore then shipwrecked in the Dutch East Indies, became the sole survivor of a horrible massacre by Japanese soldiers. She hid for days, tending to a seriously wounded British soldier while wounded herself. Humanitarian Elizabeth Choy lived the rest of her life hating only war, not her tormentors, after enduring six months of starvation and torture by the Japanese military police. In these pages, readers will meet these and other courageous women and girls who risked their lives through their involvement in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. Fifteen suspense-filled stories unfold across China, Japan, Mayala, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls’ refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history. These women—whose stories span from 1932 through 1945, the last year of the war, when U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima—served in dangerous roles as spies, medics, journalists, resisters, and saboteurs. Nine of the women were American; seven were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese, enduring brutal conditions. Author Kathryn J. Atwood provides appropriate context and framing for teens 14 and up to grapple with these harsh realities of war. Discussion questions and a guide for further study assist readers and educators in learning about this important and often neglected period of history.


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

Three years ago: Introducing 31 More Days of Great Nonfiction

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

The War That Saved My Life

The War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I’ve read and enjoyed other books by this author in the past, and the topic of her newest sounded particularly interesting, so I expected to like it. Instead I found myself amazed at the job she did with this story, and thinking I need to reread it soon to more fully appreciate the character growth and development.

It would have been easy for the book to be unbalanced – too far one way and it’d have been depressing and too much for a children’s title. Too far the other way and it’d have been unrealistic shallow and light-hearted. It manages to stay balanced while telling a heart-wrenching tale. Ada’s voice felt very real to me, and how she changes throughout the story was believable, and so satisfying.

If you’re looking for a book that teaches aspects of World War II without being a “we’re going to learn about World War II today” sort of textbook, this one touches on many facets of the war and life in England at that time: child evacuees, bombing raids, rationing, Land Girls, victory gardens, the Dunkirk evacuation, and more.

Highly recommended, but with cautions. Ada is horrendously abused by her mother both physically and emotionally (never described in graphic detail, but it’s clearly stated), so be aware of that before handing the book over to younger readers.

[Read more…]

The Forgotten 500

The Forgotten 500The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War IIThe Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II by Gregory A. Freeman by Gregory A. Freeman

Whenever I think I’ve read about almost every aspect of World War II, I discover how mistaken I am. This time, my knowledge gap was about the war efforts in Yugoslavia, and how that related to the political situation there post-war.

Freeman has written an interesting account, but it’s not a *great* account in the way that Unbroken or Boys in the Boat are great. That said, it’s still a somewhat worthwhile read, especially since the events it describes aren’t ones you’ll learn about elsewhere.

However, I’m torn about recommending it. The storytelling was repetitive and occasionally clunky, and reviews seem to indicate that he gets some of the easily verifiable historical facts incorrect (things related to military aspects which I have zero interest in, and no desire to dig deeper into it to see if the criticisms are valid or not.) But, if he is getting these sorts of things wrong, it doesn’t give me much faith in the rest of the account, which is a shame.

It’s also surprisingly political, in a way that seems to draw the ire of some reviewers. Again, my ignorance regarding Serbian politics means I can’t fairly judge if he’s going too far in his interpretation of events. He’s very pro-Draza Mihailovich, and critical of Josip Broz Tito and the British and American maneuverings that helped put Tito in control post-war. It was fascinating, if quite discouraging in many ways.

The best part of the book was getting to know some of the personalities involved, and learning about the incredible rescue that took place against unbelievable odds. I just wish the story-telling had lived up to the potential.

[Read more…]

Invasion

InvasionInvasionInvasion by Walter Dean Myers by Walter Dean Myers

I’ve read other books by Myers, and he’s a dependable author for me, so I expected to enjoy this one despite military history not being my favorite. And I did, in large part because Myers’ focus isn’t on the military tactics aspect that I don’t enjoy, but on the experiences of the individual soldier, which I do. All in all, this is a good book about the time period, with a focus that isn’t often found in books for this age range.

My one real complaint with the book is (and this is a possible spoiler for some events, so read on only if you don’t mind knowing some of what takes place in the book) that the description of it makes it seem like there will be significant interaction between the white and black soldiers, Josiah and Marcus. Instead Marcus appears at the very beginning, and once or twice more later in the book he’s there for a few pages. If you’re expecting a lengthy look at the war from the perspective of a black soldier, it’s not here, so I wouldn’t pick it if you’re wanting something discussing race beyond the most superficial aspects*. I hate criticizing books for not being something other than what they are, but because of the description of this one, it seems to set this up for possible disappointment if you’re thinking it will be something else.

While I haven’t read them, two of the author’s other books have a connection to this one, although they can be read in any order apparently. Marcus Perry, the black soldier who appears so briefly in this book, is related to the main characters in the books Fallen AngelsFallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers and Sunrise Over FallujahSunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers. I’m looking forward to reading both of them.

If you do read this one, don’t miss the authors’ note at the end – it’s excellent, and gives some details about the writing of Invasion, and the inspiration behind Fallen Angels and Sunrise Over Fallujah.

Recommended, with some strong cautions that should be fairly obvious given the topic of the book – it follows an ordinary soldier through the Normandy Invasion of D-Day, and events shortly afterwards. There is a small amount of profanity (although nothing like I’d imagine it really was like among soldiers), but mostly it is the violence of war, sudden death, and the risk of death at any moment could make it so inappropriate for younger or more sensitive readers.

(*For a great book on that, covering the same age range – or even a bit younger – , try Courage Has No Color. It’s nonfiction, but very readable.) [Read more…]

In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson by Erik Larson

I expected to love Larson’s book – it’s got many of the elements that I adore: narrative non-fiction, an emphasis on the individual stories that make up history, and a World War II setting. Instead, I found myself disappointed in the book, and wishing that it had been the book I wanted it to be.

Part of the problem is that the element of suspense is missing: we all know what happens with Germany, and though Larson tries to wrench whatever tension he can out of events, it doesn’t completely work. The other major issue I had with the book is that the main character (no, not Ambassador Dodd like you might think based on the publisher’s description, but Dodd’s adult daughter, Martha) can be so unlikable. I found myself horrified at some of her actions, because they seemed so completely un-diplomatic-like, begging for a scandal to erupt back home, and/or undermining her father’s position and responsibilities in Germany.

(Really, I’m not so naive to think that affairs never happen, or that she’s the first one ever to have multiple lovers. But … you’re new to the country, you’re getting involved with some very highly placed officials, and then there’s the Soviet guy whose government your country doesn’t even recognize. You’re not a regular citizen; your activities are a little more scrutinized, and can have bigger ramifications than they would if you were just an average individual)

I felt kind of sorry for Dodd throughout the book. He didn’t really want the job, he just wanted to work on his book. He wasn’t the popular choice for the position – I forget how far down the list Roosevelt went before finding someone to fill the role, but it was kind of absurd. He got very little support from the State Department in Washington, or from other embassy staff. And his daughter was not helping him although he seemed completely oblivious to anything she did.

Dodd’s son and wife are mentioned occasionally, but they are very minor characters, and I would have liked to know more about their experiences. It also might not have annoyed me as much that the book is billed as being about the “family” and it’s mostly Martha, and her father as a supporting character. Her brother and mother are barely acknowledged.

Overall, it was an interesting book in a fascinating time period, but it wasn’t as compelling as I hoped, and I’d only recommend it if you’re highly interested in the topic.

[Read more…]

The Secret Lives of Codebreakers

The Secret Lives of CodebreakersThe Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley ParkThe Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay by Sinclair McKay

I assumed that I’d love this book – World War II, an amazing backstory, with a connection to women’s history as well – surely I’d love it.

Instead, while I did like it, more or less, overall I found myself disappointed by the dry writing style that didn’t do anything to bring the events to life. Despite the weaknesses of the book, it did give some idea of what it was like living and working at Bletchley Park. I wanted more though!

Some of the problem was the contrast with The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. She’s tackling a similar theme by what should have been a similar method – focusing on a handful of the individuals who worked on that project. Her book was so much more successful and enjoyable however, that it emphasizes how McKay’s book doesn’t succeed in the same way.

It’s not a terrible book by any means, and if you’re very interested in the topic you may be completely satisfied by it’s style. Perhaps if I’d read it before reading Kiernan’s book I’d have more content with McKay’s approach.

Publisher’s Description:
A remarkable look at day-to-day life of the codebreakers whose clandestine efforts helped win World War II
Bletchley Park looked like any other sprawling country estate. In reality, however, it was the top-secret headquarters of Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School–and the site where Germany’s legendary Enigma code was finally cracked. There, the nation’s most brilliant mathematical minds–including Alan Turing, whose discoveries at Bletchley would fuel the birth of modern computing–toiled alongside debutantes, factory workers, and students on projects of international importance. Until now, little has been revealed about ordinary life at this extraordinary facility. Drawing on remarkable first-hand interviews, “The Secret Lives of Codebreakers” reveals the entertainments, pastimes, and furtive romances that helped ease the incredible pressures faced by these covert operatives as they worked to turn the tide of World War II.

Book Details

Title: The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley ParkThe Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay
Author: Sinclair McKay
Category: Nonfiction / History
My Rating: 3 Stars

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Frozen in Time

Frozen in TimeFrozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War IIFrozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff by Mitchell Zuckoff

A compelling look at both the historical events of 1942, and the modern-day search to recover the remains of the rescue mission.

It’s always a good sign when I find myself reading parts of a book out loud to my husband, as I know that he’ll enjoy the story as well. This is one of those books where I read him quite a bit of it, and ended up summarizing the rest of it. It’s an amazing, and at times heart-breaking, tale.

Zuckoff does an excellent job at bringing to life the struggle for survival on the ice that took place during the winter of 1942 in Greenland. He also brings the reader alongside the contemporary search for the Coast Guard’s Grumman Duck that crashed while ferrying one of the crash survivors to safety. Greenland is an unforgiving land, and that fact becomes abundantly clear throughout the narrative.

A heads-up about the tale though: if you think you might read it, beware of indiscriminate searching online for details about the events discussed. The contemporary search for the Duck and whether or not they’ll find any trace of it is such a big piece of the overall story, and if you find out in advance the outcome it will take away much of the suspense. Don’t do it!

Recommended for fans of survival tales and history.

Publisher’s Description:
Two harrowing crashes . . . A vanished rescue plane . . . A desperate fight for life in a frozen, hostile land . . . The quest to solve a seventy-year-old mystery

The author of the smash New York Times bestseller Lost in Shangri-La delivers a gripping true story of endurance, bravery, ingenuity, and honor set in the vast Arctic wilderness of World War II and today.

On November 5, 1942, a U.S. cargo plane on a routine flight slammed into the Greenland ice cap. Four days later, a B-17 on the search-and-rescue mission became lost in a blinding storm and also crashed. Miraculously, all nine men on the B-17 survived. The U.S. military launched a second daring rescue operation, but the Grumman Duck amphibious plane sent to find the men flew into a severe storm and vanished.

In this thrilling adventure, Mitchell Zuckoff offers a spellbinding account of these harrowing disasters and the fate of the survivors and their would-be saviors. Frozen in Time places us at the center of a group of valiant airmen fighting to stay alive through 148 days of a brutal Arctic winter by sheltering from subzero temperatures and vicious blizzards in the tail section of the broken B-17 until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen attempts to bring them to safety.

But that is only part of the story that unfolds in Frozen in Time. In present-day Greenland, Zuckoff joins the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar—a company led by the indefatigable dreamer Lou Sapienza, who worked for years to solve the mystery of the Duck’s last flight—on a dangerous expedition to recover the remains of the lost plane’s crew.

Drawing on intensive research and Zuckoff ’s firsthand account of the dramatic 2012 expedition, Frozen in Time is a breathtaking blend of mystery, adventure, heroism, and survival. It is also a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our military personnel and their families—and a tribute to the important, perilous, and often-overlooked work of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Book Details

Title: Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War IIFrozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
Author: Mitchell Zuckoff
Category: Nonfiction / History
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Women Heroes of World War II

Women Heroes of World War IIWomen Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and RescueWomen Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn Atwood by Kathryn J. Atwood

Like Women’s History? Enjoy biographical sketches? Fascinated by World War II? If any of those sound like you, Women Heroes of World War IIWomen Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn J Atwood is a book you should try.

Atwood has assembled brief accounts of twenty six women from eight countries and their efforts to defeat the Nazis. The entries are just enough to whet your appetite to learn more about each woman profiled, and a bibliography is thankfully included.

Coincidentially, I started this book shortly after finishing Code Name Pauline, and the books not only share an author, but Pearl’s story that is told more completely in Code Name Pauline is also one of the entries in this book.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I was very excited to learn that the author has a new book coming out later this year with a very similar theme – Women Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics.

Publisher’s Description:
Noor Inayat Khan was the first female radio operator sent into occupied France and transferred crucial messages. Johtje Vos, a Dutch housewife, hid Jews in her home and repeatedly outsmarted the Gestapo. Law student Hannie Schaft became involved in the most dangerous resistance work–sabotage, weapons transference, and assassinations. In these pages, young readers will meet these and many other similarly courageous women and girls who risked their lives to help defeat the Nazis.

Twenty-six engaging and suspense-filled stories unfold from across Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, and the United States, providing an inspiring reminder of women and girls’ refusal to sit on the sidelines around the world and throughout history.

An overview of World War II and summaries of each country’s entrance and involvement in the war provide a framework for better understanding each woman’s unique circumstances, and resources for further learning follow each profile. Women Heroes of World War II is an invaluable addition to any student’s or history buff’s bookshelf.

Book Details

Title: Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and RescueWomen Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue (Women of Action) by Kathryn Atwood
Author: Kathryn J. Atwood
Category: Nonfiction / Biographies / World War II
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Code Name Pauline by Pearl Witherington Cornioley and Kathryn J. Atwood

Code Name PaulineCode Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special AgentCode Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent (Women of Action) by Pearl Witherington Cornioley and Kathryn J. Atwood by Pearl Witherington Cornioley and Kathryn J. Atwood

A fascinating look at an amazing woman. After slogging through a World War II book that had me feeling a bit burned out on that topic, I was happy to read this one that was very engrossing. Pearl (whose code name was Pauline, hence the title of the book), was a British subject who grew up in Paris – making her an ideal candidate for working in occupied France.

The book is a translation from a series of interviews that Pearl did in French, and Pearl’s requirement that her story be told as she shared it precisely made for some structural challenges for Atwood. However, I think Atwood does an excellent job of arranging the interviews in a coherent arc, and of including introductory material for each chapter to set up the story that Pearl tells in that chapter. I also enjoyed Henri’s interview in the appendix – he also had some amazing experiences!

If you liked the fictional book Code Name Verity and would like a nonfictional look at events, I think Code Name Pauline would be an excellent choice. While “Pauline” isn’t a pilot, her intelligence work in France is still close enough to some of the events in Verity that it provides a fascinating counterpoint.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
One of the most celebrated female World War II resistance fighters shares her remarkable story in this firsthand account of her experience as a special agent for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Told through a series of reminiscences—from a difficult childhood spent in the shadow of World War I and her family’s harrowing escape from Paris as the Germans approached in 1940 to her recruitment and training as a special agent and the logistics of parachuting into a remote rural area of occupied France and, later, hiding in a wheat field from enemy fire—each chapter also includes helpful opening remarks to provide context and background on the SOE and the French Resistance. With an annotated list of key figures, an appendix of original unedited interview extracts—including the story of Pearl’s fiancé Henri who escaped a German POW camp to become Pearl’s second-in-command—and fascinating photographs and documents from Pearl’s personal collection, this memoir will captivate World War II buffs of any age.

Book Details

Title: Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special AgentCode Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent (Women of Action) by Pearl Witherington Cornioley and Kathryn J. Atwood
Author: Pearl Witherington Cornioley and Kathryn J. Atwood
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir
My Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!