HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II
Author: James Tobin
Cover Illustrator: Paul Smith
Publisher: University Press of Kansas, republished in 2006
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Very mature older teens and adults
Rating: 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II (published in 1997 by Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster Inc.; republished in 2006 by the University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66049). When I was in high school, back in the days when we actually studied history rather than “social studies,” I remember learning about Ernie Pyle, one of the foremost American newspaper correspondents during World War II. Therefore, while driving through west central Indiana last year and seeing a sign for the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site at Dana, IN, we decided to stop. I purchased this book from their gift shop to serve as a memento of our visit and to learn more about Pyle, who was born Ernest Taylor Pyle on a tenant farm outside of Dana, IN, in 1900, and attended but didn’t graduate from Indiana University. Instead, he accepted a job at a paper in LaPorte, IN, where he worked for three months before moving to Washington, D.C. to be a reporter for a tabloid newspaper, The Washington Daily News.
While in Washington, Pyle met Geraldine “Jerry” Siebolds and married her in 1925. In 1928, he started the country’s first aviation column, which he wrote for four years. After serving as managing editor of the Daily News for a couple of years, he returned to writing with a series of national columns for the Scripps-Howard Alliance group about the unusual places he saw and people he met in his travels. His articles were written in a folksy style, much like a personal letter to a friend, and enjoyed a following in some 300 newspapers. With America’s entry into World War II, he became a special war correspondent, covering actions in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily, and D-Day, writing from the perspective of the common soldier, an approach that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. Pyle decided to cover events in the Pacific, and on April 18, 1945, was struck in the left temple by Japanese machine-gun fire on Ie Shima, an island off Okinawa, and died instantly. James Tobin’s account of Pyle’s life and work, emphasizing his efforts during the war, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998.
One of the disadvantages of a biography is that one often has to read about “warts and all.” Pyle’s wife Jerry, who called herself an atheist, suffered from intermittent bouts of mental illness and alcoholism. Pyle himself dealt with severe emotional insecurities and was a heavy drinker. Jerry just wanted them to live together, but Pyle at least insisted on marriage because “he could not shame his parents by living in sin.” The only time Jerry got pregnant, she chose to have an abortion, and she tried to commit suicide a couple of times. Because of the problems they divorced in 1942, and there are references in the book to several affairs that Pyle had during this time, but they remarried by proxy a year later. Also, Pyle and many of his co-workers, and apparently the author too, were very profane and vulgar men. Their language is liberally sprinkled with cursing (especially the “d” and “h” words), a lot of taking the Lord’s name in vain (including various forms of “go**am”), and even some actual obscenities (such as the “f” and “s” words among others). The book ends with an Appendix that contains a potpourri of Pyle’s articles. For very mature, older teens and adults making an in-depth study of World War II, the book contains some important information, but it is definitely not for children. This book is not to be confused with Ernie’s War, a collection of Pyle’s World War II dispatches edited by David Nichols.