If the author bemoans that the term Greatest Generation has become a 'tired bromide,' the mission of his book is to restore the hard-won honor of that designation by focusing at length on what these men endured and how so many lived and died. He succeeds brilliantly, interweaving rich back stories of a few superior college football players whose sports careers and lives were upended and often ended by war. The brutality of the conflict itself is described in unstinting detail, unfathomable numbers and profane frankness. It’s not a book I could read straight through — the accumulated carnage was too painful — but it changed the way I thought about World War II ... In a style that resembles a collage more than a straightforward narrative, he creates two astonishing set pieces ... I can’t speak to how accurately Bissinger recounts, and criticizes, the tactics and strategy of generals and commanders, who are backgrounded anyway. But the authority of his storytelling and his research — listed in more than 100 pages of endnotes, and assembled from military records, correspondence, interviews of nonagenarians like my colleague Johnny, and other reportorial feats — shows up everywhere, in the numbers, in battle accounts, in the homey mundanity of letters home.
While not as entertaining as Lights, or as fly-on-the-wall intimate as A Prayer for the City,’The Mosquito Bowl’ adroitly resurrects a long-forgotten episode to explore American values across the generations.
Bissinger employs the familiar narrative-nonfiction device of focusing on a few of the characters involved in a larger story and immersing the reader in their lives, sharing their thoughts, their fears, and their dreams of what their lives might be like if they were to make it home. This well-researched and impassioned book not only chronicles a little-known moment in sports history but also offers a poignant snapshot of the tragedy of war. Bissinger says of these brave men who sacrificed everything, 'They deserved so much more.'