Dickson resurrects a critical but overlooked period ... Weaving high drama with deep insight, Mr. Dickson describes the extraordinary challenges that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Army chief of staff, George C. Marshall, had to overcome to make the G.I. Army a reality ... Mr. Dickson argues convincingly that the precursor to the G.I. Army was the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal relief program designed to provide work during the Great Depression ... Mr. Dickson deftly weaves the story of such tentative steps toward forging the G.I. Army into a parallel narrative of fierce isolationism, borne of a belief that America’s involvement in World War I had been a colossal mistake ... Mr. Dickson’s rousing narrative of the simulated battles restores these important exercises to their central place in the history of the Army. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower observed in retrospect that the benefits of the maneuvers were 'incalculable' ... Mr. Dickson also presents a poignant counter-narrative, that of black soldiers and civil-rights leaders struggling to overcome the strictures of segregation ... The best history is character-driven, and in this Mr. Dickson excels. He follows the fortunes of emerging Army stars such as Bradley, George S. Patton, Mark Clark and Eisenhower himself with verve and compassion ... indispensable.
Dickson’s book reveals some little-known history about the Army and American society in the 1930s and early 1940s ... Throughout, the book evokes the ethos of the World War II era, with subtle notes of can-do attitude and pugnacious spirit. It also in some measure reinforces the mythology surrounding World War II’s 'greatest generation.' Many Americans have come to believe that there was something intrinsically valorous about the generation that fought the Germans and Japanese. Dickson’s narrative does little to disabuse us that these men indeed were better Americans ... Dickson also approaches the story with perhaps an overabundance of faith that it will end well. He details numerous obstacles in building the Army, but at no point does the narrative veer too far from what the reader knows will be a happy ending. The book might have grappled a bit more with the unsolved problems and failures of character that plagued the effort along the way ... Still, reading about the birth of the country’s citizen Army before World War II is a profoundly heartening experience. With all they are facing today, Americans need Dickson’s reminder of this momentous accomplishment.
... exhaustively thorough ... Dickson, an indefatigable researcher, again demonstrates his talent for marshaling ground-level details and contemporary newspaper accounts into a coherent and engaging story ... a remarkable work of historical scholarship, an eminently readable narrative crafted from a swarm of disparate and far-flung sources. The author plunges boldly into a saga that few other experts have explored in detail ... a brilliant history. In the sad and dispiriting times we’re living through today, it shines a light on a saga that’s largely uplifting yet still shot through with elements counter to our ideals. It’s a long story we all need to see as our own, as characteristic of our nation today as ever.