Review: The Lost Eleven by Denise George and Robert Child
It’s a sad truth that after World War II stories of the valor and bravery of white American soldiers were preserved far better than those of American soldiers of color. But in a new non-fiction book, “The Lost Eleven” by Denise George and Robert Child, the authors seek to change that by shining a light on one important, forgotten story: that of the 11 black soldiers of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion who fought bravely for their country and who were brutally killed by German forces. However, the book is so poorly written and researched it leaves readers with more questions than answers.
For starters, rather than focus the book on the 11 soldiers, the authors dedicate nearly two-thirds of the text to a decidedly well-known story: that of Hitler, his constituents, and the development of the United States’ forces in general.
When we finally do get to know a handful of the 11 fighters from the 333rd Battalion, their stories come in broad, sweeping strokes, their voices so similar it’s impossible to distinguish one man from the next.
Rather than taking the time and care to give each man a full personal narrative, the authors instead give each man just one distinguishing marker: Corporal Bradley treasures the bars of Woodbury soap his wife sends; Private Adams met his young son for the first time while he was at training camp. Since the authors make little to no attempts to develop the men beyond these small trinket details, they still feel forgotten, faceless at the end of the 300-page work.
There also is the matter of sources. While the introduction claims material in this book was “gleaned from military documents, interviews, VIII Corps and 333rd Battalion after-action reports,” just a quick glance through the bibliography reveals a great imbalance among the reliability and rigor of sources, as the authors routinely cite history.com, third-grade teaching materials, and Wikipedia alongside a minor spattering of peer-reviewed pieces.
The sloppy construction of the citations themselves completely defeats the purpose of the bibliography, namely to make it easy for interested readers to learn more. Sources are cited using a Frankenstein style: a dash of Chicago, a pinch of Turabian, a dash of APA, and a handful of imagination, making “The Lost Eleven” feel more like a freshman research paper than a serious attempt at historical writing.