Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2014 Second Takes: Courage Has No Color

About this book, Sam said, "This is an extremely well-researched and documented book -- I doubt anyone will have any of the questions about attribution that came up in the discussions last year of Bomb." And that's true. The original research and primary sources alone make it an impressive offering. And, as Sam also notes, it's beautifully designed and illustrated. 

Of course, Sam also said that, "the prose is effective, but not particularly artful, and the panoramic nature of the book means that even the characters on whom the most time is spent, such as Walter Morris, the man most responsible for the formation of the unit, don't fully emerge as individuals." I think I was more troubled by both of those areas of evaluation than he was. I know that Tanya Lee Stone can write crisp, engaging prose that creates a feeling of suspense, even when she's dealing with an ultimately anticlimactic story, because she did it in Almost Astronauts. That doesn't happen here. The pacing feels off, and the prose is undistinguished.

I also know that it's possible to write a book about an ensemble cast in which each character emerges as a distinct individual, because, again, Stone did it in Almost Astronauts. That kind of careful characterization also set We've Got a Job apart from the many other excellent nonfiction books published last year. In Courage Has No Color though, I gave up trying to tell the members of the Triple Nickles apart.

Overall, I had the sense that Stone didn't have enough material on the Triple Nickles to write a complete book - or that she didn't think the material stood alone as a compelling story - because the book feels bloated with peripheral information. The digression into the Japanese experience during the war isn't long enough to do justice to the subject matter, but it feels too long for this book. Likewise, the last chapter, about post-WWII integration of the armed forces and the legacy of the Triple Nickles, feels long-winded without actually providing that much information.

I'm being pretty harsh in my evaluation of what is, after all, one of the best nonfiction titles of the year, but this seems like a weak year for nonfiction, and I don't think Courage Has No Color will be picking up a Newbery.

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