Alex Roland

alexroland“I recommend two historical fictions that linger in my memory years after I read them:

Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French (1979) recreates the conspiracy by Ireland and France to bring the wars of the French Revolution to the British Isles. From the Irish perspective, the plan was to enlist French help in their rebellion against English oppression. From the French perspective, the intervention was designed to open a new front in Britain’s backyard to distract France’s arch enemy from the brewing war of the second coalition. From the British point of view, it was a traitorous stab in the back that posed sufficient danger to warrant swift and ruthless suppression. General Cornwallis was brought out of near retirement to redeem the reputation he lost in the American Revolution. He unleashed a campaign in Ireland that had few rivals for brutality, atrocity, and effectiveness. For Flanagan, a professor of English, “The Year of the French” proved to be the first of three historical novels recounting the hard and bitter modern history of his beloved Ireland.  The novel is thoroughly researched and vividly written. The cruel fate of the Irish conspirators who bet their futures on two small, belated French invasions haunts the memory.

Winston Groom’s Better Times than These (1978) is also a first historical novel by a powerful writer. Better known for his 1986 Forest Gump, Groom was a Vietnam veteran trying to capture his experience in the war when he wrote “Better Times than These,” one of the very best of the countless Vietnam novels. Groom uses familiar structures and devices—young lieutenant, ambitious and venal senior officers, heroic soldiers, and searing battle narratives—to impose a coherent narrative on the small-unit engagements that comprised the American experience in Vietnam. What sets this book apart is its ability to distill the special flavor and apparent senselessness of American military operations in Vietnam in the late 1960s. This is a mature and sophisticated rendering of a complicated topic by a young but masterful author.”

Dr. Alex Roland, Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, has authored numerous books and publications on military history, military technology and space flight. Roland is currently writing a biography of Robert Fulton.

Better Times Than These book cover

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The Year of the French book cover

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