Academic journal article The Historian

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne

Academic journal article The Historian

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne

Article excerpt

Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne. By Douglas V. Mastriano. (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Pp. xii, 306. $34.95.)

In this new study, the author lays his cards on the table. In his view, Alvin York was a true American hero for both his feats on the battlefield in World War I and a "life well-lived" afterwards. Consequently, this biography devotes equal attention to York's military accomplishments and his postwar life, with particular focus on how he used his fame to garner support for philanthropic projects.

York is well known as a conscientious objector-turned-war hero, and Douglas V. Mastriano chides historians for failing to grasp the full dimensions of York's faith. Mastriano thus joins a growing group of scholars, including Jonathan H. Ebel and Richard Schweitzer, in uncovering the vibrant religious lives of American soldiers. This book offers a compelling account of how religion factored into York's decision to fight, his determination on the battlefield, the friendships he developed in the military, and his postwar dedication to improving the lives of others in Pall Mall, Tennessee. As York explained, "All of my suffering in having to go and kill were to teach me to value human lives" (162).

Biographers often love or hate their subjects, and Mastriano clearly falls into the former category. He takes issue with York's many detractors both past and present. These critics question whether in the heat of battle York actually took command of the remnants of his platoon and, using his sharpshooter skills, nearly single-handedly silenced enemy machine guns and captured 132 prisoners. These sections are the most powerful of the book. Mastriano marshals impressive new evidence from German battle records and his own detailed battlefield forensic research. …

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