Usually I read the book and then watch the film. This time I did things topsy-turvy. Thanks to my history-obsessed boyfriend, I became a massive fan of the incomparable TV series Band of Brothers long before I read Stephen Ambrose’s book. Which was better? That’s the real question.
I feel like a massive traitor but for once I have to say that I preferred the series to the book. Don’t get me wrong – the book inspired the series and the series is pretty faithful to the book; but for me the big difference was how easy it was to appreciate what it was like for soldiers in snowy, surrounded Bastogne or anywhere bullets were whistling an inch-gap from their helmets, perhaps even burying themselves in the body of the much-loved comrade crouching beside them.
Whilst the series gripped me instantly with its portrayal of the hardships, strength and courage of the men of Easy Company, the book took longer to get going. On the page, the details of drills, training, hierarchy and strategy seemed drier, the human elements of them harder to appreciate.
I have to say at this point that this is entirely my own personal perspective – my boyfriend found that the detail given in the book added a great deal to his understanding of the challenges the men faced and a valuable background to the topic as a whole. I certainly wouldn’t want to put anyone off what is still a fantastic book by my admission that it wasn’t all entirely my cup of tea.
I did also find that my enjoyment of the book grew and grew as it progressed. Once everyone had been introduced, once the scene had been set, once the nitty-gritty details had all been set down, the stories of the men emerged and the scope of the book enlarged. It was wonderful to hear the men speak in their own words, through numerous diary entries and letters to loved ones, as well as in later life in a series of in-depth interviews with Ambrose.
At the beginning of each of the TV episodes, the real men being dramatised on screen give little soundbites, but the book expands on this and has them speak in their own words far more frequently. The book delves more into the men’s thoughts and fears in their quiet moments and takes you to certain places that the series does not.
Read the book and then watch the series – that would be my advice. Steep yourself in the facts and the raw narrative and feel the reality of what the men of Easy Company undertook during the war…then settle down in front of the TV and prepare to be blown away by the horrifying and thrilling visual spectacle of it all.