The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War by David Laskin

David Laskin’s “The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War” tells the story of the millions of immigrants who came to the United States at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. He focuses on twelve men beginning with the back stories of their families’ plight in Europe. We learn of the struggles they had with daily survival in Europe. We experience their decisions to immigrate and the gauntlet of risks they met just getting out of their country to the USA. We feel the crowding and share the smells they meet on the ships that transport them to America. We learn of the fears they have going through the in-processing at Ellis Island.

From Ellis Island we see the immigrants span out over the US continent. We are there with them as they cling to and rely on help from extended and distant family to help them get a foot-hold in America and learn the streets are not paved with gold. We learn how each of the language and ethnic groups holds tightly to their customs and traditions such as church services and newspapers in their native languages. We see and feel the racism they endured.

We go on the adventures that the twelve experiences as they move toward their meeting with history and destiny called World War One. We see the hope and the longing to get their United States citizenship. We learn how many return to their homeland to fight for their home country. An example is over 90,000 Italians returned to Italy to fight in the Italian army.

We learn that as the induction of draftees began forty-three different languages were represented in the US Army and that 3/4 of the recruits that showed up at Camp Gordon, Georgia spoke no English! We discover the Camp Gordon Plan to deal with the language difficulties.

We see how the soldiers despite these difficulties are shipped to Europe whether or not they were trained. Mr. Laskin does a very good job using the immigrants’ testimonies as taken from letters to their families, personal diaries, and interviews to include a veteran of 107 years of age. He paints a vividly in-depth account of the horrors and the heroic carrying out of duty in the war.

David Laskin’s “The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War” is more than just a book for military history buffs. It is an excellent work covering the experience of immigration from 1880 to World War One and delivers the immigrants point of view on US History for that period. The genius of the book is in the thought-provoking chronicle of the generation of foreign-born immigrants who are the focus of this book. You will look at this period of US and world history with better understanding after reading the book. I strongly recommend the book for those interested in immigrant and social history, general US History and US military history.  This is one of the best books I have read in the last ten years.


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