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Donald L. Miller, Lafayette’s John Henry MacCracken Professor of History, has received critical acclaim for The Story of World War II, a revised, expanded, and updated version of Henry Steele Commager’s classic book, The Story of the Second World War, published in November by Simon & Schuster/Lou Reda.

Drawing on a vast trove of previously unpublished eyewitness interviews, Miller’s work contains text that is more than 75 percent new, more than 100 photographs, and nearly two dozen maps. The book provides extensive new coverage of, among other things, the war in the Pacific, the air war, the liberation of the death camps, and the contributions of African-Americans, women, and Japanese-Americans. Miller places the personal accounts of soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, and war correspondents in a historical context that was unavailable to Commager as he wrote in the heat of the conflict.

Historian David McCullough, author of John Adams, says, “The new, greatly revised and expanded edition of The Story of World War II is a major publishing event. Donald Miller’s addition to the original account are outstanding and the total effect is one few readers will ever forget.”

“With his superb narrative flair, masterful eye for detail, and perfect blend of colorful anecdote with historical context, Donald Miller has given vibrant new life to a valued work. This classic account of World War II is likely to remain a classic for generations to come,” says Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of three acclaimed presidential biographies, including No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The American Home Front in World War II, for which she received the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for history.

Commager wrote The Story of the Second World War while he was working as a public information officer for the War Department in London, Paris, and Washington. He “selected some of the best contemporary stories of the war,” according to The New York Times Book Review, many of them by such famed correspondents as Ernie Pyle, John Hersey, Martha Gellhorn, and John Steinbeck. He died in 1998 after a long career as an author and professor of history at New York University, Columbia University, and Amherst College.

The death of Miller’s father, a World War II veteran, in 1995, reawakened Miller’s interest in the war that had transformed his father’s life and the lives of his friends and family. Shortly thereafter, Miller discovered Commager’s long out-of-print book in the office of his friend Lou Reda of Easton, Pa., America’s leading producer of historical documentary films, who has made more than 200 films on World War II.

Starting in his childhood hometown of Reading, Pa., Miller began interviewing World War II veterans and pulled out the dusty notes he had made on conversations with his father and his uncle and their wartime buddies. As Miller’s work proceeded, Reda gave him unrestricted access to the transcripts and videotapes of over 700 interviews his production teams has conducted over the past 30 years with veterans of World War II — generals and GIs, corpsmen and nurses, combat correspondents, and innocent victims of a war that killed more than 50 million people, most of them civilians.

Historians Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, director of The Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, made available to Miller their collection of oral testimonies housed at the Eisenhower Center. In addition, Miller was given access to transcripts of interviews in the archives of WGBH-TV Boston, which produces the series American Experience. This fresh material, most of it never used by historians, was especially valuable for reconstructing the Pacific war, which Commager, stationed in Europe during the fighting, treated lightly.

While Commager used short narrative accounts of his own to introduce longer firsthand observations by others, Miller weaves shorter – and many more – eyewitness accounts, most of them by men and women on the front lines, into a fuller, more personal, and more critical narrative than Commager had the resources or the intention to write. Beginning with his gripping account of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Miller builds each chapter around the eyewitness experiences of a number of main characters, whose lives sometimes intersect. He gives an up-close view of a war that was more savagely fought, and whose ultimate outcome was far more in doubt, than readers might imagine.

Among Miller’s most memorable characters are Vernon Baker, the only living African-American Congressional Medal of Honor winner from World War II, who describes the difficulty of fighting under several officers who were as racist as the Nazis; Marine Private Eugene B. Sledge, who at age 19 began writing what became one of the finest first-hand accounts in the literature of warfare; and Stephen Bower Young, a 19-year-old seaman who tells the story of being trapped for 25 hours in the battleship Oklahoma, which capsized in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There are also accounts from civilians who were shot at and bombed and from medical personnel and journalists, women and men who put their lives on the line at the front and suffered high casualty rates.

“Telling the story of the war as it was — refusing to sanitize it or glorify it for our own current purposes — does not diminish good men who in bad situations did things they would later regret,” writes Miller. “Rather, it underscores the tragedy of total war, war without mercy or let-up. The Good War that was seemingly bereft of moral ambiguity was suffused with it. We can only know this by getting as close to it as we possibly can. And that is only possible through the ancient art of story telling, the kind of tales I first heard at my father’s Catholic War Veterans Post, just down the street from where I was born.”

Miller actively engaged Lafayette students in the research for the book. As a participant in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate closely with faculty members on research projects while earning a stipend, Rebecca Waxman of Pittsburgh, Pa., interviewed veterans for their descriptions of World War II experiences.

“Interviewing the World War II veterans was one of the most amazing and life-changing experiences that I have had,” says Waxman, who graduated in June cum laude with degrees in psychology and history. “During the process, there were two veterans who really touched me — Morris Metz, a Lafayette graduate, and Vinnie Vicari.” During the interviewing process, she met many veterans through the help of Metz and his wife, and through the Battle of the Bulge Veterans of the Lehigh Valley. She interviewed Vicari through a referral from Lou Reda.

Miller says, “Over the years I’ve found that students are engaged by stories, by narratives that are anchored in the human being in history, and that are rich in the telling details of those lives,” he says. “Litanies and lists stupefy students, and ‘ologies’ and ‘isms’ without the human context often don’t connect. Furthermore, students are engaged when the study of history is not wrapped up in a tidy package, but when they are asked – no, when it is demanded of them – to think critically and creatively.”

Waxman says the research sharpened he reading, writing, and research skills “beyond any imaginable possibility. I also learned how much hard work and dedication goes into writing a book and television series. In addition, I have learned more about World War II than I ever thought I would have in my regular classes. By interviewing various veterans, I have sharpened my interviewing and transcription skills.

“In addition, the relationship that I have built with Professor Miller over the past two years would not have been achieved if we were limited to only the classroom interaction,” she continues. “The EXCEL work has given me the interpersonal, research, and academic skills that I would not have been able to gain otherwise. It also has helped me establish a professional relationship with an employer at a very young age as well.”

Work by Janine Stavrovsky of Bethlehem, Pa., currently a junior biology major, primarily focused on an investigation of World War II transcripts that offered first-hand accounts from American soldiers involved in the Pacific.

“Although I will never know what it’s really like in combat, these letters from soldiers provided me with a better concept of war in its totality,” she says.

Miller is lead scholar and on-air host of A Biography of America, a video series and telecourse that aired on PBS stations throughout the country in 2000-01. The 26 half-hour programs cover the sweep of American history, from the pre-Columbian beginnings to the present. It was produced by WGBH Boston in cooperation with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress, and was funded by Annenberg/CPB.

Miller conceptualized and named the series and helped recruit the other nationally-known historians who participated. He wrote 17 of the scripts, edited the others, and hosted on-air interviews with numerous historians and novelists.

Miller is the author or editor of five previous books, including City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, published by Simon and Schuster in 1996, which won a Great Lakes Book Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The book was also nominated for the Urban History Award as best book in North American Urban History for 1996. Miller received the President’s Award of the Victorian Society in America for “outstanding contribution to an understanding of the Victorian world.”

His Lewis Mumford, A Life (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1989), the first full-scale biography of Mumford, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and named one of the notable books of the year by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. It was also nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Bancroft Prize, the American Book Award, the John Hope Franklin Prize, and the Pen/Martha Allbrand Award for Nonfiction.

Miller, who served five years as Mumford’s literary executor, is also editor of The Lewis Mumford Reader (Pantheon Books, 1986). In July 1987 Miller represented Mumford at an awards ceremony and reception at the White House and accepted the National Medal for the Arts from President Reagan on Mumford’s behalf.

Miller authored The Kingdom of Coal: Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985) with Richard E. Sharpless, professor of history at Lafayette. Nominated for several prizes, including the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Award, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Bancroft Prize, Kingdom of Coal was reissued in April 1999 by the Canal History & Technology Press. A seven-part National Public Radio series by Miller and Sharpless based on the book won first prize in the Excellence in Broadcasting Competition in 1989.

Miller is also the author of New American Radicalism: Non-Marxian Radicalism in the 1930s (Kennikat Press, 1979).

In addition to A Biography of America, Miller has participated in the making of several other film documentaries, including “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided,” a six-hour presentation in the PBS series American Experience, that premiered Feb. 19-21, 2001.

Miller appears as an on-air scholar throughout the show, which is narrated by David McCullough. Miller also was a consultant to the producer and director, David Grubin, who wrote the script with Geoffrey C. Ward.

“We thought that Lincoln hadn’t been done right. People see him as a statue, a marble man,” says Miller. “This show takes a behind-the-scenes look. You get the mix of national events, but you also see how this president’s personal life impinged upon his public life. It’s not just a dual biography of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, it’s a very personal story.”

Miller also participated in “America 1900,” a three-hour program that kicked off the 11th season of American Experience in November 1998. The program received a coveted George Foster Peabody Award. Founded in 1940, the Peabody Award is administered by the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and is considered by many to be the most prestigious recognition of excellence in broadcasting and cable. Information from the Peabody Awards said of America 1900, “With historical perspective, informed analysis and sheer beauty, this program reviews the confidence, optimism, and anxiety that marked America at the turn of the last millennium.”

American Experience, television’s longest-running, most-watched history series, brings stories of the people and events that shaped the United States into nearly eight million homes each week. Now in its 14th season, the series has produced more than 130 programs and garnered every major broadcast award.

Miller has also written numerous articles for national publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune. He has won five awards for excellence in teaching, three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was a fellow at All Souls College, Oxford.

Miller joined the Lafayette faculty in 1977. He holds a doctoral degree in American intellectual history from the University of Maryland, a master of arts degree from Ohio University, and a bachelor of arts degree from Saint Vincent College. Before coming to Lafayette he taught at Cornell University’s New York School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the City University of New York, and Monmouth College. In 1993 Saint Vincent College awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Other accolades for The Story of World War II:

“The distinguished historian Don Miller has taken a great book and made it even better. The Story of World War II is a compelling amalgamation of the old and the new — absorbing history interwoven with riveting personal narratives of the war. If you’re interested in learning more about the Second World War, this is a grand place to start.”

—Douglas Brinkley, director, The Eisenhower Center for American Studies, University of New Orleans

The book is filled with “exciting and fresh insights into history’s most tumultuous and terrible event. In stunning detail, Miller reveals the earth’s only true global conflict as it was seen through the eyes and in the words of those who witnessed it. This book of first-hand accounts will tell us what the Second World War was about, where and how it was fought, who caused it, the tragedies, triumphs, and most important, the why of it all.”

—Rod Paschall, editor, Military History Quarterly

“Like the artisans who lovingly restored Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Donald Miller has brought Henry Steele Commager’s classic back to red-blooded life. This is the one book that deserves to be titled THE Story of World War II. The list of books that supply information and statistics is long, but if you seek the book that best conveys the ‘you-are-there’ experience of history’s greatest conflict, you hold that book in your hands.”

—James Bradley, author, Flags of Our Fathers

“This is a stunning achievement. Weaving extraordinary anecdotes and firsthand accounts of combat into the epic drama of World War II, Donald L. Miller has crafted a suspenseful and riveting retelling of perhaps the greatest story in human history.”

—Andrew Carroll, editor of War Letters

“This combination of popular history and soldier testimony is a unique and wonderfully successful event. Put together with skill and sensitivity, it is a chronicle of ruin and agony, both a tribute and a warning. Enthusiastically recommended.”

—Paul Fussell, author, Wartime and Doing Battle.

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