Feature

Man of War: My Adventures in the World of Historical Reenactment by Charlie Schroeder

How many soldiers can boast of fighting in World War II, Vietnam, and the Roman conquest of Britain?

(Hudson Street, $26)

How many soldiers can boast of fighting in World War II, Vietnam, and the Roman conquest of Britain? asked Timothy R. Smith in The Washington Post. Charlie Schroeder’s “delightful tour of the world of historical reenactments” shares his experiences in make-believe versions of each of those conflicts as he spends a year shuttling from trench to trench, fighting alongside various weekend warriors. Stuck in an unfulfilling desk job and longing for a deeper connection to the past, Schroeder sets out to playact his way through history while gathering insight into this easily ridiculed subculture. For the most part, other reenactors are happy to have him along—except for the Vikings, who want to try him before their “Althing,” a Norse-style judicial assembly.

Schroeder “has no great talent for treating large historical questions,” said Barton Swaim in The Wall Street Journal. But he’s “occasionally insightful” about his fellow combatants, and “almost any book that makes you laugh every few pages is worthwhile.” His misadventures at “Stalingrad”—a Colorado field where fighting is interrupted when an angry landowner orders the “Russians” off his property—“is worth the price of the book.” When a “Tet Offensive” starts to feel like a community-theater version of Apocalypse Now, “Schroeder begins to sense that reenacting isn’t always about dry historical accuracy.” As important for participants are chances to rough it, to escape, and to find camaraderie.

The most interesting segments deal with thornier reenactments, like the lone Civil War battle he participates in, said Vadim Rizov in the A.V. Club. Such events attract few black participants, forcing some white reenactors to play black soldiers and giving others license to invent fresh Confederate victories. Schroeder never lingers long over troubling questions, preferring to fill his pages with “lots of tedious stabs at comic relief.” He “meets his goal of avoiding caricaturing reenactors as kooky eccentrics,” but you wish he’d “mused a little harder on the meaning of his travels.”

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