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Extended Audio Sample Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, by Mark Harris Click for printable size audiobook cover
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In Pictures at a Revolution, Mark Harris turned the story of the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967 into a landmark work of cultural history, a book about the transformation of an art form and the larger social shift it signified. In Five Came Back, he achieves something larger and even more remarkable, giving us the untold story of how Hollywood changed World War II, and how World War II changed Hollywood, through the prism of five film directors caught up in the war: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.

It was the best of times and the worst of times for Hollywood before the war. The box office was booming, and the studios’ control of talent and distribution was as airtight as could be hoped. But the industry’s relationship with Washington was decidedly uneasy—hearings and investigations into allegations of corruption and racketeering were multiplying, and hanging in the air was the insinuation that the business was too foreign, too Jewish, too “un-American” in its values and causes. Could an industry this powerful in shaping America’s mind-set really be left in the hands of this crew? Following Pearl Harbor, Hollywood had the chance to prove its critics wrong and did so with vigor, turning its talents and its business over to the war effort to an unprecedented extent.

No industry professionals played a bigger role in the war than America’s most legendary directors: Ford, Wyler, Huston, Capra, and Stevens. Between them they were on the scene of almost every major moment of America’s war, and in every branch of service—army, navy, and air force; Atlantic and Pacific; from Midway to North Africa; from Normandy to the fall of Paris; and from the liberation of the Nazi death camps to the shaping of the message out of Washington, DC.

As it did for so many others, World War II divided the lives of these men into before and after—to an extent that has not been adequately understood. In a larger sense and even less well understood, the war divided the history of Hollywood into before and after as well. Harris reckons with that transformation on a human level through five unforgettable lives and on the level of the industry and the country as a whole. Like these five men, Hollywood too, and indeed all of America, came back from the war having grown up more than a little.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “It’s hardly news that the movies affect and are affected by the broader canvas of popular culture and world history, but Harris—perhaps more successfully than any other writer, past or present—manages to find in that symbiotic relationship the stuff of great stories. Every chapter contains small, priceless nuggets of movie history, and nearly every page offers an example of Harris’ ability to capture the essence of a person or an event in a few, perfectly chosen words. Narrative nonfiction that is as gloriously readable as it is unfailingly informative.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Insightful. Harris pens superb exegeses of the ideological currents coursing through this most political of cinematic eras, and in the arcs of his vividly drawn protagonists…we see Hollywood abandoning sentimental make-believe to confront the starkest realities.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A comprehensive, clear-eyed look at the careers of five legendary directors who put their Hollywood lives on freeze-frame while they went off to fight in the only ways they knew how. As riveting and revealing as a film by an Oscar winner.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
  • A Library Journal Best Book of 2014
  • One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014
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About the Author
Author Mark Harris

Mark Harris has worked for many years as a writer and an editor covering movies, television, and books for Entertainment Weekly. He is the author of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. A graduate of Yale University, he lives in New York City with his husband, Tony Kushner.