Cornelius Ryan Essay - Critical Essays

Ryan, Cornelius

Ryan, Cornelius 1920–1974

Ryan was an American writer who was born in Dublin. His three novels on World War II have been acclaimed for their authenticity. (See also Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 53-56.)

The original research in The Last Battle would be the envy of any historian and well beyond the capability of even the best researcher. It does not discredit Mr. Ryan to report that he had the assistance of one of the largest, most skillful research teams that ever worked on a single volume of history, the research staff of the Reader's Digest. Mr. DeWitt Wallace is "Connie" Ryan's guardian angel. Enthusiastically embracing the idea for The Longest Day, Mr. Wallace offered to finance the work and the research. The same aid was provided for The Last Battle. It resulted in the myriad anecdotes, descriptions of life in Berlin under siege, interviews with German and Russian survivors of the battle, the accounts of rape and brutality, contrasted with the kind and generous acts on both sides—all the human drama that makes this book marvelous theater…. (p. 31)

David Schoenbrun, "The Red Tape Road to Berlin," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), March 26, 1966, pp. 30-1.

[The Last Battle] is a depressingly good book—depressing, because it appears to be in part the product of organization research; good, because the emerging data have been passed through the mind of a single writer who has structured it in accordance with a characteristic style and with his chosen, unifying conception. Confronted with the final days of World War II in Europe, Mr. Ryan has scanned the available raw material with a simple, decisive rule in mind: all that relates to the military fate of Berlin, which of its potential conquerors got there and when, how the city prepared itself to face their arrival, what logic motivated both defenders and destroyers—all this is grist to his mill. Anything else is superfluous.

Mr. Ryan conveys a sense of affection, tempered but never compromised, for Berlin itself. (p. 1)

[Ryan] is a man enamored, and still confident, of modern magazine technique. He uses the cliches of modern periodical journalism as though they were the tools of simple, honest craftsmanship; and behold! in his hands, honest and craftsmanlike they become. Time after time his sections open with a soft, indirect lead—and just as monotonously end with a kicker, an automatic O. Henry twist. And time after time this skeptical reader nods, and admires, and consents. The technique is more than skin-deep: there are bones here—real convictions, real perceptions, real confidence in handling the material. (p. 13)

Eric Larrabee, "Death to the Demons," in New York Herald Tribune Books (© 1966 by New York Herald Tribune Inc.), March 27, 1966, pp. 1, 13.

For those who enjoy epic tales of ferocious battles, filled with stories of awe-inspiring courage, reeking with high drama, dripping with blood and guts, Arnhem is above all the battle and Cornelius Ryan is above all the man to tell of it. He has sharpened his skills as a narrator to a fine point, and although A Bridge Too Far is written within the confines of the formula that worked so well in The Last Battle and The Longest Day, it is a superior book. For one thing, Ryan skips past the high command, its motives, plans and actions—areas in which he was never at home. Nor does he attempt any analysis of the battle or strive for any insight into the lessons of Arnhem. Instead he gets right down to business, doing what he does best, describing the individual wars of the little people on both sides.

In the best sense, A Bridge Too Far is folk history, the experiences of common people—British, Dutch, American, Polish and German—caught up in events totally beyond their control or understanding….

A Bridge Too Far is also more entertaining than Ryan's earlier works because few readers know much about Arnhem and Ryan is a superb craftsman at building up suspense. (p. 1)

Stephen E. Ambrose, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), September 15, 1974.

In its sense of inevitable doom, [A Bridge Too Far] reads like a Greek tragedy—written by a meticulous police reporter who wants to spell all the names right, get the exact time and street address straight, and record just who ran amuck with a razor against whom. The extravagant cruelty and bravery of human beings, the ultimate waste of war fill these pages, but as evidence largely uncommented upon.

Was it an awareness of his own limits or a feeling for what his readers want that kept Cornelius Ryan from going beyond the bounds of first-rate narrative journalism? Epic only in sales—more than 10 million copies of The Longest Day and The Last Battle have been printed in 19 languages—Ryan once again seems satisfied to prove himself the best anecdotist among today's military historians: the conscientious Herodotus of World War II. (pp. 95-6)

Melvin Maddocks, "Airborne Nightmare," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), September 23, 1974, pp. 95-6.