The Eleventh Man

by Ivan Doig

Hardcover, 2008

Call number




Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2008), Edition: 1, 416 pages


Driven by the memory of a fallen teammate, TSU's 1941 starting lineup went down as legend in Montana football history, charging through the season undefeated. Two years later, the "Supreme Team" is caught up in World War II. Ten of them are scattered around the globe in the war's various lonely and dangerous theaters. The eleventh man, Ben Reinking, has been plucked from pilot training by a military propaganda machine hungry for heroes. He is to chronicle the adventures of his teammates, man by man, for publication in small-town newspapers across the country like the one his father edits. Ready for action, he chafes at the assignment, not knowing that it will bring him love from an unexpected quarter and test the law of averages, which holds that all but one of his teammates should come through the conflict unscathed.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nemoman
This is Doig's take on Wouk's Winds Of War; however, instead of seeing WWII through the prism of far-flung family members, Doig allows you to view it through members of a championship college football team who are serving in varied capacities on different fronts.. The protagonist - Ben - was team
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captain. He is assigned to a special press unit with the assignment of documenting each of his former teammate's exploits. Based in Doig's beloved Montana, Ben also carries on an affair with a married WAF who is ferrying P39s to Alaska for eventual shipment to Russia. The novelistic device of Ben's special assignment, although at times feeling a bit too contrived, permits Doig to explore the war in lesser known venues from the Washington coast to a conscientious objector working with the forest service. Doig's historical references are spot on. He may have overly done the period slang, because at times his characters come across as cliched. Nevertheless, this is a powerful well-written novel.
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LibraryThing member Smiley
Well done. Readable, if a bit depressing and sometimes far fetched.
LibraryThing member datwood
Take a college football team, undefeated in 1941, and place ten of it's starting lineup into various parts of the action around the world in World War II. The eleventh man is assigned the job of observing and reporting on them, and on their lives and deaths. This is a very readable book, with
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characters you will care about.
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LibraryThing member ZachMontana
Though I am not into football, it works OK here as the basis for the plot. I especially liked the romance part, the various WWII scenarios, mostly based on fact and some like the Japanese balloon bombs new to me. I'm a thorough Doig fan and love his character development and ability to tap into the
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character of small town Montana. Was a compelling read for me!
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
I hereby invoke the “Rule of 50”! I found this book slow and plodding with way too many clichéd characters – the sassy woman pilot, who has to prove every minute she is as tough as the men, the cigar chomping, scowling general who has to deal with the brass in DC, and the other young men
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just into the war. I have read it all before, and I can’t waste time on these 406 pages. The prose is ordinary and dull. Two stars.

--Jim, 2/22/10
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
Ben Reinking was a college football star at a small Montana college. He and all of his teammates enlist in the military after graduation and are spread across the many battle fronts of World War II. Ben is assigned to the Threshold Press War Project (TPWP) and files stories about his teammates as
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they trade their football uniforms for military uniforms. As Ben moves from one assignment to the next, the book unfolds in short vignettes. Although this prevents an in depth development of any of their characters, Ben is strong enough to provide an underlying thread throughout the book. He provides an interesting perspective on the war as he grows increasingly distraught about the war itself and the TPWP's coverage of it. Doig also writes beautifully, turning phrases that caught my ear while I listened to this book and that made me wish that I was reading it so that I could go back and savor the words. While this book wasn't quite as good as The Whistling Season, which I read last year, it definitely made me want to read more of Doig's work.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
A fictional tale about the tragic losses Montana had during WWII. Proportionately greater than all states except for New Mexico. This is human drama at its best.
Ben, a young man with a talent for journalism, is chosen to cover his teammates and where they are serving during the war. They have been
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built up as the "Supreme Team" by a charismatic radio announcer and a special department of the war information department is using their stories as propaganda for morale during the war and its darkest hours. Ben, a man in his early twenties is responsible for writing about death, heroism, perceived cowardice and all the drama these things encompass, without making the government or the "Supreme Team" look bad. It is a daunting task and a bitter one, as he suspects he and his teammates are being set up for publicity sake.
An absorbing tale, wonderfully written, but I need to read something cheerful now.
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LibraryThing member Oregonreader
This novel is set during WWII, fiction but based on an actual event. When it is discovered that the entire championship winning football team from a Montana college is now in the military, one of them, Ben Reinking, is assigned to follow the others and write news accounts of them as part of a
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military positive propaganda effort. The unfolding of these events uncovers complex relationships and reveals to the young man how many of his memories of the team were false and the surprising actual purpose of his assignment. Doig is increasingly one of my favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member dmacsfo
A relatively brief book by contemporary standards, "The Eleventh Man" is muscular, yet trim and solid as a Montana ranch-hand; as thoughtful and wise as an old newspaper editor. A skilled craftsman, writer Ivan Doig has used minimal space to create dozens of memorable characters and to weave more
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than a dozen individual stories into a novel that was even better with a second reading.

Not one to theorize nor to waste time on gratuitous action, Doig writes about the real world and its unexpected adventures. Many of his earlier works have dealt with pioneer lives and hardships, as the western territories were settled by dedicated, risk-taking seekers of new lives. They have dealt with brutal forces of nature. "The Eleventh Man" deals with many of those forces, as they took place in the 1940's, pressurized and traumatized by World War II, adding the thoughtless violence of war as it affects individuals and their highly believable lives. He puts names and faces on heroic characters, who suffer unheroic deaths in a cause that has been often been distorted and idealized. And he recognizes the many unkind and petty things that people do.

With his hero, former Montana football player Ben Reinking, his heroine, wise and lively aviator Cass Standish, Doig lovingly expresses his fascination with people and with human situations. Throughout, he expresses his love love of nature and its enormity. How wonderful to find a writer who sees and hears the fundamental things that enrich our lives, and who expresses them so well.
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LibraryThing member Michael_Lilly
I am a big fan of Doig, and as I read this book I was concerned that it would not come up to the mark of his previous work. The plot seemed contrived and the characters were not as vivid as Doig's usual. But I warmed to the book as it progressed.

It's not easy to create an anti-war novel about WWII,
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a war which in the US has mythical aspects of good vs. evil and the noble citizen soldier. But Doig manages to do it in perhaps the only possible way, He creates likable characters, and then repeatedly kills them in circumstances in which their death has no meaning. It has some echoes from Catch 22, but without the bizarre circumstances of Heller's book.
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LibraryThing member gpaisley
I really went back and forth on this one wondering what I really thought. The thing that really saved it from being just a three-star rating was when I reflected on his relationship with Cass Standish after reading it.

Mild spoilers may follow.....

The further our hero progresses in the story, the
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more cynical he becomes about the mission he has been called on to do--follow the story of his teammates from college football as they do their separate things in the War. The more he thinks about it, the more he feels abused by 'the system.' He is trying to put a cheery face on those who died in the war. At the same time, he is involved in an adulterous affair with the wife of a soldier fighting in the Pacific.

I haven't read Doig before, but I suspect he is smart enough to use the storyline of the affair to highlight Ben's hypocrisy. Ben feels like he is being used and almost feels guilty about being spared the dangerous jobs that many of his teammates have in the war. He seems to proudly claim that he doesn't wish any ill of his lover's husband as he fights in the Pacific war. What he never realizes, or certainly never admits, is that he is using Cass and is being just as cynical about her marriage as he perceives his 'handlers' in the army leadership and propaganda machine to be.

It is this disconnect and indictment of Ben that really made me respect this book after I reflected on it for a day or so. Ben was getting what he wanted from Cass--companionship and sex--without any real cost of relationship or sacrifice on his part. He resented that he was just a cog in the great propaganda wheel of the US Army--that he was being used, not honestly like a soldier being asked to take known risks--at least they know their part, and while dangerous, is at least honest--but spinning the truth to make the army and the war effort look good.

I think that at the end, the story was much more about this contrast than it was about the vagaries and odds of danger in the war.
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LibraryThing member Katyefk
Interesting novel about WWII and female fighter pilots. I did not realize all that they did in the war.
LibraryThing member mojomomma
Main character is pullled from the Air For e and is assigned a JR urnalsim job reporting on the other 10 members of his undefeated football team. They are deployed all over the world, but each is eventually killed serving the country.
LibraryThing member Romonko
This book literally blew me away. It wasn't at all what I expected or anything like any books that I've read before. Ivan Doig wrote this book in 2008, and it's been sitting on my TBR shelf for at least 3 years. Only because I am making a conscious effort to read my books that I've had around for
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awhile, did I happen to land on this one. What a book this was! If you are not a fan of true to life WWII stories, and if you don't care to visit some key battles and sites from this war, or if you don't like graphic war scenes, you probably will not enjoy this book. This book of Ivan Doig's is the most gripping and emotional fiction I've ever read about WWII. It is all tied around an all-American university football team that was readying itself for the finals when Pearl Harbour was bombed. All eleven team members from Montana enlisted immediately. All elven team members were posted in different parts of the world to fight their own war. One, the team captain, Ben Reinking, finds himself being posted as a war correspondent chronicling the heroics and the lives of all the various members of his former team and where each is serving in the war. Ben is following in his father's footsteps as a journalist. His father owns and runs the local paper in Ben's hometown. Ben's assignment takes him to various well-known battlefields around the world such as Guam, Nome, Alaska, and Antwerp where the book comes to an end. Right from the very beginning of the story where we meet a young football hopeful by the name of Purcell, who would give is all for a chance to play on this dream team to the final pages in Antwerp and the Battle of the Bulge, where yet another teammate meets his end, I didn't dare breathe.. By the time, I shut the book, I had to take a deep breath and try to come back to reality. I really couldn't put this book down. It left me guessing and hanging right up until the very last two pages. And by the end of the book, only one of the famous and doomed Montana Eleven was left standing. Highly recommend! Fabulous book! It will go near the top of my special favourites list.
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