Today marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of David Halberstam. It is hard to believe it has been ten years already. I remember my shock at hearing that, after surviving on-the-ground reporting of the Vietnam War, he had died in a traffic accident in Menlo Park, CA, on his way to interviewing someone for his next book. It seemed such a trivial way to die, for everyone but especially for him. He wasn't even driving the car. (Another author who died in a car crash is Jeffrey Zaslow, co-author of The Last Lecture with Randy Pausch and Highest Duty with Chelsey Sullenberger. It was five years in February. Such a loss.) I wonder what Halberstam would think of the times we live in today.
I haven't read anything by Halberstam in many years but a local history bookclub in Dallas read The Coldest Winter a few months ago. I've never had any interest in learning more about the Korean War but got the book to take part in the bookclub, and I quickly realized what a gem of a book Halberstam had written - the last one before his passing, as a matter of fact. If you read nothing else, his takedown of General MacArthur at the beginning of the book is a thing of beauty. (He doesn't mince words for his Chief of Staff Edward Almond either, but Almond is lost to history.) Halberstam's mastery of language and ability to write with a punch left me in awe. It is a fascinating study of character, ego, politics, ambition and - more than anything else - the unremitting courage of American servicemen in an almost forgotten war, rescued from oblivion by Halberstam and the sad circumstances that make this, forever, the last book he ever wrote.
You can read Halberstam's obituary in the New York Times here.