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Beyond WW II glory & Hollywood glamour, survivor's guilt & PTSD

| Saturday, April 25, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Returning to the spotlight a “Greatest Generation” battlefield hero turned movie star whose fame has faded, David A. Smith's “The Price of Valor: The Life of Audie Murphy, America's Most Decorated Hero of World War II” (Regnery History) shows that its subject's life was far less glamorous then it appeared.

Born into a sharecropping family in Great Depression Texas, Murphy falsified his birth records to enlist in the Army at age 17. Hardly an imposing physical specimen, he nevertheless won the Congressional Medal of Honor and other decorations fighting the Nazis. After the war, he played himself in the movie “To Hell and Back,” re-enacting combat exploits that included single-handedly winning a battle at the trigger of a tank-mounted machine gun. Murphy then starred mainly in Hollywood Westerns and died at age 45 in a small-plane crash in Virginia while on a business trip in 1971.

This biography, billed as the first to cover Murphy's entire life, shows that despite his undeniable courage and his public image as a glorious war hero, his combat experiences affected him deeply. He suffered from both survivor's guilt and what's now called post-traumatic stress disorder, which manifested in nightmares of battle that led him to sleep with lights on and in frightening and risk-taking behaviors. His troubles also aggravated his propensity for gambling, sending him into bankruptcy late in life.

The author, who teaches American history at Baylor University, says that for Americans of Murphy's time, his popular image embodied the best of themselves and the nation. Studio executives thought making “To Hell and Back” would help him “somehow exorcise his demons.” But re-creating on film his battlefield heroism and such personal sorrows as his mother's death only worsened Murphy's guilt and PTSD.

“The Price of Valor” recounts a life that's relevant to today's America, whose returning veterans face similar challenges. “To Murphy, survival could seem less a matter of heroic effort and more a matter of chance. In what way could that be worthy of celebration? As he said many times, the real heroes were dead,” Smith writes.

FINANCE'S BRIGHT FUTURE

“Smart Money: How High-Stakes Financial Innovation is Reshaping Our World — For the Better” by Andrew Palmer (Basic Books) — The author, The Economist's banking correspondent during the 2008 crash, now is that magazine's business affairs editor. He acknowledges that bankers and financiers deserve much criticism but thinks their demonization has gone too far. He aims to correct that by highlighting finance's past, present and future, including innovations often enabled by technology. He argues that the notion of some ideal past point to which finance should return is a misconception — derivatives have their roots in ancient Greece, stock markets go back to 17th-century Amsterdam — and so is the notion that finance does little good for society. He covers such innovations as peer-to-peer lending, new ways of funding anti-cancer drug development and higher education for cash-strapped students, and “behavioral finance” that rewards people for setting aside retirement money.

ITALY TO ALIQUIPPA

“Salvatore and Maria: Finding Paradise” by Paul L. Gentile (Bottom Dog Press) — In this book, an Aliquippa native tells a story with which many Western Pennsylvanians, as well as many Americans elsewhere, can identify. He recounts how, in 1902, his grandfather traveled alone, at age 13, from Italy to Colorado to work as a miner and send money home. There, he fell in love with and married an Italian girl. And when the mines failed, they moved to the Pittsburgh area so he could work in steel mills. The retired author, formerly dean of workforce training and development at Community College of Allegheny County's North Campus, worked in a steel mill, too, during his own college days. He covers the prejudice and hardship, along with the high points, that Salvatore and Maria experienced while raising five children and striving to realize the American dream for their extended family.

IN THE PIPELINE

Forthcoming titles from both ends of the political spectrum:

Conservative

• “Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines” by Eric Blehm (Crown, available Tuesday)

• “American Contempt for Liberty” by Walter Williams (Hoover Institution Press, Friday)

• “The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today” by Colin Dueck (Oxford University Press, Friday)

• “Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America's Young” by Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer (Encounter Books, May 12)

• “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission” by Charles Murray (Crown Forum, May 12)

Liberal

• “Speaking Their Peace: Personal Stories from the Frontlines of War and Peace” by Colette Rausch, foreword by the Dalai Lama (Roaring Forties Press, Tuesday)

• “Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest” by Eleni Kounalakis (The New Press, May 5)

• “Inequality: What Can Be Done?” by Anthony B. Atkinson (Harvard University Press, May 11)

• “Universal Man: The Lives of John Maynard Keynes” by Richard Davenport-Hines (Basic Books, May 12)

• “Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts” by Mel Evans (Pluto Press, May 15)

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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