Steven Pressfield Online

What It Takes

What It Takes

The Return

By Callie Oettinger
Published: March 27, 2015

By veterans, for everyone.

Ernest Hemingway opened his introduction to the anthology Men At War (which he also edited) with:

This book will not tell you how to die. Some cheer-leaders of war can always get out a pamphlet telling the best way to go through that small but necessary business at the end. PM may have published it already in a special Sunday issue with pictures. They might even have it bound up as a companion piece to the issue I read in November 1941 entitled “How We Can Lick Japan in Sixty Days.”

No. This book will not tell you how to die. This book will tell you, though, how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died. So when you have read it you will know that there are no worse things to be gone through than men have been through before.

When you read the account of Saint Louis the IX’s Crusade you will see that no expeditionary force can ever have to go through anything as bad as those men endured. We have only to fight as well as the men who stayed and fought at Shiloh. It is not necessary that we should fight better. There can be no such thing as better.

It was an anthology, he later wrote, that was for his sons:

This introduction is written by a man, who, having three sons to whom he is responsible in some ways for having brought them into this unspeakably balled-up world, does not feel in any way detached or impersonal about the entire present mess we live in. Therefore, be pleased to regard this introduction as absolutely personal rather than impersonal writing.

This book has been edited in order that those three boys, as they grow to an age where they can appreciate it and use it and will need it, can have the book that will contain truth about war as near as we can come by it, which was lacking to me when I needed it most. It will not replace experience. But it can prepare for and supplement experience. It can serve as a corrective after experience.

I re-read sections of Men At War, knowing my personal battles will never be Shiloh, but that as was his intention for his sons, I can find truth in the anthology — a perspective not my own.

In his book The Return, Dave Danelo tells a story of sitting on a delayed plane in 2005, having just finished a series of interviews with an Iraq war veteran whose friend died alongside him:

As our ground waiting time approached an hour, the man sitting to my left fumed and cursed. He needed a reroute; his schedule was destroyed; something awful (or so he thought) would befall him if immediate action didn’t happen. Unless I found a way off the plane, I was stuck with this guy. Finally, I cut him off in mid-rant. “You know,” I said, “things could be worse.”

It is not always appropriate for veterans to remind civilians they’ve been to war. Sometimes it can be obnoxious, arrogant, or rude. But in this case, I was calm. For me, that’s usually a good indicator to decide whether I should discuss my military identity.

I told my fulminating friend I thought it was a pretty good day when I wasn’t getting mortared and shot at. Besides the risk of our plane crashing, nothing bad would happen to us. We would get where we wanted to go. Everything would work out…. We talked on and off for another two hours. I don’t remember his name.

What I remember was that I gave him perspective. I reminded him of one of the many things my time in the Corps had taught me: do not worry too much about the things you can’t control.

Dave wrote The Return (which is also Black Irish Books’ new title) for veterans, just as Hemingway edited Men At War. However, where Hem wrote of “how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died” Dave writes of how men have fought and returned. A book written by a veteran, for other veterans, which — also like Hem’s other writings — is just as valuable to civilians.
More >>

Posted in What It Takes
9 Comments

The Legend of Bagger Vance

Memorable . . . a page-turner . . . golf played a foot from Alice's looking glass, with mystical realms poised to engulf the reader at every turn . . . Bagger Vance is a success, climbing to an uplifting conclusion on a well-constructed scaffold of suspense.
—Sports Illustrated
Golf and mysticism . . . a dazzler and a thought-provoker.
—The Los Angeles Times
BUY THE BOOK: Hardcover | Paperback

In the Depression year of 1931, on the golf links at Krewe Island off Savannah's windswept shore, two legends of the game, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, meet for a mesmerizing thirty-six-hole showdown. Another golfer will also compete—a troubled local war hero, once a champion, who comes with his mentor and caddie, the mysterious Bagger Vance. Sage and charismatic, it is Vance who will ultimately guide the match, for he holds the secret of the Authentic Swing. And he alone can show his protégé the way back to glory.

[This first passage is from the book's very beginning.]

A NOTE TO THE READER

In May of 1931 an exhibition match was held over 36 holes between the two greatest golfers of their day, Walter Hagen and Robert Tyre "Bobby" Jones, Jr. The match was the second and last between the two immortals (Hagen shelled Jones, 12 and 11 over 72 holes, at the first in Sarasota, Florida in 1926.) This second match was held at what was, at the time, the most costly and ambitious golf layout ever built in America, the Links at Krewe Island, Georgia.

Much has been written about the rather odd events of that long day. We have Grantland Rice's dispatches to the New York Tribune, which were published at that time. The notes and diaries of O.B. Keeler devote several quite absorbing pages to the match. And of course the reports from the dozens of newspapers and sporting journals which covered the event.

One aspect of that day, however, has been largely overlooked, or rather treated as a footnote, an oddity or sideshow. I refer to the inclusion in the competition, at the insistence of the citizens of Savannah, of a local champion, who in fact held his own quite honorably with the two golfing titans.

I was fortunate enough to witness that match, aged ten, from the privileged and intimate vantage of assisting the local champion's caddie. I was present for many of the events leading up to the day, for the match itself, as well as certain previously unrecorded adventures in its aftermath.

For many years, it has been my intention to commit my memory of these events to paper. However, a long and crowded career as a physician, husband, and father of six has prevented me from finding the time I felt the effort deserved.

In candor, another factor has made me reluctant to make public these recollections. That is the rather fantastical aspect of a number of the events of that day. I was afraid that a true accounting would be misinterpreted or, worse, disbelieved. The facts, I feared, would either be discounted as the product of a ten-year-old's overactive imagination or, when perceived as the recollections of a man past seventy, be dismissed as burnished and embellished reminiscences whose truth has been lost over time in the telling and retelling.

The fact is, I have never told this story. Portions I have recounted to my wife in private; fragments have been imparted on specific occasion to my children. But I have never retold the story, to others or even to myself, in its entirety.

Until recently, that is. Attempting to counsel a troubled young friend, for whom I felt the tale might have significance, I passed an entire night, till sunrise, recounting the story verbally. It made such a profound impression on my young friend that I decided at last to try my hand at putting it down in written form.

This volume is that attempt.

I have chosen, for reasons which will become apparent, to tell the tale much as I recounted it that night. It is a story of a type of golfer, and a type of golf, which I fear has long since vanished from the scene. But I intend this record not merely as an exercise in reminiscence or nostalgia. For the events of that day had profound and far-reaching consequences on me and on others who participated, particularly the local champion referred to above.

His name was Rannulph Junah, and Bagger Vance was his caddie.

Hardison L. Greaves, M.D.
Savannah, Georgia
May, 1995

"The Legend of Bagger Vance is such an entertaining book on the surface you hardly realize you are being taught some of life's greatest truths. Pressfield has seamlessly brought together that rare combination of fun and enlightenment in a novel that seems destined to take its place alongside some of the great works in golf literature."
—Links Magazine
"The Legend of Bagger Vance is quite simply the best golf novel I have ever read, but it is so much more than that. We all know that the true game is played against one's inner self. Steven Pressfield has captured the essence of that battle better than any of his predecessors. I was utterly riveted by this work of art, and literally covered with goose bumps for many hours until I had finished it at a single sitting."
—Ben Wright, author of Good Bounces and Bad Lies and The Spirit of Golf
"Truly a delight. Even now when I play in professional tournaments I think of the positive effect Bagger Vance had on everyone associated with him. He will be with me for many years to come."
—Patty Sheehan, Solheim Cup captain and member of LPGA Hall of Fame
"Pure magic! I read it straight through in one sitting. It should be required reading for anyone who loves the game and has a sense of its history and mystery."
—Deane Beman, former Commissioner of the PGA Tour
"The Field of Dreams of golf . . . the only golf novel ever written that earns 'couldn't put it down' accolades. This is a book that will remain with readers for a while, and will certainly emerge every time they step on a golf course."
—Book Page
"Memorable . . . a page-turner . . . golf played a foot from Alice's looking glass, with mystical realms poised to engulf the reader at every turn . . . Bagger Vance is a success, climbing to an uplifting conclusion on a well-constructed scaffold of suspense."
—Sports Illustrated
"Good stuff . . . a philosophical fantasy imagined on a golf course, heavy with fog, storm, fireworks and howling winds of supernatural forces."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Golf and mysticism . . . a dazzler and a thought-provoker."
—The Los Angeles Times
Sign up for first look access.

Enter your email to get free access to every new thing I do.

No spam, I promise!

Gates of Fire
The War of Art
The Authentic Swing
The Lion's Gate
Turning Pro
The Profession
The Warrior Ethos
Do The Work
Tides of War
The Afghan Campaign
The Virtues of War
Killing Rommel
Last of the Amazons
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Additional Reading
Video Blog