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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This compendium of military mishaps shows how poor decision-making often leads to catastrophe. In a series of short chapters ideal for subway rides and waiting rooms, Michael Coffey shows how even relatively small misjudgments have become historical turning points. Many of his topics are familiar, such as how the Treaty of Versailles ending the First World War laid the groundwork for an even larger conflict 20 years later. Hitler's military miscalculations--thinking the British would negotiate a peace after Dunkirk, invading Russia, declaring war on the United States--receive prominent attention. Allied leaders also committed plenty of blunders, such as the collapse of British defenses in Singapore and Malaysia, the fruitless bombing of Monte Cassino in Italy, and premature attempts to liberate Arnhem (the subject of the film A Bridge Too Far). More recent events receive coverage, too, including the Bay of Pigs, the disastrous mission in 1980 to free American prisoners in Iran, and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Some sections are much stronger than others, and readers already familiar with certain wars probably won't learn much from their coverage. Yet Coffey calls attention to an important consideration: mistakes are endemic in war, and victory often goes not to leaders who execute brilliantly planned maneuvers but those who simply avoid error. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

From the chauffeur's wrong turn that helped start WWI to the (unexploded) nuclear bomb that the United States Air Force once dropped over Spain, this engaging set of brief cautionary essaysAa companion volume to a History Channel seriesApresents some important and some amusing errors of wartime (and Cold War-time) judgment and execution. Coffey (The Irish in America), managing editor of PW, covers about two score blunders, in chronological order. The earliest concerns that swerving chauffeur (who accidentally brought Archduke Ferdinand face-to-face with his assassin); the latest is Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. About half the others concern WWII. Lost Luftwaffe pilots in 1940, though instructed to hit only military targets, panicked and let bombs go over London: thus did the blitz unintentionally begin. Later, in the Pacific theater, British "naval commanders blundered by underestimating air power's threat to major warships," and hence lost the Malaya peninsula, Singapore and two important battleships. Coffey's set of snafus and misjudgments extends, quite deliberately, from the nearly comic to the truly awful: some killed a few people and embarrassed top brass, while others (such as the Japanese loss at Midway) arguably changed the course of world events. A few of the errors (e.g., the Battle of Stalingrad) are staples of most textbooks. Others are less familiar, and less horrific than ironic: when the Allies decided to bomb the 1500-year-old Abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy, they created precisely the shelter for German troops they intended to destroy. (The devout local German commander would not install his troops in an intact monastery, but had no qualms about occupying its ruins.) Like the best general history volumes, Coffey's book, in clean, muscular prose, expertly informs as it artfully entertains. (Aug.) FYI: The History Channel's Great Military Blunders of the Twentieth Century begins its 26-week run in August.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (August 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786865563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786865567
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 1.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,092,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By "brucec32" on January 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After reading just 4 or 5 chapters, I have discovered almost one small error per page, and more than one major error per chapter. This reads exactly like a book on warfare written by a modern day magazine "journalist" with little or no real understanding of military history. It mirrors modern "journalism" in its lack of understanding of the "big picture", as well as its numerous factual errors. (Some of which any 12 y/o with an interest in WWII would catch) I found it shallow, which is fine for beginners if accurate, but it's not. (See previous reviewers' listings of errors) I'm surprised that the History Channel would put it's name on a book this poorly edited. BTW, if they need a better editor, my 8 y/o nephew is available. : )All kidding aside, there are bound to be better books out there on this topic. It's hard to accept the author's ideas if you're not sure he has the facts straight. (example: during the 1941 Japanese military buildup the author states that Britain couldn't send more planes and men to Malaysia because "war in Europe was looming". Uh, war in Europe had been raging since 1939, the battle of Britain was in 1940, and by mid 1941 the crisis of potential invasion had passed. Their men and planes were going to Africa and Greece, but war could hardly be decribed as "looming" in Europe. Perhaps Military History and Irish Poetry don't mix.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is amazing in its number of errors, shallowness of analysis, and conceptual ignorance. Even for the most significant battles of World War II, the author gets numerous facts wrong. For example, in discussing the Pacific war, he notes the Japanese had 2 carriers sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea (they lost 1 small one) and 3 at Midway (4 were sunk). He states that German blundered by not launching an amphibious invasion of England, even though the Germans lost the war in the air(most military historians would regard launching an amphibious invasion without having air supremacy against a country with naval supremacy suicide). He blames the German Air Force for the fact that German industry didn't go into a war footing until 1943. Huh? Blaming an armed service for flawed industrial policies? This is the most error filled history book I've ever seen and ranks top among the biggest blunders on military history in the 20th century. Considering the high quality of the History Channel, it's amazing that they would associate themselves with such a book of errors.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have said, it's shallow, riddled with errors, and ultimately unsatisfying. Yet it mentions a lot of incidents, some of which I'd never heard of, like the Queen Mary colliding with her escort. This book's salvation would be a good bibiography, so the interested reader could follow up -- but there is none. No notes. Nothing. For a good book of this sort, read "From the Jaws of Victory", by Charles Fair.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on August 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the worst books I've ever read on military history. You have to wonder how someone can get a book like this published. The author is a journalist, but even that is usually not a disqualifying factor with a book on military history, or any sort of history for that matter. Journalists, after all, deal in fact also.

In this case, however, the book is filled with factual errors, and you get the idea that the author sometimes missed the point of a battle or campaign that he was recounting to you. Given that he's so often mistaken about what happened, it's not much of a surprise that his interpretations are going to be poor also.

All of this leads to my final conclusion. I would avoid this book at all costs. I don't get rid of any book that's non-fiction, usually, but this one's going to the used bookstore. I expect them to reject it, and I'll probably wind up giving it to the library, who will overprice it in their book sale at $1.00.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Kerwick on April 3, 2003
Format: Audio Cassette
This book was prepared as a companion to a History Channel series and it has the depth and detail one would expect from a television program. As some of the other reviewers have noted, there are sporadic factual mistakes, but the greater shortcoming, to my mind, is the lack of much to say. The factual issues discussed are pretty much common knowledge to anyone having much familiarity at all with military history (or history in general) in the Twentieth Century. Worse yet, the insights and commentary provided are little more than unimaginitive "conventional wisdom." I had some suspicions about this book being of a mass market paperback quality, but I picked it up because it was one of the first in .mp3 audio format. This proved to be a mistake as my first concerns were conclusively proven correct.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Do not waste your money on this book. The book apparently was thrown together quickly as a companion to the History Channel series. It shows! Rife with factual errors, typos and editing blunders.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Marcely on December 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a sophomoric effort at examining an intriguing subject, the "what-ifs" of history. Coffey spends pages giving background on the incidents, but mere paragraphs on the blunders themselves; and speculation on alternative outcomes is non-existent. The book is riddled with mistakes and contradictions. Two examples: Intro. to Part IV speaks of an inexperienced British plane crew lost in the desert when, in fact, it was a British oil survey team that located the lost American plane decades later. On page 112, Coffey writes, "On May 27, 1941, just five days out of port from the Baltic, the Bismark was sunk..." Yet 20 pages later he writes, "Bismark was soon sunk, sitting in port in Norway." It was in fact the Admiral Tirpitz (sister ship to the Bismark) that was sunk in the Norway port. With such glaring mistakes, the rest of Coffey's book must be called into question. I am sorry that my favorite TV channel (History Channel) has lent its name to this project. It is hardly worth reading.
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