I'm using a D-Day comparison to start this review, but top to bottom, this volume is far more than that. By the end of its prologue, the narrative was already more intense than many comprehensive histories of World War II - and by the time the readers arrives at the ghastly Hurtgen Forest, D-Day is a distant memory.
With so many books and research available about WWII, I don't know that I'd call any one volume (or three in this trilogy's case) truly 'definitive.' However, author Rick Atkinson has provided what the best history does, and that's the motivation to learn even more. As I read this volume, I found myself drawn to do further research into things I'd never heard of - Operation Dragoon in southern France for example - or more details about the landing craft used on D-Day, or more about the mistakes made during the campaign around Antwerp.
This is hardly because Atkinson left out information - his amazingly seamless narrative weaves personal stories of soldiers both high ranking and low, with researched documentation from many sources. Unlike historical accounts that keep the reader "above" the action, he very deftly immerses the reader in the tactical battles as easily as the overall strategy. It's never a 'dry' faceless history - the battered humans on the ground, whether it's Eisenhower or a junior private, are almost always the focus. Occasionally, he will offer a quote from a deceased soldier's letter to give a heartbreaking end to a chapter, reminding the reader of the human cost.
And what a cost. We as a country have grown so spoiled over the last 10 years of war, and expectations of easy victories, that WWII becomes difficult to relate to - friendly fire on D-Day killed hundreds of soldiers. Mistakes made by various generals - especially at Operation Market Garden, and the early days of the Battle of the Bulge - no doubt prolonged the war or put soldiers in impossible positions, costing thousands more.
It's easy to criticize these decisions with hindsight - but Atkinson never criticizes; instead, he lets the documents and testimony do the work, as it should be. It made me appreciate how difficult and frankly, impossible, this war was to manage - and what an beyond amazing job generals like Eisenhower and Montgomery did (and unfortunately, Atkinson details the German generals occasional moments of brilliance - and it's awful to think how hard the Germans fought for such a wretched, awful cause, especially when the war was all but lost, and so many people still had to die).
He provided plenty of information that was fairly new to me, even though other works have covered it. For example, the V-1 and V-2 raids over England I knew about in concept - but the accounts he's provided bring it home in much more detail. I had not known what a morale-killer they were to England at the time. That's just one example of many where Atkinson's research and organization and story-telling skills have told so many 'small' stories within this big one.
The book's back cover describes WWII as the epic struggle of the 20th century, and that's certainly true. To give justice to those soldiers needed an epic story to be told, and Atkinson has done the job. It's as five-star as a book can be.
FURTHER READING: After finishing this book, readers could turn to Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, which takes the reader into Europe's next few years.
Also, I recently read The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau, which is a battalion commander's story within this larger struggle, and of course Eisenhower in War and Peace would be a good additional resource. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today would complement a lot of Atkinson's discussion about the Montgomery-Eisenhower relationship. Also, Ricks deals with the battlefield relief of generals, and it's interesting to note how many commanders Atkinson mentions are 'fired' for their various failures.
Yes, the third volume of the Liberation Trilogy really is _that_ good. The Guns At Last Light (hereafter GALL) is a fitting conclusion to Atkinson's excellent series, and is a triumph despite the very tough competition. Volumes One and Two were confronting a (relative) dearth of recent popular works on the African and Mediterranean campaigns, but the main Western Front narrative of combat in France and Germany has been covered in history literature by numerous recent and widely read works by such credible historians as John Keegan, Carlo D'Este, Max Hastings, and Antony Beevor along with second tier "rah rah" populists like Stephen Ambrose and older works that still stand up like those by Cornelius Ryan. Could Atkinson add anything new to such well-trodden ground?
He can and does. Here are just a few reasons why Atkinson is at the top of his field:
1) Journalistic integrity. Atkinson is scrupulously fair in covering the controversial personalities and campaign controversies of the Western Front. He presents evidence pro and con, gives impressions of contemporaries that show all valid opinions, and judiciously weighs in with his own tempered assessment. Hastings in comparison is much more opinionated and lets his strong biases show clearly in discussions of events and persons. Hastings can be fun to read because of his vehemence and wit, and I happen to agree with most of his assessments, but at the same time I wouldn't assign his books for a college course or recommend them to a friend who knew nothing about the subject. Atkinson builds his assessments carefully and prudently, and this allows a newcomer or objective reader to reach their own conclusions as to whether they agree or disagree with the author. Too much military history is written with strong authorial opinions that then influence what facts and primary source evidence is presented. Atkinson in comparison is truly "fair and balanced", and his books show his experience as a journalist. This is not to say he lacks opinions or passion; rather, he presents evidence to show why he feels and believes as he does, but he also shows the other side of the coin.
2) Clarity in campaign and battle narratives. I confess that I can never fully visualize what is happening in Antony Beevor's books. His maps are usually poorly done, and his narratives of a given battle or campaign always leave me either just moving on or relying on other explanations I've read in other books. In comparison, Atkinson's works always present battles and operations clearly, coherently, and with useful maps. The publisher has not skimped on maps here, and Atkinson writes well when discussing the how and why of complex maneuvers. He moves between the sides and up and down the ranks from guy in the trench to Eisenhower and Rommel with wisdom and clarity, and I doubt any reader will be left confused about a given battle.
3) New detail. Amazingly enough, even when discussing immensely familiar subjects like Overlord, Atkinson finds new things to say, to the extent that I found at least one new interesting fact per page (usually more) in the D-Day section of the book. The end notes are comprehensive and all facts are well-documented, so this book can be a sort of gateway for those wanting to learn more about familiar topics by referrals to new sources.
4) Quality of Writing. Atkinson and Hastings are my two favorite writers from the list of works I mention above, and Atkinson, though less witty and cynical than Hastings, strikes a magisterial tone in his writing that is hard to achieve. He can mention old Roman and Napoleonic campaigns when discussing the Ardennes and not sound silly, and he can achieve an elegiac and / or patriotic tone without schmaltz (i.e. he is far above Stephen Ambrose!). It is a pleasure to read expository prose that is also literary in quality, and I think this is one of Atkinson's great strengths.
Hopefully, these four points of merit cited will convince any skeptic that this volume (and series) deserves five stars. Are there any weaknesses? Some, but hardly worth mentioning. First, because this series focuses on the American experience in the various campaigns, Brits and British Army fans may feel their favorite army gets short shrift. Actually, the coverage of British operations is featured more prominently in GALL than in the other volumes, so the British Army sort of fades in and out of sight frequently. Hastings and Beevor both cover the UK/Commonwealth operations in more detail, and Hastings (in "Armageddon") also covers the Russian advance into Germany, a comparison that is useful and provoative. (Atkinson has virtually nothing at all to say about the USSR war, which is perfectly acceptable given his intent.) Non-American newcomers to WW2 history will probably want a somewhat more coherent account of the UK's experiences and contributions, but there are plenty of other resources they can peruse. (Hastings' "Inferno" is my favorite big picture / UK partial account.)
Other than this issue (not really a fault I would say) Atkinson spendt a bit too much time (IMO)with WW2 American journalists in the field, but many will find this material enjoyable, and Atkinson obviously feels some kinship with these men who covered the same subject he is now retelling. Obviously, the need to tell the entire history of the War in the West in one volume means some subjects will be short-changed, so if you want more detail on D-Day, read Beevor or Hastings' "Overlord", if you want more detail on Market Garden, read Ryan's "Bridge Too Far", etc. I feel the events are given their proper weight in the scope of narrative coverage, so this also is not really an objective failure.
All in all, the Liberation trilogy is an excellent series, and is the place to begin if you are new to the subject; it is also a great place to learn a few new things if you are already a Western Front enthusiast. Atkinson;s series has all the virtues of good history and good books in general: finely written, eloquent, probing, and comprehensive. This series is the new gold standard for the history of the American Western Front experience in WW2.
Rick Atkinson in The Guns at Last Light has written a masterful account of the war in Europe from the landings at Normandy to the surrender of the German Army. This final installment of the Liberation Trilogy is perhaps the best of the three books (my opinion only).
While The Guns at Last Light is factually correct, Atkinson provides so much more to this history. He manages to paint commanders on both sides in a revealing light adding so much more to his work. He also intelligently deals with mistakes by allied commanders that cost hundreds and even thousands of deaths and amplified the successes of the German commanders who were every bit as good and bad as ours.
Chapter 9, The Bulge, serves as an example. Atkinson provides so much detail in his material that it is mind blowing. The famous response my McAuliffe, commander of the forces at Bastogne is a case in point. Of course, the Germans wanted Bastogne because it was a major crossroads in the area. The Germans demanded that the American's surrender. McAuliffe's reply of "Nuts" while clear to us was confusing to the Germans. The German read the reply and asked if the answer was "negative or affirmative?"
"The reply is decidedly not affirmative," the American said. "If you don't understand what "nuts" means, in plain English it is the same as `go to hell. We will kill every godd..m German that tries to break into this city."
"We will kill many Americans. This is War."
While many Americans are familiar with the "nuts" response, most, at least for me, have never heard the rest of the tale.
The book is populated with intelligent (for a change) maps that actually communicate information. Also, always a major plus for me, are the wonderful and extensive notes at the end of the book. These notes are great extensions of the information in the book proper.
For me personally, some of the most profound material is located in the Epilogue. This is not to take anything away from the first 628 pages. In analyzing the impact of the war, Atkinson reviews the losses of the various combatant armies. Casualty lists of 194,000 killed and wounded among the British, Canadian, Polish and ancillary forces is hard to deal with. Considering that fully one third of all German boys born between 1915 and 1924 were gone is staggering. As Americans in 2013, we just can't conceive of such profound losses. It is important that authors such as Rick Atkinson remind us of the cost of the victory. This is also mind blowing when you consider that both the British and Canadians were fighting in the Pacific as well.
The Guns at Last Light, the final installment of the Liberation Trilogy is a fitting end to such a landmark series of books.
I highly recommend.
Semper Fi and bless us all.
This is the last of the trilogy by Rick Atkinson on the American Armed Forces involved in the European Front during WWII. It started with An Army At Dawn (the battles of Africa) and then The Day of Battle (the battles of Italy) and now it is finished with the landings at Normandy and the continuation to the conclusion of WWII. There is no reason to read them in order unless you need the chronology. Atkinson doesn't have much overlap in the series and each book is unto itself a masterpiece.
The Prologue to this book is the longest that I have ever read (41 pages), but it just might be the best 41 pages that I have ever read on the preparation to Operation Overlord. Atkinson is meticulous in his historical rendering and gives anecdote after anecdote. He merges seamlessly details and personal stories throughout this book. While I'm the not most knowledgeable about the European Theater, this book covers just about everything and with details that fully engage so that you cannot put it down. It seems that Atkinson is in the room with Eisenhower and his staff. He uses primary sources and brings the reader easily through the pages. Even knowing the ending does little to keep you from the edge of your seat. There are so many little battles that are explained with the corresponding "look back" at the mistakes and laying out the battlefield, that it is a must to refer to the many maps provided. Every move is choreographed by Atkinson.
Details on the invasion were vivid and gut wrenching. Decisions made and not made are explored. Fingers are not pointed, except in valid cases, but often the reader can make up their own mind as to the generalship as the facts are presented. The fog of war is realistically portrayed and sometimes you begin to wonder how anyone could make decisions in some of these circumstances.
There are so many stories about individual companies and how they interacted that I was mesmerized page after page. It is one of the best histories that I have ever read. This is a book about battles and the overall war strategies and how they were executed. There isn't anything about the treaty and not much in the way of politics except how they affected the war effort. I cannot recommend this book more highly.
This is a sprawling, exquisitely written overview of the Allies from D Day (June 1944) to the German capitulation (May 1945). Atkinson has written two earlier books on the European campaign; the war in North Africa and the war in Italy.
Stunningly descriptive, powerful in its use of detailed statistics conveying the energy of all aspects of the war in Europe (especially in his captivating "Prologue" on the D Day build up), there is originality, deep thought and historical meaning here. Atkinson moves effortlessly from the painful to the poignant to the poetic; never content with his own words, he draws on Liebling, Hemingway and Alan Morehead, the poet, Randall Jarrell, Kurt Vonnegut (in Dresden) and the letters home from the dead soldier.
Carefully non judgmental, he adroitly juxtaposes paragraphs and incidents contrasting the luxuries of the American and British military leadership (Eisenhower, Churchill, Montgomery, Bradley, John C.H. Lee) with the horrific dangerous existence of the doughboy. His affinity with the foot soldier, the pilot and sailor is palpable. One reads at times with a bitter taste. And, one senses a tempered view as to the mediocrity in the Allied military leadership. His admiration for Patton, however, is manifest; his military and tactical genius is found to be "nimbler, surer and relentless." After reading Caesar's Gallic Wars, the night before he crosses the Rhine, Patton "could smell the sweat of the legions."
Atkinson avoids repetition even though for long passages the battles and incidents might give way to repetition and wordy overuse. His descriptive powers are in full view, page after page; e.g. "the warm midday sun spangled the dark canal and the irrigation ditches running north to Holland" "[l]oamy fields trailed by olive-drap clouds of rifleman; the Ardennes are "coniferous;" Market Garden "an epic cock up;" a British general is "a high strung mustache twirler;" Germany is "this vortex, this gyre of flame, the destroyer of worlds;" Marseille - "the German masterpiece of ruination; "[t]he need to overcome Allied infighting is defined by Ike as "a collaborative forbearance;"and engineers are described as "blue with cold. "
One gasps reading the letter from a pregnant wife writing to her deceased husband "beyond the grave; "you shall always be vibrantly alive .... I hope God will let me be happy, not wildly, consumingly happy as I was with you, I will miss you so much--your hands, your kiss, your body..."
Atkinson's grasp of the statistics of war stuns; the death counts, the troop and ships numbers, the manufacturing might of the American homeland and the dead, "[o]f all German boys born between 1915 and 1924, one third were dead or missing." He brings insight to the failed 1944 onslaught for Antwerp, the Hurtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and the particulars of the actual surrender on May 7, 1945. He is generous to even the vain, supercilious and insufferable Montgomery - "as responsible as any man for the victory in Normandy."
His reading and reliance on other historians is extensive and thorough; Moran on Churchill, Hastings on the Battle for Germany, Ambrose and Beevor for D Day, Plothy on Yalta, MacDonald on the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge and Bastogne. His epilogue - the last five pages - can be read over and over and looked on as the work of genius.
Atkinson has written another award winning book. And rightly so !
on May 17, 2013
I was a bit surprised when I went to post this review. There were already a number of reviews on Amazon about this book. Yet I had obtained an advance readers copy several weeks before the official release date of May 14 (my hardback copy was received that same day). I would like to state up front that I have read the whole book from cover to cover. It is an excellent book, with very few factual errors (in my opinion), most of which pertain to the discussion of the concluding phase of the Normandy campaign, e.g. the Mortain counteroffensive. For example, the 1st SS Panzer Division was not late because a shot down fighter bomber crashed on a tank in a defile. They got misoriented, in large part due to the hurried nature of the planning for the German counterattack on the morning of 7 August, and the fact they had to make a night road march in unfamiliar terrain. The 116th Panzer Division did NOT lag back when the attack kicked off, and as a matter of fact made the deepest penetration, with its Panther battalion (2/24 Panzer Regt) reaching Le Mesnil Adelee - where they were destroyed by a counterattack launched by the 119th Infantry Regiment (30th ID) and 3d Armored Division - not 2d Armored Division as Atkinson mentions. The commander of the 116th Panzer Division was relieved by the XLVII Panzer Corps commander because they did not get along personally, and because the German division commander (von Schwerin) was a brillant Terry Allen-like leader with exceptional tactical and leadership skills who built up tremendous espirit de corps within his unit while getting under the skin of his superiors.
Other than that, I did not notice anything in the Normandy section. Nor did I notice anything else that jumped out in the remainder of the book. If I had to score his research, I would give him a 98% at a minimum. Those few errors, in my opinion, result from using dated (German accounts in the immediate post-war period)and not the latest academic scholarship using primary sources. That said, Atkinson's bibliography by itself (selected sources beginning on page 813) is well worth the price of this volume. The book is organized into four parts (each totaling approximately 160 pages), each with three chapters (about 40 - 50 pages apiece).
Part One is entitled "Invasion" and consists of chapters entitled "Invasion," "Lodgment," and "Liberation." Atkinson is a superlative writer who can take a wealth of otherwise meaningless statistics and weave those numbers into meaningful prose. For example, the mind numbing detail involved in carrying out Operation Overlord is fittingly brought to life when Atkinson describes events that NEVER occurred in great detail, e.g. the Allied retaliatory chemical attacks in response to a German chemical or biological strike against the invading armada. The sheer scope of the allied endeavor is driven home when talking about such mundane topics as maps (pp. 23 - 24): "Armed guards from ten cartography depots escorted three thousand tons of maps for D-Day alone, the first of 210 million maps that would be distributed in Europe, most of them printed in five colors. Also into the holds (of ships) went 280,000 hydrographic charts; town plats for the likes of Cherbourg and St. Lo; many of the one million aerial photos of German defenses, snapped from reconnaissance planes flying at twenty-five feet and watercolors depicting the view that landing craft coxswains would have of their beaches...."
PART TWO describes the Post-Cobra and Falaise gap events, e.g. Chapter 4 - Pursuit, Chapter 5 - Against the West Wall, and Chapter 6 - The Implicated Woods. The only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that Atkinson while writing Chapter 8 somehow overlooked a detailed article in World War Two magazine on the 9th Infantry Division's initial foray into the Hurtgen Woods in October 1944. The Germans reinforced their defenses in that sector because they thought they were facing "troops specially trained in forest warfare."
PART THREE resumes the battles on the German frontier before ending with the Rundstedt offensive in the Ardennes with Chapter 7 "The Flutter of Wings," Chapter 8 - "A Winter Shadow," and Chapter 9 - "The Bulge." The fourth and final section details the post-Ardennes fighting as well as the Allied conferences in the last year of the war. The Yalta conference in particular is detailed very effectively. Atkinson is particularly effective in weaving small details into the larger narration (who otherwise would have known that one of the villas occupied by Allied representatives served previously at Rundstedt's headquarters?) I think that Rick Atkinson's work reflects a labor of love as he does not recount events and personalities dispassionately. It is clear that Rick appeared to be as frustrated with the French Army's behavior as Eisenhower following the Normandy invasion nor does the author have much sympathy for Montgomery's perennial "bad boy" behavior resulted from deep seated hubris. That said, this book focuses on the experiences of the American soldier and American armies. Our British and French allies are mentioned only when the narrative demands additional detail along those lines.
As a professional historian, my own take on this story would have involved more discussion along the lines of "battalion X moved from Point B to Point C, sustaining 23 casualties in the process of killing of capturing XX German defenders...." Atkinson brings those events to life with a vivid literary brush that literally almost places the reader at the scene of the action. His research is for the most part impeccable, which translates into ACCURATE dramatic prose.
I am genuinely thankful to the author for making these events accessible and interesting to so many more Americans than academic historians like myself. Mr. Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy represents the penultimate account of the US Army in the Mediterranean and European Theaters during the Second World War. With 29 maps and many photographs, it is well worth the price!
ADDENDUM: Atkinson ends the book not with the final surrender in May 1945, but with a detailed description of the repatriation of American war dead from Europe and the gathering of other American war dead at newly created American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC)cemeteries. I think that this particular approach is a fitting and appropriate way to conclude an outstanding set of books.
This book is an excellent history of the Allied campaign in Western Europe in 1944-45. There have been many books written on this campaign, battles, individual histories (unit and personal) and any other combinations of the above. At the end of this book, this author provides, what I believe to be, the best compilation of these sources that I have ever seen (although some good ones are missed) showing just how well researched this book was. However, the writing is also excellent. If there is one book that you read about WWII from D-Day to the VE Day, this is the book that I recommend. It is that good.
Further, and I was pleasantly surprised by this, even if you have read many of these sources, (and you probably haven't read them all), you will be probably learn something new from this book just like I did. Here's just a couple of interesting facts that I learned (or maybe re-learned) from this book.
First, the Battle of the Bulge resulted in 10% of the casualties experienced in WWII by the US military across all branches and theaters. This was the most bloody and deadliest battle fought by the US during WWII. Second, the US army lost more men, killed in combat, in the last full month of the war, April, 1945, than in the month of D-Day, June, 1944. This was more than 10,000 men. Until the end of the war, fanatic Germans were fighting and killing and being killed by our servicemen overseas. There are many more but I won't go on about this.
The two chapters of the book, on the Battle of the Bulge, and the end of the war in Europe, were two of the best representations of these events that I have ever read. In the coverage, the book goes from the experiences in the front lines, like the 3 day battle of Nuremburg, Germany, to the politics at the top, the meeting of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta, including the disagreements between Eisenhower, Montgomery, Bradley, Patton and Brooke (what a weasel that guy was...). For example, did you know that when Roosevelt died his blood pressure was 300 over 190? Most of the time, Eisenhower's blood pressure was also in the 180 over 120 range or just below. The soldiers at the front line certainly risked their lives every day but so did the generals and political leaders. And, some of them didn't survive either because of the war.
In conclusion, this book is recommend for both arm chair historians like myself - I got a lot out of this book, and the writing was so smooth. In fact, the last paragraph tied to the title is poetic. And, also for individuals who are casual history readers and just want to learn something about the war in Europe - again, if there is one book that you read about WWII from D-Day to the VE Day, this is the book that I recommend. It is that good.
I loved Atkinson's first two volumes of the Liberation Trilogy and I love this one, especially for its superlative storytelling quality. There is much in here to slake the thirst of World War 2 fans. All the battles, from Normandy through the Battle of the Bulge to the German surrender are superbly described. The travails and triumphs of generals, ordinary soldiers and civilians all thrive under Atkinson's expert penmanship. Maps at all the right places illustrate the major battles and movements. Similar to the previous two volumes the emphasis is on the American experience, although highlights from the other sides get a fair treatment.
The apprehension, the enormous psychological pressures faced by generals and privates alike, the poetic reactions provoked by the poignant sights of war, the details of machines and strategies, the sense of elation and triumph, and the occasional moral ambiguity inherent in wartime behavior all come alive in this book. More than almost any other writer Atkinson brings a novelist's sense of character to his narrative and often gives you the feeling of being right there at the front and in the war rooms.
There is no one definitive writer on the war in Europe. Some such as Max Hastings and Antony Beevor perhaps have a greater range than Atkinson's, but few can surpass Atkinson's talents as a riveting and evocative storyteller in the tradition of Cornelius Ryan. This fitting conclusion to the Allied victory in Europe is a deservedly welcome addition to the vast collection of Word War 2 literature.
on May 4, 2013
I gave this book a rare (for me) 5 star rating because I really did enjoy it that much.
Having read the first two books of the Liberation Trilogy, I had been looking forward to the publication of this volume, and it did not disappoint. Here we follow many of the same characters (unsurprisingly, since this is history), many of whom are the famous generals but many are just ordinary soldiers, and sadly many of them do not make it to the end of the book (unsurprisingly, since this is war, but the sadness of it all really comes through).
I had also recently read Armageddon by Max Hastings, which I also found interesting, but it's a very different book than this one. Both are worth reading for their varying perspectives, but while Armageddon covers both the Eastern (Soviet) and Western fronts, this book focuses exclusively on the Western front. Soldiers there were quoted as saying that they had little idea what was going on elsewhere in the war, and that's how you will feel while immersed in this volume, from the time of the Normandy invasion until V-E Day (which turned out to be the day after the Germans surrendered to the US & British forces).
Some random notes:
* If you're a fan of Monty, you won't like this book because it paints a pretty negative picture of a very prickly, back-stabbing and glory-grabbing character.
* One can't help but feel sympathetic for Ike, who not only had to bear full responsibility for the outcome on the Western front but also deal with all the politics of a multi-national force (bearing out Churchill's aphorism of "there nothing worse than allies except not having them").
* One thing that is very clear in Hastings' book but absent from this book is how different the Western and Eastern fronts were in their ferocity and in the behavior of the combatants. By all accounts, neither the Soviet nor Nazi combatants on the Eastern front treated their opponents as human, while the US and British (usually) brought their values to the battlefield, often making them seem easy and soft to Germans who had fought the Soviets.
Things I really liked:
* The section on the Yalta conference was interesting. I had not realized how terribly isolated and difficult the place was in 1945, and the amazing contrast between the opulent Czarist-era palaces, white-coated waiters, and giant piles of caviar - and almost no running water, so even field marshals had to use cans for their bodily functions.
* The author does a great job of blending the essential narrative of the military action with vignettes from participants large and small, bringing a real human element to the story.
* Maps! There are lots of them!
This book really does focus on the ground war in the West from Normandy to V-E Day, thus you will read little or nothing about the war in the air, the war at sea, the Soviet part of the war, or even the existence of the Pacific war. You will also read nothing about the technology of war or its weapons. But focus is good, and thus we are given roughly 650 pages that really concentrate on the third and final part of the story the author set out to tell, and it works very well.
This book was so fascinating that I had trouble putting it down. It covers clearly and factually the final years of World War Two in Europe, from D-Day to the German surrender. But it is more than an excellent history. Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson tells the story with such skill that it reads like a thriller. We feel the tension among Allied Generals and Admirals on the eve of D-Day. We feel the confusion of airborne troops that are mistakenly scattered all over the French coast. We are gripped with the fear of troops trying to run across beaches into machine gun fire while their fellow soldiers are killed around them. We see the awesome power of massed American bombers blasting a huge hole through German lines, as the Allies break out of the Normandy perimeter. Time after time, we see Allied advances force German troops to retreat, as the Allies liberate Paris, chase the enemy into Germany, amazingly cross the Rhine at Remagen (and then at a dozen other places), and fan out over Germany. Finally, it is all over, and Germany surrenders. It is a magnificent story, and I felt as if I was there for all of it. For history buffs, this is certainly a book worth reading.