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The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau Hardcover – October 30, 2012

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The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau + The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (The Liberation Trilogy)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; BOMC edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307887995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307887993
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (267 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Kershaw writes for the New York Times and has also written several books on the experiences of American soldiers during WWII. Here he chronicles the saga of the 157th Infantry from July 1943 to the end of the war. At the center of the narrative is Felix Sparks, who, born in Texas and raised in Arizona, enlisted in the army in 1936 and rose to the rank of colonel by the end of the war. He was in the thick of action as he and his regiment fought in Sicily, moved up the Italian coast and into Germany, and liberated the concentration camp at Dachau in Bavaria. Using interviews with Sparks as well as his letters and those of his men, Kershaw tells a grim but also inspiring story. There is little glory here. Rather, it is a tale of death and destruction climaxed by the horror of countless rotting corpses at Dachau, where enraged G.I.’s slaughtered German camp guards until stopped by Sparks. Still, the ability of Sparks and his men to endure and persevere endows them with a degree of nobility. This is a gripping and superbly told account of men in war. --Jay Freeman


“Exceptional….The Liberator balances evocative prose with attention to detail and is a worthy addition to vibrant classics of small-unit history like Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers….From the desert of Arizona to the moral crypt of Dachau, Mr. Kershaw's book bears witness to the hell that America's innocents came through, and the humanity they struggled to keep in their hearts.” – Wall Street Journal

“A revealing portrait of a man who led by example and suffered a deep emotional wound with the loss of each soldier under his command….The Liberator is a worthwhile and fast-paced examination of a dedicated officer navigating — and somehow surviving — World War II.” – Washington Post

“Kershaw’s writing is seamless. He incorporates information from a vast array of sources, but it works – you get a sense of the different voices coming into the story….A gripping read.” – Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A history of the American war experience in miniature, from the hard-charging enthusiasm of the initial landings to the clear-eyed horror of the liberation of the concentration camps….An uncynical, patriotic look at our finest hour.” – The Daily Beast

“Kershaw has ensured that individuals and entire battles that might have been lost to history, or overshadowed by more ‘important’ people and events, have their own place in the vast, protean tale of World War II....Where Kershaw succeeds, and where The Liberator is at its most riveting and satisfying, is in its delineation of Felix Sparks as a good man that other men would follow into Hell — and in its unblinking, matter-of-fact description, in battle after battle, of just how gruesome, terrifying and dehumanizing that Hell could be.” –

“Kershaw’s accounts of the battles Sparks survived are clear and grisly and gripping.” – World War II

“[Kershaw] is a captivating narrator, hammering home the chaos and carnage of war, sparing no sensory detail to paint a cohesive picture.  [His] portrayal of his subject (based on interviews with Sparks, who died in 2007, and other survivors) makes for a riveting, almost epic tale of a larger-than-life, underappreciated figure.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This engrossing wartime narrative offers a fresh look at the European campaign and an intimate sense of the war’s toll on individual participants.” Kirkus Reviews

“Inspiring….A gripping and superbly told account of men in war.” – Booklist

“Alex Kershaw's gripping account of one man's wartime experiences has both the intimacy of a diary and the epic reach of a military history.  The Liberator reminds us of the complexity and moral ambiguity of the Second World War.” – Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire

“A searing, brilliantly told story of the heroism and horror of war, Alex Kershaw’s The Liberator is a book that’s impossible to put down. A must read for anyone who loved Band of Brothers.” – Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London
“Alex Kershaw, long acclaimed for his terse, lightning-fast narratives of true wartime action and heroism, reaches his full maturity with this sweeping saga of a legendary infantry unit and the leader who spurred it to glory.” – Ron Powers, co-author of Flags of Our Fathers

“A literary tour de force.  Kershaw brilliantly captures the pathos and untold perspective of WWII through the eyes of one of its most courageous, unsung officers – a great leader, who always put his men first.  The Liberator is a compelling, cinematic story of the highest order." – Patrick K. O’Donnell, combat historian and author of Dog Company

More About the Author

Alex Kershaw is the New York Times best-selling author of several popular WW11 titles. He is a British born journalist.

Please visit for his full bio and some great web-sites devoted to his books. He would be happy to answer any questions and sign books and help in any other way.

You can also catch up with him and his work at his facebook page - alex kershaw, author's page.

He blogs at and provides video/images/posts on facebook.


What inspired you to write the book?

I was researching a story about men who liberated the camps in WW11. I came across an extraordinary photograph which showed a young American officer, Felix Sparks, firing his pistol into the air on 29 April 1945. He is in a coal-yard at Dachau, which he has just liberated, and some of his men have opened fire on SS soldiers. He is firing his pistol and shouting to make them stop. The image captures an amazing moment of incredible humanity when one considers that Sparks had by then spent over 500 days in brutalizing combat, losing an entire company at Anzio and a battalion to the SS, since landing on the first day of the invasion of Europe. Most people would not have stopped the killing of such evil men, just minutes after discovering the full horrors of Hitler's first concentration camp. I had to meet this man and in 2007 I interviewed him, literally on his death-bed. No other American fought for longer or suffered more to free more people from the greatest evil of modern times.

- What surprised you the most during the writing process?

I was often astonished by the sheer violence and trauma endured by the so-called Greatest Generation. Over 150,000 mostly working-class Americans died to liberate Europe. Hundreds of thousands came home and never talked about it. Why would you want to recount what felt like being in a terrible car crash each day? I interviewed many men who served with and under Sparks and because they opened up to me I was struck over and over by how great their suffering had been. None came home unbroken. They all paid a huge price if they were in combat.

- What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

I'd be a retired banker, sipping cocktails in St. Lucia, lazily scanning the Wall Street Journal to see how my investments, taxed at almost nothing, are doing. Sadly, l decided to try to do something a little more interesting....

- What else are you reading right now?

I am utterly absorbed in the Civil War and Revolutionary War America - my son is studying these periods at middle school. It's hugely colorful history. Even as an expat "limey" who has lived here for twenty years I'm astonished by how radical the idea was that all men should be equal before the law, not subjects of a king. As concerns the Civil War, Michael Shara's The Killer Angels is amazing. The Civil War has not ended of course - just look at the red and blue states.

Customer Reviews

Great book, well written.
Alex Kershaw's new book "The Liberator" is the story of Felix Sparks, an American infantry officer in the European theater of WWII.
L. Jonsson
This book is a great read and I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in this period of history.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Thom Mitchell VINE VOICE on October 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Alex Kershaw's The Liberator is powerful book documenting one man's unbelievable WWII journey. I've read many books on WWII but I knew nothing about the Thunderbird division - yet the Thunderbirds and specifically the 157th infantry regiment spent more time in battle than any other regiment or division in WWII. Mr. Kershaw's biography of one man's survival through the many battles, beach landings and casualties is powerful because he tells the tale of millions of WWII veterans by simply telling the tale of one extraordinary man's war.

The book does a great job retracing Mr. Sparks' war from the unit's formation until the war in Europe is over. I found especially moving the stories of Felix Sparks' unit liberating the Dachau concentration camp - the chaos, horror and intensity of evil is well-captured by Mr. Kershaw while keeping the story centered on Mr. Spark's unit. Mr. Kershaw's doesn't let his attention to detail (the end notes go for well over 40 pages) prevent life being breathed into the historical documents, dispatches and interviews on which he based his book - his book is much more than a dry history, it is almost as if Mr. Kershaw traveled alongside the 157th as they fought their way across Europe. His writing is fast-paced and he is able to distill a massive amount of material into one coherent story while still letting in enough detail to strike home.

This book should be mentioned and read alongside with other seminal WWII histories. A moving and very well done book.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Seeking Disciple VINE VOICE on October 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Alex Kershaw is to be commended for this book featuring the story of the Infantry Regiment of the 45th called the Thunderbird Division. Kershaw's book compares comfortably with the famous Band of Brothers. The story is a story that reveals what made the United States military such a great force during World War II. The key to victory, as Kershaw shows, was not the American machine and its ability to give its men the weapons for warfare but it is found in the character of the men fighting. These men would give their all not for their nation (though they did fight to win and overthrow Hitler and Nazi Germany) but for their brothers fighting around them.

The story is a moving account that begins on July 10, 1943 with the Allied landing in Sicily to May 8, 1945 when VE Day was declared and the war ended in Europe. During those nearly 2 years, Kershaw takes you with the Thunderbirds as they fight to liberate Europe. You'll learn the story of the men more than just the battles they fought (though they are there). You'll celebrate their victories and cry over their losses. War is not glamorous. War is hard. Tears are shed. Many men die.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. You'll not be disappointed. If you enjoyed Band of Brothers, you'll enjoy this book tremendously.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By the truth, please on October 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
First, let me share that two of my uncles, my mother's only two brothers) died in combat in WWII. One in Anzio, which is covered in this book. That was a major reason for my buying. But I was beyond disappointed.

This book comes across as written by a 9th grader. The 'quotes' could have come from a b-movie from the 1940s. Every action is practically glossed over. The author tried to cover far too much and, in doing so, did the book basically in short-hand. Worse, from the beginning to the very end, I felt like I still didn't have the least clue as to who Sparks was, the main authentic and real character that the book is ostensibly about. That is unforgivable.

There are far better books out there. Read Stephen Ambrose (plagiarism, notwithstanding) to get a better idea of what happened. Or visit your local library and find any number of books far, far better than this one. The author does a discredit to Sparks and the men who fought. My father-in-law survived the Battle of the Bulge and the dry, official biography of his regiment (the 99th) is far superior and vastly more interesting than THE LIBERATOR.
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68 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Agim Zabeli on January 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I am amazed at the number of good reviews this book has received. The story of Felix Sparks and the 157th Infantry in World War II deserves telling. Someone competent should do that someday. As other reviewers already mentioned, this book's narrative is disjointed, the writing is mediocre, the typos continually distract, and only a great personal interest in the liberation of Dachau got me to read past page 10. Life is too short for badly written books, even those written about extremely interesting subjects.

A couple of highlights: I cannot imagine what odd perversion caused Kershaw to tell us in pathetic detail the story of the unfortunate French cuckold, Robert Antelme, or what M. Antelme's misfortune had to do with the story of the 45th Division. I also don't see why the author chose to launch an anti-gun crusade at the end of the book. Comparing the NRA to the Nazis is standard leftwing boilerplate, but it's poor thinking. It's also a startling change in direction at the tail end of a book that had little enough direction in the first place.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By eoz on October 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book is an amazing story about a seemingly endless war for the main character, who begins the war as a captain while fighting in Italy. The book does a great job of shining a light on how bad the fighting was in Italy. The captain and the rest of his soldiers go on through the entirety of the European war with horrific losses. I have no idea how any of them made it out alive. An absolutely perfect read.
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