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The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front Hardcover – January 17, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (January 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605980161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605980164
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #874,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hart is the current master of an approach to military history developed by Martin Middlebrook and Lyn Macdonald. Direct quotations from participants establish the face of battle, then combined with a narrative/analytical backdrop contextualizing the personal experiences. As oral historian of Britain's Imperial War Museum, Hart has unrivaled access to relevant sources. This book, published in Britain in 2005, is a masterful synthesis of the human and the operational aspects of a campaign that increasingly defines the British experience in the Great War. Hart vividly presents the runup to the Big Push expected to end the war; the disaster of July 1, 1916, when the British army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties; and the numbing months of attrition as British troops bled against the German defenses. Hart describes the horror as reflecting not the stupidity of individual generals and politicians but the determination of nations to resolve their differences by a war fought to the finish. The British army learned how to fight battles like the Somme, built around fire power. But its learning curve was slippery with blood. Hart honors the men who paid the price. Photos, maps. (Jan. 7)
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“Peter Hart pays handsome tribute to the ordinary soldiers who gave their lives in battle. One could not wish for a more appropriate testimony to that generation. (The Literary Review)”

“Starred Review. This book, published in Britain in 2005, is a masterful synthesis of the human and the operational aspects of a campaign that increasingly defines the British experience in the Great War. (Publishers Weekly)”

“Peter Hart's The Somme is a memorial. The book brings to life the men who fought at the Somme in an accurate and precisely detailed history of one of the most gut-wrenchingly obscene desecrations of humanity our species ever perpetrated upon itself.... As director and oral historian of the British Imperial War Museum in London, Hart is uniquely positioned to do justice to the British participants in the battle. A talented historian, he succeeds in that most important element of history, storytelling. (Washington Post, Robert Bateman)”

“The most comprehensive and insightful account of the vast tragedy of the Somme that I have read. (The Spectator)”

“Hart brings the human experience of the combatants well to the fore. A monumental feat of research, his book is also a memorial of the most compelling kind to the hundreds of individuals whose recollections are presented so vividly here. (The Scotsman [Edinburgh])”

“Hart is an accomplished author and in The Somme he is on top form. His narrative descriptions of the brutal realities of battle are outstanding. (BBC History Magazine)”

Customer Reviews

A truly horrific story about the horrors of trench warfare in WWI.
Throughout the book Peter Hart makes extensive use of personal accounts from those who we there.
Martin Hornby
Very well written book that makes you feel that you are there, but glad you are not.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Peter Hart is certainly one of the great WW I historians. Aces Falling and Bloody April, both about the air war, are superb and unforgettable works. The Somme is a massive and detailed history of the months-long battle. As he did in Bloody April and Aces Falling, Hart includes a wealth of personal narrative: letters, diaries, reports, etc. At a guess, perhaps 30% of the book is such narrative. The authors are mostly British, but include Australians and New Zealanders, etc, with some narratives from Germans and a very few French. They range from Generals to lower-ranking officers, NCOs, and ordinary privates (it would seem that the lower ranks were perhaps not as productive in this regard--front-line trenches were not the ideal place for diary-keeping).

Hart provides a balanced outlook--he is kinder to most of the generals than many others have been--and explains why they do not deserve as much condemnation as they received by many after the war. Hart does conclude that the "bite-and-hold" approach worked much more successfully than the "big push" ideas that sought to grab massive amounts of territory. You get maps--lots of detailed maps that show front lines, objectives, and results. Hart works the front part by part--showing what happened in the different sectors--why some attacks were relatively successful while others were not. You also get, which provides a fascinating contrast, narratives from some of the fliers above the battle--their bird's-eye view of the front and the battles. This is certainly a fine addition to your WW I book shelves!
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Martin Hornby on February 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
'The Somme'. To many people these few words have come to be bywords for murder, mayhem and pointless slaughter. They conjure up views of Chateau Generals and poor Tommy Atkins living in fetid trenches waiting an untimely death in a hail of machine gun bullets.
At long last we have a book which challenges this often heard view of the battle of the Somme. For nearly 90 years many eminent military historians have helped to colour the views of our nation with the same old bigoted, jaundiced and ill informed view of this great but tragic battle.

In this work Peter Hart looks at the battle in a logical and orderly manner. The book starts by giving the reasons why Douglas Haig was forced into fighting on the chalk downlands of the Somme. Once the political reasons for the battle are covered he moves smoothly to the tumultuous first day. This starts at Gommecourt and steadily moves southwards along the battleline to Maricourt on the banks of the river Somme. All through the text one sees an educated analysis of the opening day's events, which are greatly aided by new facsimiles of the Official Histories maps.

Upon the conclusion of the first day the reader is then taken through the further battles that comprise the Battle of the Somme. All the time there is logical analysis of the Generals actions. In many parts one is made aware of unforgivable errors made by Haig, Rawlinson and others which lead to the death of many thousands of men. But one is also made aware of incidents that will hopefully lay down the myth of Lions led by Donkeys! The analysis of the battles is clear and concise, sticking to known facts. All too often we are served up myth and legend, in what are frankly pseudo histories of this conflict.
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116 of 134 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Armstrong on April 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I regret to disagree with so many positive reviewers, so in fairness I should offer some reasons for doing so. This book is a well-written military history, granted. Also, the author has captured the "large" strategic issues and interlaced his chapters with quotes from the soldiers at the front, which implies that he sympathizes with the plight of the front-line soldiers.

After all this, however, the author's ascription of meaning to the events is empty. He excorciates the literature arising from the war, especially the "war poets." He does not understand why the Somme came to represent the futility of the advanced machine-age war, in which literally hundreds of thousands of shells could be exploded on a 10-mile x 2-mile area. He recites the numbers of casualties without putting this in the context of a nation-empire that had not fought a major war in over a century. He implies that the shell-shocked wounded were of a differnt class than those with physical wounds. The author appreciates Sir General Haig's attention to detail in the planning of the Somme, but he fails to see how stubborn and unimaginative Haig was, or how trapped the Army was in the "sportsmanship" motif of higher English society.

Thus, as the book progressed, chapter after chapter moving along the front, I felt increasingly astounded that the author had missed the overarching importance of the battle: that English society would never be the same, that the meatgrinder of the Somme traumatized a whole generation of English civilians who lost their children, husbands, lovers to the meatgrinder; and that the European civil states lost their empires and their civil contract with their citizens to the flame of the Somme.

When an author loses the significance of that which he narrates--that's sad.
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More About the Author

Peter Hart has worked as the Oral Historian of the Imperial War Museum since 1981. He is the author of several books on the Great War. His latest book Is 'Fire and Movement: The British Expeditionary Force and the Campaign of 1914'. In a former life he was the lead singer of the Liverpool punk rock band 'Those Naughty Lumps'.

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