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Beetle: The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith (American Warrior Series) Hardcover – October 5, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Walter Bedell Smith (1895–1961), Dwight Eisenhower's chief of staff from 1942 to 1945, remains one of WWII's obscure figures. When he appears, it's usually as Ike's hatchet man, "a one-dimensional SOB." This mammoth, exhaustively researched biography presents instead a master director of the complex machinery of the combined-arms war waged by allied forces. The chief of staff translates the commanding general's will into plan, and plan into action. That requires focused intelligence, mastery of detail, and sophisticated human skills. Smith had them all. Crosswell demonstrates this in an unusual fashion, beginning the book with Smith's distinguished postwar career, culminating as undersecretary of state. He then segues into Smith's development from National Guard private to George Marshall's protégé and secretary, then to the General Staff by 1941. That rise reflected ability rather than affability. But from the first Smith kept British and American egos focused on a common objective. After D-Day he became "a genuine chief of staff," maximizing Eisenhower's strengths while minimizing his proneness to indecision and preference for compromise. Smith was indeed "much more than advertised," and Crosswell brings him out of Eisenhower's shadow. 25 photos; 11 maps. (Nov.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"There have been countless biographies of the generals of World War II, and many are excellent. This biography of Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff, is one of the best."―Antony Beevor, Wall Street Journal"

"This mammoth, exhaustively researched biography presents . . . a master director of the complex machinery of the combined-arms war waged by allied forces."―Publishers Weekly"

"It is remarkable that the man who coordinated planning for the Operations Torch, Husky, Avalanche and Overlord; who negotiated the end of the hostilities with Italy and Germany; and whom Eisenhower, Marshall, and Churchill fought to keep for themselves, is so often overlooked among the pantheon of war heroes. Just as remarkable, however, is D.K.R. Crosswell's long-awaited work on the life of General Smith."―Armchair General"

"'Beetle' examines a signifcant player in American history who pretty much excelled away from the spotlight. This is the first biography of his life, one long overdue."―Fine Books"

"Winner of the Army Historical Foundation's Distinguised Book Award in the biography category in 2011."

"Exceptionally well researched, this comprehensive biography of Walter Bedell Smith is long overdue. Perhaps no other man played so many behind-the-scenes heavy lifter roles in so many key events in mid-twentieth century American history."―Maj. Gen. (ret) David T. Zabecki, author of Chief of Staff: The Principal Staff Offices Behind History's Great Commanders"

"This biography of Walter Bedell Smith . . . is one of the best."―New York Journal of Books"

"Crosswell sketches the general intimately involved in planning and executing numerous WWII operations."―Publisher's Weekly"

"A very fine book. Crosswell's impeccable scholarship and graceful narration bring to life not only Beetle Smith, among the most remarkable officers in the history of the U.S. Army, but the world and war on which he made his mark."―Rick Atkinson, author of The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944"

"Beetle is a splendid biography of one of World War II's major figures. Crosswell brilliantly recreates Walter Bedell Smith's life and role as Dwight Eisenhower's right hand man. Insightful, compassionate and a terrific read."―Carlo D'Este, author of Patton: A Genius For War and Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War"

"It is a striking book." ―Thomas E. Ricks, author of Best Defense Bookshelf: Meet the 'Beetle'"

"Crosswell leaves no stone unturned in recapturing the spirit of the man who stood behind Eisenhower to offer him hope and encouragement during his darkest hours in the war."―WWII History"

"This definitive bio of Ike's chief of staff chronicles his many pivotal (and, the author argues, vastly underrated and misunderstood) role."―World War II"

"A major contribution to the history of World War II."―Foreign Affairs"

"This well-researched biography moves along well and belongs on every World War II bookshelf."―The Past in Review"

"Crosswell's Beetle captures the essence of Smith's fifty years in government service.... Without question, this book is required for any future study of the American military participatioon in the Second World War."―Teaching History"

"There is no doubt that Beetle. . . .will be the definitive biography of Walter Bedell Smith. It is an exhaustive and thorough study, carefully researched and well-written."―Bowling Green Daily News"

"Smith's significant contributions to the Allied war effort receive little, if any, discussion today. . . Author D.K.R. Crosswell has rectified this omission in his superb biography"―On Point"

"Crosswell's masterfully researched volume adds an important dimension to biographical writing and significantly contributes to the literature on the U.S. involvement in the European Theater of Operations during World War II and the Cold War."―Army History"

"The author has done an exemplary job of researching his book, and in telling Smith's story he leaves few stones unturned. . . . Beetle is a most important addition to the historiography of the European Theater of Operations in World War II."―The Journal of America's Military Past"

"His story should be required reading for every business executive involved in dealing with a supply chain."―Target Marketing"

"Meticulously researched and long overdue. . . . Beetle is the fascinating history of a soldier, diplomat, and intelligence chief who played a central role in many decisions that altered mid-twenieth-century American history."―Book Bargains and Previews"

"Exhaustively researched and eloquently written, Beetle provides readers with an in-depth look into the life of a man whose counsel helped determine some of the most significant events of the twentieth century."―McCormick Messenger"

"In this definitive biography, Crosswell shows Smith as Eisenhower's necessary junior partner and offers a view of World War II in the Mediterranean and Western Europe from teh highest operational levels."―Military Review"

"Crosswell's account . . . is detailed and well written." ―-Military Review"―


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Product Details

  • Series: American Warrior Series
  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky; First Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813126495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813126494
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William Whipple III VINE VOICE on November 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Beetle" is long and detailed, by no means a light read (you may find yourself frequently consulting the table of over 100 abbreviations and acronyms), but also informative. In addition to covering General Bedell Smith's life and career, which were surely consequential, it offers fresh insights about other famous players during World War II - including Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall (Smith's idol), Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, and Montgomery.

Operations in the European Theater in World War II, starting in North Africa and ending with the German surrender, take up the bulk of the book. Major battles are well described, although many other books have been written about them, and there is also informative coverage of matters that are generally given short shrift, e.g., command structures, logistics, and personnel replacement.

Serious students of military history will find this account fascinating, particularly if they are looking for ways to create a sounder organizational structure for future wars. General Eisenhower made many mistakes in this area, and General Smith's suggestions (as Ike's chief of staff) for clarifying the lines of communication and authority generally fell on deaf ears, but the problems that developed also reflected doctrinal weaknesses in the U.S. military.

General readers may find greater interest in the blow-by-blow descriptions about personality clashes and differences of opinion in the top command, e.g., Field Marshall Montgomery's increasingly insufferable behavior and his near sacking during the Battle of the Bulge. Crosswell relates this and other incidents in a fair-minded way, and no one emerges as an unvarnished hero.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Yes, there is a lengthy list of acronyms and abbreviations in the front - but it's very distracting to have to refer back to them on almost every page. For example, COSSAC means "Chief of Staff, Supreme Allied Command" - but how does COSSAC fit into other, related organizations? The text will explain it one time, but ten or fifty pages pages later, you will have forgotten - and no reminder is offered. Likewise for the code names for a multitude of military operations and sub-operations.

This 1070-page book is too large and heavy to hold comfortably. Forget trying to read it in bed.

Not enough maps and the ones included are poor. Some typos and misspellings, but generally well edited.
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Format: Hardcover
I received this book as a Christmas present and started reading it right away. Although the author has created a wonderful reference work that seems to summarize every memo and describe every activity and organization in the European Theatre of Operations, those details get in the way of what might have turned into an interesting and readable book. I'm sure historians will love this book, but general readers will give up about half way through it. The abundance of acronyms and abbreviations detracts from the book for everyone but the professional military historian. Maps provide general information, but without a legend you cannot decipher the symbols for armies, divisions, etc. Also, references to place names that don't exist on the few maps in the book means readers need an atlas as they read. I wanted to learn about Smith because he's an oft-forgotten part of military history. If I hadn't received this book as a present, I would have bailed out after about 100 pages. It's tough going, but I give the author an A+ for the work and research he put in.
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Format: Paperback
D.K.R. Crosswell's biography of the life of General Walter Bedell Smith is one of the best books written about WW II in Europe. The writing is very good and the historical research is outstanding. It is long; my copy runs to 1072 pages but well worth the effort to read. While most books about the war in Europe get the who, what, when and where right - many either ignore the whys and wherefores or simply get them wrong. I found very few historical mistakes, with one notable exception, in Mr. Crosswells excellant biography.

Many Americans with a highly favorable opinion of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander are going to be disappointed. General Eisenhower is certainly one of the most reluctant commanders in the history of warfare. Crosswell writes of, "... the relentless British press campaign that elevated Montgomery to the station of Britain's greatest general since Wellington and correspondingly denigrated Eisenhower into affable chairman of the board." p.588. Eisenhower comes across as the friendly, hand shaking good guy; while General Beetle Smith, his Chief of Staff, is forced to play the bad guy. Crosswell also suggests that, "Eisenhower's obscurantist leadership style, his buffering and avoidance of personal conflict... his refusal to issue authoritative orders ... placed enormous stress on Smith." p. 847, 848. Most of this is accurate. The British sought to undermine Eisenhower's command almost as soon as they agreed to it. A good example would be Eisenhower's reluctance to deal with French leader Charles de Gaulle and Smith's subsequent negotiations with Pierre Koenig securing French agreement for Allied currency and the placement of French liaison officers in Allied units down to the division level.
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