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The Great Escape Paperback – August 17, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“One of the great true stories of the war, and one of the greatest escape narratives of all time.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Absorbing... spine-tingling... puts the average war book so far in the shadow it's not even funny.” (Dallas Times-Herald)

“For sheer suspense, puts the fictioneers to shame.” (Boston Globe)

From the Inside Flap

With only their bare hands and the crudest of homemade tools, they sank shafts, built underground railroads, forged passports, drew maps, faked weapons, and tailored German uniforms and civilian clothes.

They developed a fantastic security system to protect themselves from the German "ferrets" who prowled the compounds with nerve-racking tenacity and suspicion.

It was a split-second operation as delicate and as deadly as a time bomb. It demanded the concentrated devotion and vigilance of more than six hundred men -- every single one of them, every minute, every hour, every day, and every night for more than a year. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (August 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393325792
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393325799
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
I first saw the movie as a child in the 1960's, and became fascinated with the subject, which lead me to this book. The details of the escape are described in minute detail. The drawings included, made by Kenyon, one of the camp artists, are very informative and clear. They show such things as the layout of the camp and its tunnels as well as the stooge system for protecting the forgers from approaching Germans.

One can sense every emotion from Brickhill's writing: The cursing of the diggers when buried by sandfalls while excavating the tunnels, the frustration of those attempting to remove the outer cover of tunnel Harry's exit shaft, the shock of the discovery that Harry's exit was as much as 30 feet short of the woods, the fury of the Germans at discovery of the mass escape, etc. One can also see that the evacuation of 200 POWs through one tunnel in one night, even without setbacks (such as the air raid) turned out to be an impossible goal. Most men in the tunnel took much longer than 2-3 minutes to get through it. In fact, several got stuck several times.

A major factor leading to the rapid capture of most of the "hardarsers" (those striking out on foot) was the snow on the ground. It forced most of the men to walk on or near the roads, where they were easily spotted and apprehended for questioning.

Brickhill also devotes some detail to the pursuit of the German murderers of 50 of the escapees. He recounts the lack of cooperation of the Soviet-imposed Communist puppet government of Poland, in which the previously-German Stalag Luft III campsite had found itself after the establishment of the Oder-Neisse line as the postwar boundary of Poland. (Of course, Brickhill could not have foresawn the fact that after Communism fell in Poland after 45 years, the Polish officials were free to express an avid interest in the onetime site of the camp).
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
By now, everyone knows the story. I bought the film version on DVD a while back. I laughed a lot and enjoyed the film greatly (I think it's well done).

The tale is immense in scope, so I figured I'd read the book. I was in for a huge surprise. Half of the film's ideas come from Brickhill's prelude, and have nothing to do with the actual escape (or camp!). This meant only one thing: Brickhill's tale, thick as it is, is going to be completely original and that much more satisfying a read.

Paul Brickhill was the boss of a small group of prisoners who worked as stooges (watching out for Germans espying on their prisoners' doings). He writes fluidly and very well, and his obvious post-war research is superb (he tells the German angle in some parts). The book is easy to read, has moments of humor, and the descriptions are fantastic and there is never, ever, a dull moment from page one.

Little did I realize how much the film throws out the horrors of Nazi Germany (or seemingly takes it in stride). The film plays out escaping as a game, and even in the book, characters try to escape constantly. While the Geneva Convention includes a clause that states escaping should not be prosecuted severely, as it is a logical reaction to imprisonment, the reader will recall that Nazis don't necessarily believe in anything other than the word "kill." Therein lies the terror.

There is no Steve McQueen here, and, while there is a cooler, it's the least of the prisoners' fears. There isn't a small group of characters that the story revolves around. There are hundreds of people, and Paul introduces them at varying and strategic places within the story. You learn about new escapees up to the very last chapter. Everyone is a hero in his own way.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the (true) story of the efforts of a multinational group of POWs to escape during WW2, and led to what is one of my favourite films.

I anticipated the book to be a bit of a let down after seeing the movie, but it really wasn't. They emphasize quite different aspects, and some parts of the movie were clearly made up with entertainment value in mind (people jumping motorcycles over fences for instance!). I can't blame the movie makers of course, because the compelling essence of this story is the daily slog of tunnelling set against the backdrop of the mind-numbing drudgery of incarceration. No movie could be long enough to get this point across, but the book allows one to build up a better picture of what captivity was like, particularly because it provides such incredible details. I was really struck by the ingenious ways the prisoners found to fake German uniforms and official passes, improvise tools, and build radios and other vital pieces of equipment. The book provides sufficient descriptions to allow you to get an impression of the main characters and camp layout, though I personally would have enjoyed a few photographs of the people involved (good and bad), though I realise these wouldn't have been easy to obtain.

The author has a relatively dry style typical of a historian rather than a dramatist, and at times relates key events remarkably passionately. The book ratchets up the tension without having to try too hard however, and I could sense the tension that existed whenever the guards entered the barracks to check for tunnels. The depression that accompanies every uncovered tunnel jumps out of the page, as does the resolve to keep trying to escape without ever accepting captivity.
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