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Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944 Paperback – May 18, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Balkoski (Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Division in Normandy) makes officer and enlisted-men's first-person testimony the center of this account, with light contextualization in between, along with 34 b&w photos and 27 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Balkoski is sometimes referred to as the finest living D-Day historian. For my money, the title fits. Anyone who wants to know anything about Omaha Beach, where the fighting was heaviest and bloodiest, must begin with this foundational book by a true maestro of original history. "History can provide at least a little solace that there was some meaning to it all," he writes movingly. "D-Day was the decisive chapter of a twentieth century Iliad." Indeed it was--and Balkoski is its Homer. -- John McManus, Wall Street Journal
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My review is of the Kindle edition. Because of all of the maps and photos, it's a massive 5.7MB file, compared to an average ebook file size of less than 1MB. Perhaps for this reason on first try I couldn't get the title to download wirelessly to my Kindle Keyboard and had to download it first to my pc and transfer it by usb. However, I then tried to do so with my Kindle Basic and it downloaded fine. There is an active TOC, including a list of maps and all the hyperlinks to the maps work fine.
The text formatting is good on both devices but, unfortunately, the maps and photos don't display very well on e-ink Kindles, even with the zoom feature. They display somewhat better on the KB than on the KK, due to its newer e-ink pearl technology. I don't have a Kindle Fire but suspect that they would display much better on it. I also downloaded the book to my Kindle For PC and, as to be expected, the maps and photos display great.
Accordingly, I can recommend the Kindle version with the caveat that the maps and photos don't display very well on the e-ink Kindles. If they're important to you, I'd plan on viewing them on Kindle for PC or on a Kindle Fire.
Short summary - the first third of the book was not very well written but the final two-thirds were a good history of the events on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. However, be prepared for some difficult times reading this book if you chose to purchase.
Like so many other conversions to Kindle format this also suffers from problems, failures and a failure to have the conversion proof read. In this case the conversion problems both impair readability and context.
1. For the first third of the book every page has at least one instance of the line shifting height/spacing and this almost always occurs in the middle of a word. This shift cannot be attributed to normal causes such as a font change, use of special characters, superscripts, etc. The text just suddenly shifted downward (most common) or upward somewhere within a line and a word.
2. The conversion software had extreme problems with the number one (i.e., 1). It has randomly inserted one (most common) or two spaces somewhere following the digit. When identifying military units this is extremely important and takes the event completely out of context as the reader tries to decide what unit is actually being discussed. There is a significant difference in the 16th regiment v. 116th but using the 116th as the example the text randomly varies between "1 16th," "11 6th," "1 16th," "1 16 th," etc. This is compounded by the fact that units involved are not in the same division or location but are a necessary part of this book. Specifically, the 16th infantry regiment assigned the 1st Infantry Division v. 116th regiment on an adjacent beach but part of the 29th Infantry Division. This occurs with a great many units since so many units involved have one, two or even three "1's" in their designation.
3. As another example, the 1st Infantry Division is usually indicated with "1st" but also appears as "1 st" and "1 st" which is both distracting and annoying.
4. In one aspect this book excelled over virtually all other Kindle books that I have read so far: The diagrams and graphics were extremely clear and of high quality with only a few exceptions. Because the text on those graphics is small the reader usually will need to tap or double tap to open a larger version of the graphic. This is most unusual as the graphics appearing in the few Kindle books that I have read are usually extremely poor in quality and often illegible.
The author otherwise did a good job in his discussions and summaries but the inclusion of so many quotes became extremely cumbersome, inefficient and distracting. While the words of actual participants are an extremely important portion in historical research, they really didn't work here especially considering the volume of same. The inclusion of so many quotes sounded like a great idea in the abstract but in the reality of a book which really is a summary of events these just didn't work.
1. The constant changing of font size and line height several times on a single page really slowed down the reading, not from a contextual standpoint but the simple reading mechanics and constant adjustments. Adjusting font size or line height in the application settings did not have any impact on this problem.
2. Quotes are often redundant or otherwise duplicate statements made in the actual book resulting in over-recitation of the same information.
3. The author did a much better job in describing individual actions, battles and events than he did in the first third of the book which briefly described general buildup, training, planning, etc. Indeed, the author was very dull and boring in the first third of the book but did a significantly better and more interesting job in relating actual combat events, movements, etc., that occupy the last two thirds of this book.
4. When it came to describing actual on the ground events the author clearly and authoritatively communicated these. This did not occur in the more generalized discussions in the first third of the book.
5. At times it was exasperating when the author performed a time shift in his descriptions but I found that to be a problem only in the first third of the book. When describing actual combat, movement and events the author again did an excellent job. Strong cases can be made either way to either maintain a strict chronological telling or to follow individual units/persons to logical break points although that will often cause back and forth time shifts in the telling.
---The Good Points---
* Much of the book, probably 2/3 or better, are direct quotes from interviews, battle histories, official US Army after-action reports, and eyewitness accounts. For a "man on the beach" look at what happened that day, you simply can not do any better. Some of the stories are from relatively soon after the invasion, so still have that raw edge to them. Others are from years later, and while more polished, have lost some of their stark reality.
* There is a nice assortment of sources, from Privates to Generals. Many events are related from multiple sources, and the confusion of the battle is clearly evident in these.
* Balkoski writes with a light touch. He keeps his own narrative to a minimum, just enough to set up the context for the direct quotes and interviews.
* I can't imagine the work that went into sorting through all the accounts of this battle that are available, and piecing them together to form any sort of coherent story. For the most part, he succeeds, and Balkoski should get an award from the army for doing that. The book is long, but probably could have been 10 times longer and still be interesting.
--The Not So Good Stuff---
* This is a book about D-Day at Omaha Beach. It is not a story about the planning, decision making, or the tradeoffs that went into the selection of this beach. It is not about the campaign across France that followed- it isn't even about June 7, 1944, or even what happened in the countryside during the hours before the invasion. It is not about the German defense, the civilians, the generals (with a couple amazing exceptions), or the politicians. It is about D-Day on Omaha Beach, period.
Depending on your historical knowledge, this may or may not be an issue. Having good background knowledge on the planning and preparation of the battle, and its many related efforts, will make this a much more enjoyable book.
* While I understand the format Balkoski chose, it can be hard to follow. He jumps around quite a bit, and with only minimal narrative in between the quotations, it is hard to follow. I would have preferred more explanation and a stronger matrix into which the individual stories fit.
* The maps in the Kindle edition are all over the place. Some are legible, many are not. They are certainly not detailed or legible enough to serve as a credible reference for the material in the book. A little googling will lead you to a much better map. This will help quite a bit as you read the story.
I liked the book, although I found it somewhat hard to read. Often I had to re-read an interview, as well as the surrounding ones, to put the events in to the context of the battle. And while I understand that the book is specifically limited to June 6, 1944 on Omaha Beach, a little more background and overview would have improved the work.
I wish I had read this book before I visited Omaha Beach-it would have been invaluable. I'd highly recommend it to anyone planning such a visit.
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