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The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II Hardcover – November 2, 1998
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The Victors is like a compilation of Stephen E. Ambrose's greatest hits, drawing heavily from his biography of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and several military histories that recount the events of the Allied push across the European continent in 1944 and 1945 from the frontline trooper's perspective. The narrative is vintage Ambrose, full of engaging yet workmanlike prose that conveys the epic scope of its subject while paying careful attention to the details of the often inglorious lives of the GIs. Eisenhower looms large over this book, but it's the ordinary soldiers and their experiences who give the story real life. Readers who have already dipped into the Ambrose library may find sections of The Victors redundant, but for those who want an adept overview of what Ike and his men accomplished, this is a great place to start. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Ambrose has established himself as both a major biographer of Dwight Eisenhower and the definitive chronicler of America's combat soldiers in the D-Day campaign of 1944-45. But after Citizen Soldiers, he'd sworn off war and given away his WWII books. Then his editor convinced him to do "a book on Ike and the GIs, drawing on my previous writings"Asuch as Citizen Soldiers, D-Day and The Supreme Commander. "Alice Mayhew made me do it," Ambrose writes here. Readers familiar with Ambrose's work will find familiar set pieces, familiar anecdotes, even familiar phrases, but this is more than a clip job. It stands on its own as the story of the GIs who fought their way from Normandy's beaches and hedgerows across Europe. Few were prepared for combat against a Wehrmacht that was dangerous even in decline, and both enlisted men and officers learned through hard-earned experience. While admiring Eisenhower's character and generally affirming his performance as supreme Allied commander, Ambrose is sharply critical of such costly slugging matches as the one in the Huertgen Forest, which continued during the fall and winter of 1944 on orders from senior officers unaware of conditions in the front lines and unable to develop an alternative to frontal assault. But by the final thrust into Germany in the spring of 1945, the U.S. Army's fighting power was second to none. Once more, Ambrose does what few others do as wellAvividly portray the sacrifices and achievements of democracy's army.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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=== The Good Stuff ===
* Ambrose must have spent a lot of time talking to WWII vets. He captures their story, voice, frustrations, thoughts, and fears. We get a few intimate looks into what the men were afraid of, how they kept themselves going, what they thought of their fellow soldiers and officers, and how they viewed their role as "conquering heroes".
* For the most part, Ambrose concentrates more on the bad stuff than the good stuff. There is little mention of marching victorious into French cities and towns, and no parades, medal ceremonies or celebrations. A good portion of the book discusses Omaha Beach and the Ardennes/Rhineland struggles of the winter of 1944/45. None of these were fun times for US troops. Ambrose does an excellent job of capturing their struggles.
* Ambrose does a nice job of editing. He provides enough context information so that the individual stories he relates make sense in relation to what was happening elsewhere. Ambrose also seems to subscribe to the less is more theory. While I am sure he had mounds of information from other veterans, he carefully selects a few which are representative, and spends more time on each one. It is a nice tradeoff.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* When Ambrose strays from the platoon level, he loses his touch. He does a reasonable job of capturing Eisenhower and his personality and strategies, but comes up short with Ike's direct subordinates- Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, Tedder, etc. These men come across as very one-dimensional and often less than favorable. He also is somewhat unfair to these men by judging them through the eyes of enlisted men.
As an example, he faults most of Ike's commanders for not spending time at the front. No doubt this criticism comes directly from enlisted men, who probably never saw Patton or Bradley. But Patton commanded over 200,000 men, and this 3rd Army wartime command lasted less than a year. Unless he met 1000 solders per day, the odds of him meeting any any particular soldier are slim.
* I would have liked to see more material included in the book. Ambrose makes almost no mention of the technical sides of soldier's kit. Were their weapons equal to the task? He also avoids any arguments about the use of US troops. Did Eisenhower's hard charging tactics ultimately lead to more or less US casualties?
=== Overall ===
The book is an excellent look at the small units of WWII, and their trials and tribulations. It is very specific in what information and topics it covers, and if you are comfortable with those constraints, it is an excellent book for either the novice or "semi-pro" WWII historian. The writing is easy-to-read, and most of the text is riveting and keep the reader engaged. I'd recommend it without reservation.
One theme that comes through in The Victors that is not as obvious in the other books is how those at the bottom were as much, if no more, responsible for the victory in Europe as those at the top. It is always the junior officers, NCOs and enlisted men who do the fighting, not the field grade officers who are almost always far removed from the action. As a combat veteran (Vietnam) I was already aware of this fact. The numerous spontaneous decisions made by those at the bottom who know the situation determine the outcomes of firefights, battles and even campaigns despite the blunders of those at the top. As in his other books, Ambrose notes some of the major blunders made by Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery, Patton, and others. He spares no words of excuse for the blunders that caused needless sufferings, deaths and losses. Through it all, the GIs at the bottom prevail to bring victory for which the generals like to take the credit.
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It is, first, well-written from a literary perspective, with a clear, simple format that gets the information across.Read more