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We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 455 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1558219731
ISBN-10: 1558219730
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If this story of espionage and survival were a novel, readers might dismiss the Shackleton-like exploits of its hero as too fantastic to be taken seriously. But respected historian David Howarth confirmed the details of Jan Baalsrud's riveting tale. It begins in the spring of 1943, with Norway occupied by the Nazis and the Allies desperate to open the northern sea lanes to Russia. Baalsrud and three compatriots plan to smuggle themselves into their homeland by boat, spend the summer recruiting and training resistance fighters, and launch a surprise attack on a German air base. But he's betrayed shortly after landfall, and a quick fight leaves Baalsrud alone and trapped on a freezing island above the Arctic Circle. He's poorly clothed (one foot is entirely bare), has a head start of only a few hundred yards on his Nazi pursuers, and leaves a trail of blood as he crosses the snow. How he avoids capture and ultimately escapes--revealing that much spoils nothing in this white-knuckle narrative--is astonishing stuff. Baalsrud's feats make the travails in Jon Krakauer's Mt. Everest classic Into Thin Air look like child's play. In an introduction, Stephen Ambrose calls We Die Alone a rare reading experience: "a book that I absolutely cannot put down until I've finished it and one that I can never forget." This amazing book will disappoint no one. --John J. Miller

From Library Journal

This 1955 volume is one of the most remarkable survival stories ever written. Jan Baalsrud was the only survivor of a Norwegian commando team ambushed by the Nazis during World War II. Wounded and with the Germans in pursuit, Baalsrud escaped and miraculously fought his way through the Norwegian tundra to a distant village, where he was saved by locals who helped spirit him to Sweden. Baalsrud suffered frostbite and snowblindness, came through an avalanche, and lived to tell the tale. This edition has a new introduction by Citizen Soldiers' author Stephen Ambrose.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The Lyons Press; 1st edition (August 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558219730
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558219731
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (455 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,529,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There are few tales of epic endurance that can match this, in fact I find it hard to believe that anyone could have lived through this at all. I kept re-reading parts because I couldn't believe what I was reading. David Howarth's true story of the escape of Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian Saboteur, in the Spring of 1943 was a page turner, I kept wondering how it could possible get end up, and each time I thought things were as bad as they could get it got worse.
It is a simple tale of escape and those brave souls who helped him make his way from Norway to neutral Sweden. In March 1943 Jan was part of group of 11 other men who travelled secretly to German held Norway in order to sabotage an airbase. However through an extraodinarily bad coincidence the contact they made there was with a man who betrayed them. Their boat was ambushed by the Germans the following morning, 30th of March. Interestingly there is the German news account of this ambush in the appendix at the back of the book and it does not tally well with the real event. Only Jan managed to escape from the ambush. The fate of the rest of his crew, which is only known in sketchy detail was horrific so his decision to try flee rather than surrender proved the right thing to do. However this left him alone on a bleak tiny island in the Norwegian Sounds with his toe shot off in the freezing arctic spring. The next two months he swam through icy seas, got caught in blizzards and avalanches and finally too injured to carry on himself, was carried by partisan Norwegians to Sweden. I don't know what is more incredible about this story or this man. His will was astonishing. For one week he was left alone on a deserted plateau alone with almost no food, frost bitten feet and wet clothes.
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Format: Paperback
first read this incredible tale of one man's refusal to die alone forty years ago--have been recommending to people ever since. jan baalsrud--a norwegian patriot during wwII--captured my imagination in the page's of david howarth's riveting book, and his story of survival under the relentless pursuit of the nazi's, is maybe the best to come out of that war. page after page, the twists and turns, the chance meetings and narrow escapes, the unrelenting suspense...a book you simply can't put down. and written well enough that it doesn't matter if you're a seventh grader, as i was four decades ago, or a senior citizen, as i'm rapidly becoming. its just a great read. you'll never forget jan baalsrud..guaranteed.
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Format: Hardcover
One winter, in the midst of WWII, a crew of expatriate Norwegians attempted to land a cargo of guerilla supplies on Nazi-occupied Norway's far-northern coast. This book tells the story of the incredible privation endured by one of those men, Jan Balsruud, his hardihood and survival, and the risks and sacrifices undertaken on his behalf by the men and women who help him evade capture.

I first read _We_Die_Alone_ some thirty years ago, in the first paperback edition, and I know that certain of its scenes and events will stay with me so long as I live. Howarth recounts the story simply, and lets the facts provide the drama.

Strongly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
~~~~~~~~ IN FAVOUR: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I found this to be an intriguing true story. Jan Baalsrud, the sole survivor of a foiled commando mission in German-occupied Norway cheated death about half-a-dozen times before eventually escaping to neutral Sweden (from which he had been expelled years before). The man's travails are extraordinary: surviving three days of wandering in the far north completely snowblind; amputating nine of his own toes with no anaesthetic; being literally buried under a blanket of snow for a week and thus - ironically - surviving the blizzard which raged above it. The story takes so many turns for the incredible that one begins to understand why author David Howarth prefaced his book with the assertion that he made every effort to verify the details of Baalsrud's account.

The even stranger thing is that Baalsrud is arguably not even the hero of the book. The real heroes are the ordinary rural Norwegians who took him in, cared for him, and ran enormous risks for him - because for much of this story Baalsrud was incapacitated. Each Norwegian he met after the initial Quisling who betrayed his team risked their own lives and that of their families in order to ensure that Baalsrud made it to safety. This sequence of events is even more remarkable in view of the fact that there was nothing the locals could have gained from Baalsrud's survival even by proxy: one crippled soldier, after all, could mount no resistance to the Germans who persecuted them. So the denizens of Norway's far north were not helping Baalsrud so that he would help them: What they did for him was done from motives of purest solidarity.

~~~~~~~~ AGAINST: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are, however, two things which vitiated this reading experience.

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Format: Paperback
Second only to Slavomir Rawicz's The Long Walk in the annals of WWII escape stories I've read, the story of Jan Baalsrud's amazing escape after a failed commando insertion into occupied Norway is more a tale of endurance than one of derring-do. Penned by a former British spymaster, the book is a clear, if somewhat simply written, account of how Baalsrud was sheltered for weeks by various patriotic Norwegians who did their best to keep him out of German hands.
An expatriate Norwegian, Baalsrud and his fellow commandos were attempting to establish a resistance cell in northern Norway that would disrupt the operations of a major German airfield nearby. Betrayed, the commandos were ambushed by German soldiers, with only Baalsrud escaping. The bulk of the book described how over the next several weeks, regular citizens in remote villages attempted to keep him alive while arranging for him to get to Sweden. This was greatly hampered by the frostbite that made walking or skiing impossible for him. It's an excellent glimpse into the mundane details of how regular people did their best to resist the Germans with the knowledge that they and their families would be killed if their plotting was uncovered.
Ultimately though, the book is a tribute to Baalsrud's incredible physical and emotional endurance-he was buried alive for days under snow, left by himself for days at a time unable to move and in excruciating pain, and had to contemplate self-surgery-all while knowing that his discovery could mean the deaths of many innocent people. Think you're tough? Read this and think again! It would have been nice if the publisher had included a map.
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