338 internautes sur 356 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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I'm using a D-Day comparison to start this review, but top to bottom, this volume is far more than that. By the end of its prologue, the narrative was already more intense than many comprehensive histories of World War II - and by the time the readers arrives at the ghastly Hurtgen Forest, D-Day is a distant memory.
With so many books and research available about WWII, I don't know that I'd call any one volume (or three in this trilogy's case) truly 'definitive.' However, author Rick Atkinson has provided what the best history does, and that's the motivation to learn even more. As I read this volume, I found myself drawn to do further research into things I'd never heard of - Operation Dragoon in southern France for example - or more details about the landing craft used on D-Day, or more about the mistakes made during the campaign around Antwerp.
This is hardly because Atkinson left out information - his amazingly seamless narrative weaves personal stories of soldiers both high ranking and low, with researched documentation from many sources. Unlike historical accounts that keep the reader "above" the action, he very deftly immerses the reader in the tactical battles as easily as the overall strategy. It's never a 'dry' faceless history - the battered humans on the ground, whether it's Eisenhower or a junior private, are almost always the focus. Occasionally, he will offer a quote from a deceased soldier's letter to give a heartbreaking end to a chapter, reminding the reader of the human cost.
And what a cost. We as a country have grown so spoiled over the last 10 years of war, and expectations of easy victories, that WWII becomes difficult to relate to - friendly fire on D-Day killed hundreds of soldiers. Mistakes made by various generals - especially at Operation Market Garden, and the early days of the Battle of the Bulge - no doubt prolonged the war or put soldiers in impossible positions, costing thousands more.
It's easy to criticize these decisions with hindsight - but Atkinson never criticizes; instead, he lets the documents and testimony do the work, as it should be. It made me appreciate how difficult and frankly, impossible, this war was to manage - and what an beyond amazing job generals like Eisenhower and Montgomery did (and unfortunately, Atkinson details the German generals occasional moments of brilliance - and it's awful to think how hard the Germans fought for such a wretched, awful cause, especially when the war was all but lost, and so many people still had to die).
He provided plenty of information that was fairly new to me, even though other works have covered it. For example, the V-1 and V-2 raids over England I knew about in concept - but the accounts he's provided bring it home in much more detail. I had not known what a morale-killer they were to England at the time. That's just one example of many where Atkinson's research and organization and story-telling skills have told so many 'small' stories within this big one.
The book's back cover describes WWII as the epic struggle of the 20th century, and that's certainly true. To give justice to those soldiers needed an epic story to be told, and Atkinson has done the job. It's as five-star as a book can be.
FURTHER READING: After finishing this book, readers could turn to Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, which takes the reader into Europe's next few years.
Also, I recently read The Liberator: One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau, which is a battalion commander's story within this larger struggle, and of course Eisenhower in War and Peace would be a good additional resource. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today would complement a lot of Atkinson's discussion about the Montgomery-Eisenhower relationship. Also, Ricks deals with the battlefield relief of generals, and it's interesting to note how many commanders Atkinson mentions are 'fired' for their various failures.
207 internautes sur 217 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Yes, the third volume of the Liberation Trilogy really is _that_ good. The Guns At Last Light (hereafter GALL) is a fitting conclusion to Atkinson's excellent series, and is a triumph despite the very tough competition. Volumes One and Two were confronting a (relative) dearth of recent popular works on the African and Mediterranean campaigns, but the main Western Front narrative of combat in France and Germany has been covered in history literature by numerous recent and widely read works by such credible historians as John Keegan, Carlo D'Este, Max Hastings, and Antony Beevor along with second tier "rah rah" populists like Stephen Ambrose and older works that still stand up like those by Cornelius Ryan. Could Atkinson add anything new to such well-trodden ground?
He can and does. Here are just a few reasons why Atkinson is at the top of his field:
1) Journalistic integrity. Atkinson is scrupulously fair in covering the controversial personalities and campaign controversies of the Western Front. He presents evidence pro and con, gives impressions of contemporaries that show all valid opinions, and judiciously weighs in with his own tempered assessment. Hastings in comparison is much more opinionated and lets his strong biases show clearly in discussions of events and persons. Hastings can be fun to read because of his vehemence and wit, and I happen to agree with most of his assessments, but at the same time I wouldn't assign his books for a college course or recommend them to a friend who knew nothing about the subject. Atkinson builds his assessments carefully and prudently, and this allows a newcomer or objective reader to reach their own conclusions as to whether they agree or disagree with the author. Too much military history is written with strong authorial opinions that then influence what facts and primary source evidence is presented. Atkinson in comparison is truly "fair and balanced", and his books show his experience as a journalist. This is not to say he lacks opinions or passion; rather, he presents evidence to show why he feels and believes as he does, but he also shows the other side of the coin.
2) Clarity in campaign and battle narratives. I confess that I can never fully visualize what is happening in Antony Beevor's books. His maps are usually poorly done, and his narratives of a given battle or campaign always leave me either just moving on or relying on other explanations I've read in other books. In comparison, Atkinson's works always present battles and operations clearly, coherently, and with useful maps. The publisher has not skimped on maps here, and Atkinson writes well when discussing the how and why of complex maneuvers. He moves between the sides and up and down the ranks from guy in the trench to Eisenhower and Rommel with wisdom and clarity, and I doubt any reader will be left confused about a given battle.
3) New detail. Amazingly enough, even when discussing immensely familiar subjects like Overlord, Atkinson finds new things to say, to the extent that I found at least one new interesting fact per page (usually more) in the D-Day section of the book. The end notes are comprehensive and all facts are well-documented, so this book can be a sort of gateway for those wanting to learn more about familiar topics by referrals to new sources.
4) Quality of Writing. Atkinson and Hastings are my two favorite writers from the list of works I mention above, and Atkinson, though less witty and cynical than Hastings, strikes a magisterial tone in his writing that is hard to achieve. He can mention old Roman and Napoleonic campaigns when discussing the Ardennes and not sound silly, and he can achieve an elegiac and / or patriotic tone without schmaltz (i.e. he is far above Stephen Ambrose!). It is a pleasure to read expository prose that is also literary in quality, and I think this is one of Atkinson's great strengths.
Hopefully, these four points of merit cited will convince any skeptic that this volume (and series) deserves five stars. Are there any weaknesses? Some, but hardly worth mentioning. First, because this series focuses on the American experience in the various campaigns, Brits and British Army fans may feel their favorite army gets short shrift. Actually, the coverage of British operations is featured more prominently in GALL than in the other volumes, so the British Army sort of fades in and out of sight frequently. Hastings and Beevor both cover the UK/Commonwealth operations in more detail, and Hastings (in "Armageddon") also covers the Russian advance into Germany, a comparison that is useful and provoative. (Atkinson has virtually nothing at all to say about the USSR war, which is perfectly acceptable given his intent.) Non-American newcomers to WW2 history will probably want a somewhat more coherent account of the UK's experiences and contributions, but there are plenty of other resources they can peruse. (Hastings' "Inferno" is my favorite big picture / UK partial account.)
Other than this issue (not really a fault I would say) Atkinson spendt a bit too much time (IMO)with WW2 American journalists in the field, but many will find this material enjoyable, and Atkinson obviously feels some kinship with these men who covered the same subject he is now retelling. Obviously, the need to tell the entire history of the War in the West in one volume means some subjects will be short-changed, so if you want more detail on D-Day, read Beevor or Hastings' "Overlord", if you want more detail on Market Garden, read Ryan's "Bridge Too Far", etc. I feel the events are given their proper weight in the scope of narrative coverage, so this also is not really an objective failure.
All in all, the Liberation trilogy is an excellent series, and is the place to begin if you are new to the subject; it is also a great place to learn a few new things if you are already a Western Front enthusiast. Atkinson;s series has all the virtues of good history and good books in general: finely written, eloquent, probing, and comprehensive. This series is the new gold standard for the history of the American Western Front experience in WW2.
35 internautes sur 38 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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This is a sprawling, exquisitely written overview of the Allies from D Day (June 1944) to the German capitulation (May 1945). Atkinson has written two earlier books on the European campaign; the war in North Africa and the war in Italy.
Stunningly descriptive, powerful in its use of detailed statistics conveying the energy of all aspects of the war in Europe (especially in his captivating "Prologue" on the D Day build up), there is originality, deep thought and historical meaning here. Atkinson moves effortlessly from the painful to the poignant to the poetic; never content with his own words, he draws on Liebling, Hemingway and Alan Morehead, the poet, Randall Jarrell, Kurt Vonnegut (in Dresden) and the letters home from the dead soldier.
Carefully non judgmental, he adroitly juxtaposes paragraphs and incidents contrasting the luxuries of the American and British military leadership (Eisenhower, Churchill, Montgomery, Bradley, John C.H. Lee) with the horrific dangerous existence of the doughboy. His affinity with the foot soldier, the pilot and sailor is palpable. One reads at times with a bitter taste. And, one senses a tempered view as to the mediocrity in the Allied military leadership. His admiration for Patton, however, is manifest; his military and tactical genius is found to be "nimbler, surer and relentless." After reading Caesar's Gallic Wars, the night before he crosses the Rhine, Patton "could smell the sweat of the legions."
Atkinson avoids repetition even though for long passages the battles and incidents might give way to repetition and wordy overuse. His descriptive powers are in full view, page after page; e.g. "the warm midday sun spangled the dark canal and the irrigation ditches running north to Holland" "[l]oamy fields trailed by olive-drap clouds of rifleman; the Ardennes are "coniferous;" Market Garden "an epic cock up;" a British general is "a high strung mustache twirler;" Germany is "this vortex, this gyre of flame, the destroyer of worlds;" Marseille - "the German masterpiece of ruination; "[t]he need to overcome Allied infighting is defined by Ike as "a collaborative forbearance;"and engineers are described as "blue with cold. "
One gasps reading the letter from a pregnant wife writing to her deceased husband "beyond the grave; "you shall always be vibrantly alive .... I hope God will let me be happy, not wildly, consumingly happy as I was with you, I will miss you so much--your hands, your kiss, your body..."
Atkinson's grasp of the statistics of war stuns; the death counts, the troop and ships numbers, the manufacturing might of the American homeland and the dead, "[o]f all German boys born between 1915 and 1924, one third were dead or missing." He brings insight to the failed 1944 onslaught for Antwerp, the Hurtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and the particulars of the actual surrender on May 7, 1945. He is generous to even the vain, supercilious and insufferable Montgomery - "as responsible as any man for the victory in Normandy."
His reading and reliance on other historians is extensive and thorough; Moran on Churchill, Hastings on the Battle for Germany, Ambrose and Beevor for D Day, Plothy on Yalta, MacDonald on the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge and Bastogne. His epilogue - the last five pages - can be read over and over and looked on as the work of genius.
Atkinson has written another award winning book. And rightly so !