The story starts off ok. With the seating of the new Pope (Francis), I thought the story would be topical. But it's all fluff. The story unwinds fairly straight forward and quickly loses steam. It seems to me the writer wanted to visit Rome, Isreal and some islands and needed to show something (tax write-off?) for it. He would have better served the reader if he had the decency to get over the jet-lag first. The plot, dialogue and characters are tired and we've seen them all before.
What comes to mind is that so many blunders of WWI were repeated in WWII. The African campaigns were no exception. American was ill prepared for war and the British seemed not to have learned much from fighting in WWI. But also, as this book unfolds, we learn that only the Germans had learned their lessons and developed new strategies nd tactics, i.e. the blitzkrieg and mechanized warfare. What this theater did was toughen up the Americans, and the allies, physically and mentally, for the long, grueling battles to come.
The author personalizes the battles with snippets from soldiers' diaries (both sides). It proves welcome respite from recalling all the maneuvers and the places they occurred at.
What I wished the book paid more attention to was the installation of Darlan as head of the French forces. There was a mighty bit of political intrigue going on in France, Britain, and American when dealing with what was thought as the least of an unattractive situation. I wished this aspect was explored more in depth.
What the book posits is that this early campaign, won with great difficulty by the allies and lost after horrific fighting by the axis, showed the way to the ultimate destruction of the axis. It gave the allies confidence, sometimes false, and the axis doubts which they were able to overcome to fight on to great tactical victories but ultimate defeat.
I have always doubted the Montgomery's generalship and this book shows how his weaknesses were manifested in his victories but also how they would appear in later battles (his tendency to "tidy" up his lines before making his next assault while the enemy was right in front of him ready to be exploited) to extend the war, e.g. Market Garden.
I highly recommend this book if you wish to examine WWII in a broad context.
As for the narration: it is nothing short of amazing how Guidall can get into the mind of the author and make the story come alive with an inflection here and there. He is a true master of the art o narration.
As a history buff, especially WWII, I am familiar with the Battle of Kursk. My recollection is that it was one of the, if not the, most horrific tank battles of WWII. I idd not even come close to that conclusion from this book. The author does a magnificant job of explaining the battle orders, what units were involved, how they moved, what they did but in the end, after all this detail, it is hard to grasp the significance of it all. The "seminal" battle gets lost in detail. I asked myself: is this the battle I read about where tanks were muzzle to muzzle and blasting each other at point- blank range? This is a book that should be read with a detailed map of the area, a plastic overlay and a grease pencil so the reader can plot all the units movements and see what it all means. I read this book while driving. At times I turned it off in mid sentence and it made no difference because the tale did not flow. I was listening to words and most often they were interchangable with the words before and after. I couldn't keep up with the individual battles and soon it made no difference. It's like watching a game (football, boxing, basketball, poker, chess, etc) and not knowing the rules and not being able to appreciate the tactics and strategies. People gasp in appreciation and you wonder what was missed. It's a shame given all the research the author has apparently put into this book. What would have made it better? Some sense of what the soldiers went through. More personal recollections, i.e. diary entries, letters home, etc, before, during and after. Some are given but it's more an after thought. Another thing that frustrated me was when a general was described as a staff officer and not a field officer. No description of the difference or how it may have impacted the battle. We know Hitler played a decision making role but his input is merely a passing reference. The best parts for me was the descriptions of how both the Russian and German soldiers were trained. How they felt towards each other and their adversaries. The best part for me was the conclusion...it lasted less than 30 minutes. It helped bring the battle into perspective; something the main test sorely misses.
There is a difficulty in writing a book about war an particularly of specific battles. How to portray them? Focus on the men in the trenches? Strategy and/or tactics? Geography? Politics? Decision makers? This book does the nearly impossible: it blends all together. The author tells us what the military leaders hoped to achieve. How they came to their decisions and the mistakes and their successes of those decisions. As in most books of war, a knowledge of the battlefield in essential. Otherwise you have no feeling for the movement of men and material. (I am lucky in that I've been to Sicily and Italy so I have a passing knowledge of the fought-over terrain. In many regards Sicily and Italy are forgotten in the melee because of the much anticipated cross-channel invasion...the "big show". But men fought and died heroically and it is an injustice if their story is not told. This book tells the story clearly and beautifully. It is well researched.
What I liked most about this book was the author's inclusion of solders' diary entries; both allies and axis. It gave perspective and conveys just what the men saw in their limited field of view. These entries brought to life what it felt like to be there. What I thought confusing was the contradictory treatment of some generals. At points the author thoroughly examines their blunders and their inability to change tactics and later proclaims them as well- thought -of if not near "geniuses": even when there was no success. In cases like that, and they were few, I would have liked to have the written page to go back and read if I missed something. I was particularly perplexed with the Anzio invasion. It was my impression this was a case of missed opportunities and the ego of a general who temporized and was more interested in headlines by being first to Rome. The book tells the story (somewhat), and it does fault the general on the ground but it also seems to rationalize faulty decisions that would have deadly consequences. Two who come in for upbraiding are Montgomery and Churchill. If my recollection of history is correct, I think both are warranted; especially Montgomery who is portrayed as a by-the-book, indecisive general, more interested in tidying up his gains than pushing for advantage. Churchill is portrayed as somewhat heartless and unreasoning of what the soldiers' endured on the ground. I can undersatnd why since the American leadership (Roosevelt, Stalin, Marshal, Eisenhower and many British generals were against this theater of operations for taking the eye off the ball of the Normandy invasion. There was also dashied hopes of a promised, quick victory.
I highly recommend this book.
In many ways I found the narritive disconcerting. I thought back to the days when "victory" was the logical end of war, e.g. Grant, Patton, Eisenhower. McCrystal's story belies his belief, while at West Point, that he would be a fighting soldier. He skirts over his junior, company and field commander experiences by listing the future soldiers he will again serve with. As his career moves ever upward he finds himself more enmeshed and ensnared by the wishes of his politcal overseers. It must be frustrating to see the "light toward military victory" as only a military man can see his or her duty to be reined in by political expediency and a hostile press.
McCrystal does not advocate doing away with civilian control but it is evident it impedes outcomes to the degree that military operations are never successfully concluded. The lesson I got from this book is that if you're a general, on down to the level of private, that you have continually to look over your shoulder. This is especially true when so many in political authority, including the Commander in Chief, are more concerned of how they will appear on the evening news cycle, when so many political leaders have never served a day in the military, and when they feel more accountable to domestic interest groups then to the men and women who have to fight and die for their country.
I was disappointed in his telling of the Rolling Stone article. It's passed over in a paragraph with the appropriate mea culpas.The other disappointment is McCrystal continually resorts to defining a good military leader's qualities and concludes that his description fits him. I have no doubt that he is a well qualified military leader but this device seems to be self-serving.
I rarely read fiction and after reading this book it may be years before I pick up another contemporary work of fiction. The plot, action, dialogue and characters are ridiculous. It is evident the author has never held, let alone shot, a gun. Nor, I would venture, been out of an urban environment.
We are to beleive the "hero" has been shot three times in the stomach and within a few days he is on a plane to England (having a meal and drinks) and the next day on the way to Serbia (to save the world). In all (I think) the transformed "super-hero" is shot 4 times (once in the head), hit with the butt of a rifle and almost burned alive and he just pops right up to fight the demons against the West. In the meantime he travels all over Europe and the U.S.
The author seeks to bring ligitamacy to this book by relating street names and directions, which I might add, appears to be the only quasi research he may have done for this novel. On this subject, we are to believe the "hero" (a U.K. citizen), or his CIA. SEAL. Delta team, are intimately familiar with every street and street direction in every European and American city they set down in. The book is a writen version of a video game (I did not say "literary" version; that would give too much credit to the author).
I can't imagine that someone would even concoct such a miasma of idiodicy and beleive that a listener would fall for it. I listened to the book on a long vacation trip drive and it kept me awake and laughing picking out the inconsistencies, unbelievable dialogue, action and pure poppycock. We are to beleive, after being beaten and hit in the head with a rifle, not to mention having recently been shot three times in the stomach, once in the shoulder (a few days before) and once in the head, and I might add, been in freezing water where he swam over 100 meters underwater, that the hero can stand erect and fire a handgun at a man 150 meters away and hit him in the head. I know people that can't do that with a scoped rifle while lying prone on a blanket. Then there is the NYC adventure. We are told he just spent $1,500 for new clothes (Hugo Boss, I beleive) and then is afraid he might be "out of place" at an evening childrens' concert at Lincoln Center. The concert is being attended by the wives of leaders of nearly every major country and we are to beleive that the combined, NYPD, FBI, Secret Service, etc. has not checked the basement for bombs and a bomber or posted guards at service doors.
Then our (now) uber hero talks his false love (she did him dirty) out of setting off the bombs by saying she is "naive". That's just before he shoots the love of his life (same woman), the woman who will transform him into a peace-loving citizen...probably on the British dole...in the head.
Lastly, he walks around with a large automatic pistol, with an attached silencer in his jacket, pants or suit pocket. Obviously, the author never measured how long (about 15" to 18") and how heavy this armament would be: about 3+ lbs. And, of course, no one is the wiser or notices that his pocket is sagging or his pants are about to fall down.
The reader is oficious and makes the "hero" sound like an unsympathetic prig.
If you want to read a comedy, in the guise of a "serious" novel, then this is for you. Frankly, I wouldn't waste my time, money or credits.
This is NOT an adventure/mystery/spy novel...Period!. It's an elaborate ploy to display the author's knowledge and personal opinions about art history. I found the action hard to believe. We are supposed to believe that Langdon, in the midst of being shot at, pursued and blodgeoned by the bad guys, has the time to give an in-depth explanation of the historical places he is chased through. So (as an example), while chasing the quasi-heroine through a spice market the action is stopped so we can be regaled at length with its ancient beginings. After this lengthy aside, we follow Langdon in his chase. Every immediate action is paused while a detailed description is provided of the arts' provanence. The plot, which is absurd, can be distilled into two paragraphs. If it were, however, no one would bother reading this book. The characters are cardboard cutouts. One would think that the only good sex Langdon may have had was with some ancient fresco. He certainly does not know how to relate to people. He turns out to be gulible and the reader (listener) is supposed to suspend judgment. I give it a pass as a waste of time.
If you wanted to know every bit if minute of an event this is your book. Obviously, the telegram was important in bringing the U.S. into WWI. Somewhere that concept is lost in all of the needless detail. (Or I think it's lost; I couldn't finish the book having been down countless alleys and, after a while, not caring.) It's like someone assigned the author a set number of words and having to meet the quota just filled space (In acamedia it's called research, or trying to impress the teacher.) The story is so circuitous that it's hard following the people, the importance of events and where it's all leading. The narration is horrible! The lady reminds me of the English romance novels my wife listens to. Their diction is so perfect that after a while it sounds like cats fighting in a bag. The narration was so distracting that I found myself purposely tuning it out and missing the gist of the book. Finally, said "enough" and deleted it.
This is an exhaustive history focused entirely on the 8th Air Force during World War II. At times it is exhausting reading. The airmen's stories become intensely personal and many, too many, were consigned to early deaths. Miller goes beyond the statistics in attempting to answer why/how does someone who knows the odds are against him (and his crewmates) from returning home climb into an airplane to bomb Germany and fight off the Luftwaffe. The answer lies in thier willingness to do their duty in the most prosaic way. They simply did their jobs without glory-seeking and lived from day to day. There is no attempt to burnish anyone's image. Miller treats straigtforwardly the lack of a long-range fighter escort and the resulting deaths caused by set minds on outmoded doctirnes and the inability for the top brass to have their minds' changed by the reality on the ground and in the air.
I think the book will be more attractive to those interested in World War II. The author makes some basic assumptions: The reader knows something about European geography, war planes nomenclature and the general progress of the war as it moved from west to east. I recommend it highly. One of the better reads so far (March) this year.
One becomes inured to the vagaries of Washington politics. Many, outside the Beltway, prefer not to have their noses rubbed in it. Sort of not wanting to see how sausages are made. The first half of this book is boring when it rubs one's nose in the minutia of political maneuvering and jockying for position and one-up-manship. Almost every sentence contains the words: "Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall." In the first part you are left with the impression that the only thing that came out of the President's tenure was the Berlin apeach. It appears there were various (numersous?) agencies, departments persons, ad nauseum.that either did not want those words in Reagan's spreech...or did...or maybe some variation; and the author provides not only the official reasons, for or against, but intuited reasons what or what not politicans thought or thought they thought, and so on. It sort of reminds me of a Mozart farce. The author feels the necessity of repeating the five words over and over while comparing the final speach's wording with every conceivable, discarded variation. It portrays, in dreary detail, why Washington is disfunctional.
The second part is worth the listen. (Note the uniform 3 star rating. I rate the first part zero (for boredom) and the second part 4 stars or maybe 4 1/2 stars.) The second part at least gives the President's tenure some perspective. And provides a thumb-nail sketch of what the idea behind those words meant and what they led to. One almost forgets the first part but is on the look-out for repititions sneaking in. On the negative side, I don't think the fact that the Reagans imported a bed from Spain to sleep in, or that Reagan fell off to sleep both times when visiting the Pope add any insight to the demise of the Soviet political and economic system.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.