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.
This book is confounding. More than once I was tempted to chuck it and start another book. The story line is frequently interrupted with religious (Christian, Islamis and Jewish) reflections. At times it's infuriating. It's not just private musings but whole sections of the spies introspection with copious quotes from scripture, more introspection,more copious quotes of scripture and so on.
The end leaves one hanging...possibly for a sequel (and more internal ruminations). In many ways it's difficult to square a book about nuclear weapons, imminent destruction of the mid-east and a spy's reflections on biblical ad infinitum quotations and personal introspections, personal salvation while planning and killing the killing or an enemy..
I liked the reader
You must keep you wits about you when reading/lsitening to this book. There are a lot of characters with real and code names and since they are double and sometimes triple agents there are also those respective code names to keep a handle on. (This is especially trying when listening to the book in driving segments and often having to cut off a narrative in mid-sentence). I found myself listening in terms of the big picture rather than recalling all the names.
The fact is that the British were able to completely confuse the Germans into thinking the D-Day invasion was to take place at the Pas-de-Calias and not in Normandy. And then after the actual invasion convincing the Germans that Normandy was only a faint. I was not aware how harrowing their missions were and that these double agents had to return to enemy controlled territories in order to maintain the ruse and their cover stories. The delightful part of the story is the types of personalities that made up the double-cross networks. Each had to be treated carefully by their case officers who had to make sure that each of their agent's misinformation reinforced the others in such a sublte way as to make the Germans reach the exact conclusions they were supposed to. The book also touches on the treachery of the Cambridge Five who betrayed Britain's secrets to the Soviet Union.
It's a unique, compartmentalized, side-show into what led up to the D-Day landings. But these colorful characters were, in their own world, responsible for saving the lives of thousands af Americans, British, Canadian and French troops on June 6, 1944.
The book is about one journalist's experiences dealing with the buracracy of a failing city. He sees firsthand the entrenched corruption that made Detroit fail. It's not a question of race, but most of the bad actors are African-Americans who consistently take advantage of the most poor and vulnerable of thier own race. They do this by outright stealing of money or shifting funds to favored beneficieries who then kick the money back to them. Most know they are doing it, and further, know the consequences, but they live in a world removed from public service while pledging to do good.
We learn of firemen who have to manufacture their own alarms so they can respond to fires. Of firefighting equipment that doesn't work leading to fatalities. Of policemen who have to take buses to respond to emergency calls; that is if they even bother to show up. And ambulances that may, or may not, respond to emergency calls becasue they are so over burdened.
The author clearly gives his perspective but in doing so he also creates important insights. There is a lesson too: this can happen to other cities. Today we talk about our crumbling infrastructure but how can it not happen when most of governments' money goes to pay for current consumption, i.e. entitlements and not on capital improvements. Today we live in a "me first" environment and point fingers when something cathastrophic occurs becasue we don't want to give up on our own selfish priorities. That what "Detroit" is all about.
I bought this book because I am am going on a 70th Anniversary Band of Brothers tour. I saw the series and have a good knowledge of WWII history. This book takes the listener to the micro level. The problem is that it becomes too personal about the author's own experiences visiting the places where Easy company fought.. He does a good job of describing what the men felt and did. But he gets hung up on telling us how reality differs from the TV series. He is traveling with one of the survivors of Easy company: Forest Gootz. Alexander treats Gootz and the definitive expert on what really happened. While I'm sure they had an enjoyable trip together, I found it repetitive hearing about where they stayed, what they ate and Gootz' smoking cigars. In short, I think the writing could have been more crisp, focused and less subjective. As for my trip, I'm not sure that I have any greater insights as to how the battlefields differ today than they did 70 years ago. I took it for granted that some of the places would be developed and no longer appear as they did in 1944 to 1945.
No one knows how they will react to the trauma that Carl Hedinger under went when his partner was killed and he narrowly escaped. The perpertarors were two psychotic killers and everyday nobodies. The most interesting part of the book, to me, is the legal morass that caused trial reversals and delays and how lawyers play the system. The only conclusion that you can take away is that there is a clear division between law and justice. If the (defense) lawyers can play the system and delay long enough then no will really care that a human life was snubbed out by the two killers on trial.
The most tedious part was listening to the travails of Hedinger. He was undergoing what, today, is referred to a PTSD. At times you want to reach out and grab him and yell, "get a grip on your life." For this, I think, the author, gives too much credibility to Hedinger's emotions. Wambaugh does a good job of objectively discussing the legal system but, I think, for whatever reason, becomes emotionally committed to Hedinger and too fully sympathizes with him. I think he was susceptable to this disorder prior to the events in the onion field.. (I've known some people who claim PTSD and I beleive if someone had not come up with this disorder then they would have had to invent it as a rationale for their's and others' failures.) I got tired of hearing how Hedinger wallowed in his own sense of guilt for having lived. It reminds me of 60's psycho-babble.
It is for my own sense of unease and inability to "turn the page" that I give the story a 3-star rating.
I thought the humor forced, the characters unbelievable and the story farfetched. It read to me as if Hiaasen's publisher demanded something, anything, in writing and he wasn't in the "mood". I didn't laugh once...a slight snicker at times on a phrase. until I remembered that I read it in one of his previous books. Disappointing. Not up to Hiaasen's earlier works. Maybe working at the newspaper has caused him to loose some of his style.
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.
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