Pulitzer Prize, History, 2003
The liberation of Europe and the destruction of the Third Reich is a story of courage and enduring triumph, of calamity and miscalculation. In this first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson shows why no modern learner can understand the ultimate victory of the Allied powers without a grasp of the great drama that unfolded in North Africa in 1942 and 1943. That first year of the Allied war was a pivotal point in American history, the moment when the United States began to act like a great power.
Beginning with the daring amphibious invasion in November 1942, An Army at Dawn follows the American and British armies as they fight the French in Morocco and Algeria, and then take on the Germans and Italians in Tunisia. Battle by battle, an inexperienced and sometimes poorly led army gradually becomes a superb fighting force. Central to the tale are the extraordinary but fallible commanders who come to dominate the battlefield: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, and Rommel.
Brilliantly researched, rich with new material and vivid insights, Atkinson's narrative provides the definitive history of the war in North Africa.
An Army at Dawn is the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for History.
©2002 Rick Atkinson; 2013 Simon and Schuster
Non Fiction Reader
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.
I loved that, for once, The Africa Campaign was shown for what it was: Intense, gruesome struggles, replete with all the terror and drama that illuminates battles like those on the islands of the Pacific in WWII.
I must deduct a star, because this book requires frequent consulting of maps, and I lost a lot by listening, instead of buying hard copy. (To be fair, even hardcopy books often provide sorry maps, tossed in as an afterthought, without serious effort at illustrating towns or topography described in the text.)
I wish Audible, or the publisher, or the author, or somebody would supply a web site that contains maps that one could follow. What a difference that would make!
Rick Atkinson's WWII trilogy has been hailed for the superb way it describes WWII. This praise is deserved. But may I also recommend Michael Shaara's four WWII novels, which I consider as enjoyable and informative as Atkinson's, and less map-dependent? Yes, read Atkinson, but also read Shaara.
I really wanted to soak up this book, I'd never studied WWII in Africa in detail and I was itching to learn about it. But listening to a detailed book about it was not the right approach for me. While very well researched and written, it's a constant barrage of names, places, facts, dates, scenarios..... I simply couldn't keep it all straight in my mind. I think that a book like this is much better read in print, where you can look at maps, stop and let something sink in, remember a person, look up a reference point for clarification, etc.
History enthusiast with military and legal background.
Yes, because it tells the truth and strips the BS away from the history we were taught. We watched movies like Patton and thought the US was amazing in WW2. The reality is that, like in the build up to Iraq, the Americans were naïve. To me, it was stunning to see how ill prepared and clueless we were going into WW2. Thank god we went to Africa first and got our asses kicked, otherwise we would have gone straight to Normandy, lost, and Germany would control Europe still today.
I will listen to any thing he narrates. He is the best!
I was so happy to see that this book was released in an unabridged version. This is narrative history at its best. The stories of the men and their sacrifice (and in some cases faults) is mesmerizing to read. Cannot wait for the third book of the trilogy to be released.
The book delves deep into operation Torch and the campaign for Tunisia, the African "Stalingrad" for the Axis in Europe. Sometimes too deep... do I need squad level tactics in an engagement of 4 armies, 5 nations and hundreds of thousands of men?
Maybe I do. The letters to home, newspaper articles and diary articles make this a first person account. A couple of characters emerge, Patton, Eisenhower, but the picture of the US soldier is most clear. "Learning to hate", learning to fight, learning to be an army,
When Patton orders his division commander to personally lead a hill assault leading to a needless and serious wound, I wondered what causes someone to be a hero to history versus a villain.
When the British and US finally started to roll, overcoming Kaserien Pass, I decided the next book would be first on my list of books to listen to next.
Beautifully written with abundant use of primary sources. The author ties the beginning and end to the story of the 34th Division from Iowa, whose members could be from any Midwestern state.
If you like WWII history, you will not regret getting this book. Both the writing and the performance come together to emerse the reader in the entire conflict in North Africa, from the the day to day perspective of soldiers fighting the battles, to the personalities and trials of the high command as the Allies made the first large scale effort to defeat the Axis.
I can manage history fairly well on recorded books. One thing that helps is a good narrator. I found this book by looking for books with George Guidall as narrator and I was pleased. I followed this book with the second undertaking from Mr. Atkinson focused on Italy and Sicily; not a happy outcome. Different narrator maybe or because I had a less understanding about the Italian effort. I'm taking a break and will pick up the third volume sometime early next year. One issue is that I couldn't keep track of the terrain and disposition. I may need to read these books in text format with illustrations that could help in finding my place.
This colorful narrative history, filled with memorable details, entranced me for several weeks on my daily walks home from work, and a lot of the pleasure is due to George Guidall's extremely powerful delivery. It's so effective that I've actually gone and bought a few other books he's done (and he's done quite a lot); his reading of "Winesburg, Ohio," for example, is very skillful. I'm a bit disappointed that Guidall was not assigned the remaining two books in this Rick Atkinson WW2 trilogy; in fact, for some reason, the publishers have used three different readers, which seems rather a shame.
My only criticism of Guidall's delivery is that he indicates he's quoting someone by altering his voice to a sort of emphatic, choleric bark, and it has the effect of making all the men he's quoting sound pretty much the same, like a sort of impatient, peppery martinet, even if that characterization may not always be appropriate. But short of announcing "Quote" and "Close quote" aloud, which seems to be taboo, no one has come up with a perfect solution for indicating, in audiobooks, when words are suddenly being quoted. At least Guidall hasn't gone in for a variety of exaggerated accents, which some readers (frustrated actors?) attempt and which can be quite jarring.
As has often been pointed out in these Audible comments, it's difficult to absorb military history like this solely in audio, due to the many names and foreign place names; and yes, one does greatly miss the maps and photographs of a printed book. Yet I have to say that I own the third volume of the Atkinson trilogy -- "The Guns at Last Light" -- and though I read it with great admiration, I got bogged down halfway through and indeed have not yet finished it. For some of us, it's just easier in terms of time and energy to listen to these books on tape. If I'd tried to read "An Army at Dawn" in print, I'd probably have laid it aside, albeit with the intention of picking it up again sometime in the future.
A final note: A lot of my reading in recent years involves the war, but I knew very little about the North African campaign, the subject of this book. I therefore read a number of the Amazon comments, many of them critical (despite the book's having won the Pulitzer!), many of them by WW2 buffs who sound like they know what they're talking about. One frequent criticism seems to be that Atkinson is too hard on the U.S. military, too disparaging, too prone to dwell on the Army's mistakes. That may very well be true; I don't like writers who snipe at the military (always an easy target when one is comfortably far from the battlefield), yet I have to admit that what sticks in my mind is the appalling number of screw-ups, snafus, and needless deaths in the campaign due to carelessness or bad generalship or lack of communication between U.S. and British troops. (As someone -- Eric Larrabee? -- noted, the green, hastily assembled U.S. troops needed "a place to be lousy in.") Maybe the impression the book leaves is not balanced, but those examples of things going terribly wrong were undeniably eye-openers for me, or at least reminders of how easily, in combat, the lives of brave young men can be sacrificed for things that, in retrospect, look pretty stupid. The book did not turn me into a pacifist, by any means, but I suppose it served as a slight corrective and -- on the continuum that has, say, "Sergeant York" at one end and cynical works like "All Quiet" and "Catch-22" on the other -- it probably moved me one step closer to the latter end. It certainly made me very, very grateful that I've never known war, and grateful to my father, who did.
So well voiced, so we'll written and such and amazing tale that kudos go to everyone involved in this book and the audio production. Making the war seem at once personal and grand Rick Atkinson has a wealth of detail and the most amazingly beautiful way of writing about what a life changing war this was for all parties involved be they nations or Iowan pharmacy clerks. A must listen for those with even a fleeting desire to know more about the war, but be sure to have a map handy!
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