The Liberator

One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau
Narrated by: Fred Sanders
Length: 11 hrs and 2 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (848 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The true story of the bloodiest and most dramatic march to victory of the Second World War: the battlefield odyssey of a maverick U.S. Army officer and his infantry unit as they fought for over five hundred days to liberate Europe - from the invasion of Italy to the gates of Dachau.

From July 10, 1943, the date of the Allied landing in Sicily, to May 8, 1945, when victory in Europe was declared - the entire time it took to liberate Europe - no regiment saw more action, and no single platoon, company, or battalion endured worse, than the ones commanded by Felix Sparks, who had entered the war as a greenhorn second lieutenant of the 157th "Eager for Duty" Infantry Regiment of the 45th "Thunderbird" Division. Sparks and his fellow Thunderbirds fought longest and hardest to defeat Hitler, often against his most fanatical troops, when the odds on the battlefield were even and the fortunes of the Allies hung in the balance - and when the difference between defeat and victory was a matter of character, not tactics or armor.

Drawing on extensive interviews with Sparks and dozens of his men, as well as over five years of research in Europe and in archives across the US, historian Alex Kershaw masterfully recounts one of the most inspiring and heroic journeys in military history. Over the course of four amphibious invasions, Sparks rose from captain to colonel as he battled from the beaches of Sicily through the mountains of Italy and France, ultimately enduring bitter and desperate winter combat against the diehard SS on the Fatherland's borders. Though he lost all of his company to save the Allied beach-head at Anzio and an entire battalion in the dark forests of the Vosges, Sparks miraculously survived the long bloody march across Europe and was selected to lead a final charge to Bavaria to hunt down Adolf Hitler.

In the dying days of the Third Reich, Sparks and his men crossed the last great barrier in the West, the Rhine, only to experience some of the most intense street fighting and close combat suffered by Americans in WWII. When they finally arrived at the gates of Dachau, Hitler's first and most notorious concentration camp, the Thunderbirds confronted scenes that robbed the mind of reason. With victory within grasp, Sparks confronted the ultimate test of his humanity: after all he had faced, could he resist the urge to wreak vengeance on the men who had caused untold suffering and misery?

Written with the narrative drive and vivid immediacy of Kershaw's previous best-selling books about American infantrymen in WWII, The Liberator is a story for the ages, an intensely human and dramatic account of one of history's greatest warriors and his unheralded role in America's finest achievement - the defeat of Nazi Germany.

©2012 Alex Kershaw (P)2012 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"[Kershaw] is a captivating narrator, hammering home the chaos and carnage of war, sparing no sensory detail to paint a cohesive picture. [His] portrayal of his subject (based on interviews with Sparks, who died in 2007, and other survivors) makes for a riveting, almost epic tale of a larger-than-life, underappreciated figure." ( Publishers Weekly)
"This engrossing wartime narrative offers a fresh look at the European campaign and an intimate sense of the war’s toll on individual participants." ( Kirkus Reviews)
"A searing, brilliantly told story of the heroism and horror of war, Alex Kershaw's The Liberator is a book that's impossible to put down. A must read for anyone who loved Band of Brothers." (Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London)

What members say

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Now I Know What a Hero Really Is

I listened to this book having read a number of very engaging books about WWII. As a 47 year old male who never experienced war, I am fascinated by the bravery of men like Sparks who experienced brutality and bravery on a scale seldom matched.

Listening to this book while driving in my car to work, I found myself for the first time understanding the pain and sacrifice of men who moved toward danger and fought for an ideal. I cannot fathom what it was like on the beaches, caves and in the most terrifying situations but I can understand that these men are special and for that no amount of gratitude comes even close to thanking them.

The book really hit home when Sparks and his men liberated Dachau. With absolutely no frame of reference to see this living nightmare, it is no wonder that any of these men could even articulate what transpired. When one of the soldiers said "now I know what we were fighting against", nothing could have connected the dots better regarding the need to fight such an evil.

To anyone who wants to understand what war is like and look up to men who are real heroes...please listen to this book.

19 people found this helpful

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The Good and Bad of the Human character

Would you consider the audio edition of The Liberator to be better than the print version?

Sorry never read the print version

What did you like best about this story?

Despite being in hellish situations the good of men can come to fore

Have you listened to any of Fred Sanders’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

no

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not a chance

13 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Expected much more

Could you see The Liberator being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

No.

Any additional comments?

I chose this book based on the marketing blurb. I expected a personal account of one man's 500 days. I got a high level recounting of the Allied Italian campaign, interspersed with a few personal recollections. What annoyed me the most were the "suppositions". Unable to say exactly what Sparks actually experienced, the narrative uses assumptions. "He probably spent the night scared." If I was being unkind, I would say this book perfectly shows the vast gulf between a general staff officer's view of battle and reality on the front lines. Except he was on the front lines. The book just doesn't have enough facts to tell the front line story. If you have not read Atkinson's wonderful book on the North African and Italian campaign, or if you have not read much about the second world war, or if you have not read really good personal accounts, then this will likely be entertaining and informative. As for me, I stopped reading half way through, because the book was not sharing any new information, it was omitting any details ("they survived that night's furious assault by defending themselves vigorously"), and it just wasn't interesting as a "personal account of one man's 500 days".

10 people found this helpful

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All for the PEACE & FREEDOM we enjoy today.

If you could sum up The Liberator in three words, what would they be?

Poignant, Gripping and Unfathomable Bravery.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Felix Sparks. Although he entered the war as a greenhorn, he had good tactics and commanding skills to lead a regiment that saw more action and endured worse than any other regiment or battalion in the history of WWII...not forgetting his LUCK to see it through to the end.

What about Fred Sanders’s performance did you like?

Fred Sanders is the great narrator by far. I really admired his ability to change his voice and play multiple characters with their corresponding accents. He is too good and I appreciate him reading this book.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Sparks loosing all his 230 men; all of whom he knew very well, scenes about strong men reaching their breaking point and becoming non-functional in the war again, young soldiers committing suicide when the war starts because of fear they had never experienced before, and brave good men dying after taking out a lot of Krauts all made me feel like crying......but was able to hold back.

Any additional comments?

This book has really broadened my scope on WWII and really want more books like this. It's a book you can hardly put away and wish for more chapters. I really didn't want this book to end and right now that I'm done with it, really feel like starting it again. It's a never forgetting story of bravery and all the men who laid down their lives to make the world a better place. God bless their souls and God bless us. We pray for such events NEVER to happen again in the history of Mankind.

13 people found this helpful

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Bait and switch

The subject matter of this book is very worthwhile. Colonel Sparks’ life and service are truly impressive and inspiring. Unfortunately, the author couldn’t resist using that material as fodder for an extremely disingenuous partisan hit job. The last few chapters devolve into a disappointing piece of misguided activism.

3 people found this helpful

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Good story. Gets too political at the end.

I really enjoyed this book up until the last half hour or so. Most of the book is an account of one man’s experience during World War 2, the last half hour is left wing anti gun propaganda.

3 people found this helpful

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Great book, but bashes NRA at the end

The author takes a moving war story/memoir and tarnishes it at the end by attacking the NRA to make a political statement that they are Evil.....What a shame

3 people found this helpful

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informative and inspiring

What did you love best about The Liberator?

The book describes the depressing horrors of war, and it was hard at times to hear about how hard it was--for both Allies and Germans. I found the story of General Sparks and his experience of WWII ultimately inspiring and worth reading. You really get a sense of what it was like for him and the soldiers under his command. I had not heard of him before this book, and realize now what a great general and leader he was. My father was on the front lines in Europe and although toward the end of his life I was eventually able to get him to open up and share some of his experiences, this book really made it more clear to me just how tough it was for him. I have a new appreciation for the men and women who fought in that war.

3 people found this helpful

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Wonderful Book! Must read for all Coloradoans.

Would you consider the audio edition of The Liberator to be better than the print version?

Yes

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Liberator?

The end was so touching.

Have you listened to any of Fred Sanders’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

no

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Many

Any additional comments?

It was wonderful to learn about some of the history of my state and the many sacrifices made during WWII.

3 people found this helpful

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Brave man. End was a liberal trash heap for sure.<br />

Sparks showed great courage. I definitely disagree with some of his world view and probably much of the authors as well.

2 people found this helpful

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  • peter
  • 09-26-19

Bullet dodging Maverick

This was an epic story about an exceptional leader of men. having served in a post (WW2) army, I was always amazed what these young men (Lt Col at 26) achieved.
The last few tragic chapters regarding felix's life and battles seemed so unfare.

Read it and weep...

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-10-18

brilliant makes the time disappear

the boy who cared .such knowledge now lost to the world.
If we were all like this then maybe wars would not happen.

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  • jules phillips
  • 08-25-16

One of my top 10

Great man. Incredible story. Nicely narrated. To put it simply, I was captivated from the beaches of Sicily to the very end of the story.

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  • alan
  • 09-29-15

unrecognisable courage

the selfless acts and fearlessness that this leader of men shown both during and post war should be shown and used as an educational tool to help a new generation realise how people can and should care for one another.
A fantastic book which made me change my own priorities in life
Brilliant

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  • Adam Webb
  • 04-21-16

Stunning

This book is completely and utterly engrossing. It is simply one of the best accounts I've encountered. Sparks fought through 500 days of hell on earth that I just can't imagine. Even though the book revolves around the war, the pre and post war narratives are equally interesting. I find the ending poignant. The narration is excellent although Sanders' accents aren't the best. The book provides an interesting and new perspective through which to view the SS that I had not really considered before. I always find it difficult to reconcile the fact that young men were plucked from the best years of their lives, were required to do ungodly things, yet after victory they were simply returned to society from whence they came. This book encapsulates the lifelong trauma that accompanied these men.

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  • Geoff Alford
  • 08-21-19

Typically American

Originally sounded great but upon listening closely enough I kind of came up with the same conclusion his General did. Just a very lucky guy who didn’t seem to mind getting his guys into hopeless situations and not exactly in control usually. Getting an Aviators name scratched off the return to the US manifest to put your own on it when you’re in charge of that is not exactly heroic either. I’m sure that guys family wanted to see him too. If that’s the type of person you want to hear about then listen to this book.