Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Off Topic: The Guns At Last Light (Book)
This book, by Rick Atkinson, is the last in his trilogy about the U.S. Army in Europe in World War Two. Atkinson fans have been waiting for it for a long time: the second volume was published in 2007. The Guns At Last Light was well worth the wait. It covers the period from D-Day to V.E. Day.
Atkinson is an exhaustive researcher and a fine writer. He regularly brings in what the war looked like from the German side. He doesn't just mention the Allies' difficulties with logistics and strategy, he explains them. He gives a full account of the campaigns in southern France--something often glossed-over in Eisenhower-centric books. His portrayals of Eisenhower's difficulties in "herding cats" (Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley) and Ike's own limitations are first rate. His eye for vivid and telling detail is superb. He moves back and forth with ease between the General Staff level and the experience of grunts and civilians. The maps are excellent: legible, and everything mentioned in the text can be found on them. (It's surprising how often that's not the case.)
Writing broad, deep, and readable narrative history is not easy. Add Rick Atkinson to the short list of historians who's work is page-turning and first rate scholarship. I used to buy anything Barbara Tuchman wrote: I trusted her instincts for a good subject, and knew she would make it interesting. Now that Atkinson is finished with his World War Two trilogy, I'd love to see him try a subject other than, or only indirectly related to, military history. But I'll keep reading him as long as he keeps writing.