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It is the 20th century's unrivaled epic: At a staggering price, the United States and its allies liberated Europe and vanquished Hitler. In the first two volumes of his best-selling Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson recounted the history of how the American-led coalition fought its way from North Africa and Italy to the threshold of victory. Now he tells the most dramatic story of all - the titanic battle in Western Europe.
D-Day marked the commencement of the war's final campaign, and Atkinson's astonishingly fresh account of that enormous gamble sets the pace for the masterly narrative that follows. The brutal fight in Normandy, the liberation of Paris, the disaster that was Market Garden, the horrific Battle of the Bulge, and finally the thrust to the heart of the Third Reich - all these historic moments come utterly alive. Atkinson tells the tale from the perspective of participants at all levels, from presidents and prime ministers to ambitious generals, from war-weary lieutenants to terrified teenage riflemen. When Germany at last surrenders, we understand anew both the devastating cost of this global conflagration and the awe-inspiring effort that led to Germany's surrender.
With the stirring final volume of this monumental trilogy, Rick Atkinson's remarkable accomplishment is manifest. He has produced the definitive chronicle of the war that restored freedom to the West. His lively, occasionally lyric prose brings the vast theater of battle, from the beaches of Normandy deep into Germany, brilliantly alive. It is hard to imagine a better history of the western front's final phase.
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By David I. Williams on 05-25-13
Well Written Overview
It seems that we will never run out of new books about World War II. That is not a bad thing. World War II saw more combatants than any other war in history. It affected a large percentage of the world’s population. Much of the war was fought between literate soldiers, officers, and civilians on both sides. This has left us with a mountain of material. Every author has his own reading and prejudices that he brings to the study. This means that we will receive many different views of the same subject. Rick Atkinson’s The Guns At Last Light: The War In Western Europe, 1944-1945, brings us his view of the war. The book starts with the invasion plans for Normandy. Atkinson goes in to a lot of detail about the logistical troubles that the allies had to prepare for what would be the largest amphibious assault in history. The information on D-Day itself and the Normandy campaign is very comprehensive, but not overwhelming with minutiae. The author points out the successes and failures of the campaign. One of the great failures was the lack of preparation by the commanders for dealing with the hedgerow country.
Many books on the campaign in France tend to focus on the Normandy campaign and the subsequent breakout. There was a subsequent invasion of the south of France known as Operation Dragoon. Atkinson spends a good deal of time talking about Dragoon. He also spends a lot of time discussing Operation Market Garden. Market Garden was one of the more controversial campaigns of the war and it is covered quite well here. One of the reasons Eisenhower was willing to try Market Garden was the need to stop the new rockets that Germany had developed. First the V1 then the V2 rockets were causing a lot of havoc in London. The other reason was the need to gain Antwerp. Logistics was a nightmare for the Allied force. The port in Antwerp would significantly increase the supply capacity.
The Battle of the Bulge is portrayed in the book as the greatest failure of Allied intelligence during the war. The Battle is portrayed in very vivid scenes. This section contains some of Atkinson’s best prose. One can almost feel the cold when reading the book.
Atkinson spends a lot of time discussing generals who are not as well known to the general reader. Almost everyone has heard of Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and Montgomery. Here we also get to see generals like Roosevelt, Truscott, Hodges, Devers, and others. Atkinson is obviously not a fan of Omar Bradley and never passes up a chance to criticize him. He tries to be fair to Montgomery, but it is hard. I’m not sure that it is possible to portray Montgomery accurately and in a positive light. There are a lot of stories about the British intrigues against Eisenhower. The British never approved and never understood Ike’s large front strategy. They always favored a narrow front with a heavy strike force. Of course they also wanted Monty in charge of it. Eisenhower knew better. Ike favored the same kind of battle order that Grant used in the Civil War. He knew that the Germans simply didn’t have the manpower to hold the entire front.
The Malta and Yalta conferences are the subject of a chapter and they help to set the stage for the end of the war. It is interesting to see the interaction of the three leaders (Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin) as the decide the fate of Europe in the post-war. The section on the liberation of the concentration camps is also very well done and very interesting. I was intrigued to lean that at Buchenwald American troops and officers took it on themselves to kill a number of SS troops who surrendered. The only really weak point in the book occurs here. Atkinson seems outraged by the actions of the American troops and seems them as simply murderers. His language gives the impression that it makes them no better than the SS thugs that they killed. I think that the context certainly gives the lie to any such moral equivalency. The GIs were well aware that the SS had massacred American POWs during the Battle of the Bulge. Now they see this fresh hell and in front of them are the men who committed the atrocities. I doubt that any of the soldiers who took part in the executions slept poorly over what they did.
That one criticism aside this is an excellent book. Atkinson’s style is easy to read and the information is presented in such a way that the average reader will not be overwhelmed. He tries on the whole to give a thorough look at the campaign and the players. This should not be the only book that you read on this subject, but it is a book that you should read.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
By Craig on 12-28-13
Zoom Goes the War…Where are the People?
Unlike Atkinson's first two extraordinary treatises on North Africa and Italy, The Guns of Last Light lacks previous compelling and well-developed personalities. Yes, the usual and important historical figures are there (Patton, Bradley, Ike, and Audie Murphy), it's just that they are lost in the details of Arden, The Bulge, and D-Day. And, this is why I was not enthralled with this historical fiction/non-fiction.
In the first two books we saw into individuals and their thinking, with all the appropriate disclaimers about 'this might have been said, but we don't know for sure.' In "Guns at Last Light" the author strays from risk-taking and speculative history to recite the facts and dates of battles already familiar to previous readers of WWII history. I felt like I was taking a military history course at an academy while listening to this final installment of Atkinson's trilogy.
Sooo…would I recommend this final installment? Yes, if you are new to WWII history, but No if you already know what happened before and after the allies crossed the Rhine.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful