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This book, to put it quite simply, is a detailed analysis of the Battle of the Somme which took place in the latter half of 1916, and when I say detailed, boy do I mean it. Philpott doesn't just break down the battle, he uses it as a springboard to break down strategic goals and ideas held throughout the war, from 1914, to 1918, again in detail, as well as a breakdown of how the Battle of the Somme is viewed throughout history, all the way up to 2006, sometimes in mind numbing detail. By framing the Somme in the context of the war as a whole, he offers an insightful view of what was truly accomplished during what is widely considered a parriac victory, if not an actual defeat of British forces during 1916. His analysis and view of the entire Western Front, including the often glossed over role of the French Army, allow for an in depth look at Industrial Warfare and its execution as the Entente armies transitioned into a more modern form of fighting, as well as an example of Attritional Warfare executed in perhaps it's most pure form.
To do this, the book pulls from memoirs and writings of soldiers who fought in and around the battle, as high command officers from both sides in order to create a reasonably complete picture of how the strategic situation was forming and being received, and the political masters who tried to either control the strategic situation. Additionally, Philpott goes into exhaustive detail about troop movements and objectives, and home front politics and reactions to the ongoing war.
In the end it can get to be simply too much information, especially during the troop movements, where it can go on for several minutes in long stretches of listing army groups and corps, and a list of their objectives, mind numbingly too much. However if you're able to look past these stretches, you'll come away with an interesting new view of this battle, and if you've never heard of it, you'll learn a valuable part of history of an important battle that helped shape national identities, if not how the entire world looked at the war.
The narrator, James Adams, is a perfect choice for the job. His English accent and clear concise way of speaking allows him to convey the information in the book without getting tangled up in the long intermingling lists of French, English and German names and is all around pleasant to listen to for long stretches of time, which you'll need because this is a long audio book. He is able to convey the gravity and the breadth of the information without becoming droning or boring, however that is mainly my own opinion, and no doubt there will be those who could fall asleep to the narration.
When all is said and done I'd highly recommend this audiobook, the information is detailed, the subject matter is interesting, and the narrator is excellent. Philpott comes across as a reasonable scholar, debunking misconceptions and outright untruths, while presenting well sourced information and alternative outlooks on this battle based upon facts and the situation as it was viewed at the time.
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Would you consider the audio edition of Three Armies on the Somme to be better than the print version?
I would have liked to have the spellings of the French names and places. The narrator makes a decent effort at pronunciation but falls short in a number of places. If you don't speak French then you may not notice.
Who was your favorite character and why?
The French generals are painted as real people with an analysis of their military effectiveness nicely borne out in the progress of the battle. English accounts of the Somme ignore the vital role of the French.
Which scene was your favorite?
First person accounts are nicely woven into the narrative of the battle as it unfolded
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
By the end of the book whatever conception you had of the Somme battles will be forever changed. I learned quite a bit about weaponry, tactics, and strategy; even having a strong background knowledge of WWI. This book is a must read for anyone wanting to know the intricate details of a WWI battle.
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