Battle: The Story of the Bulge by John Toland

Battle: The Story of the Bulge by John TolandBattle: The Story of the Bulge by John Willard Toland, Carlo D'Este
Published by Bison Books on April 1st 1999
Genres: History
Pages: 400
Format: Audiobook

"The perspective of 15 years, painstaking research, thousands of interviews, extensive analysis and evaluation, and the creative talent of John Toland [paint] the epic struggle on an immense canvas. . . . Toland writes with the authority of a man who was there. . . . He tastes the bitterness of defeat of those who surrendered and writes as if he had the benefit of the eyes and ears of soldiers and generals on the other side of the line. . . . If you could read only one book to understand generals and GIs and what their different wars were like this is the book."-Chicago Sunday Tribune John Toland has written numerous books on World War II, including Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath. Carlo D'Este is the author of Patton: A Genius for War and other works.

Battle is a book about the so-called Battle of the Bulge, a campaign during the Second World War, which was something of a last gasp for the Nazis. The author takes us down to ground level, sometimes below, and into the lives of the real people who are taking part in this battle, as well as civilians trapped in the firing line.

The Ardennes campaign is probably one of the areas of the second world which I know very little, although I have Antony Beevor’s book on my reading pile, somehow this came across my desk before I got to it. I think it’s important to consider that books are often a product of their time, and although I was listening to an Audiobook which was published in the 2000s, the original was published in the 1950s.

The reason for saying that is, Battle is something of an exercise in American triumphalism. Although the author devotes large sections of the book to peering into the lives of the German soldiers and civilians, this is clearly a book about Americans at war. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t just the Americans doing the fighting, but somehow the only Other Allies who rates a mention are Field Marshall Montgomery. One might be under the impression that it was down to the Americans to do the fighting, the dying, and ultimately the winning of the battle.

With that being said, Battle is an impressive work of narrative non-fiction, and the author does a great job of connecting with, and portraying the lives, loves and fears of the real fighting men on the ground. By telling small stories in the way he does, Toland is able to give a swense of the fear and chaos which was ever-present in battle.

Battle is relentless in its pacing, but does take the time to explore the countryside through which the armies are rampaging. As a student of history, I found this to be a very engaging and personal story, which is extremely accessible, even for those with little knowledge of the period. I would have preferred a less myopic look at the allied nations, but there are other books, which may add to the conversation.

An excellent read.

Rating Report
Overall: four-stars

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