I have read several books on the Alamein battles in the past, but this is without question the finest.
Most authors concentrate not only on the fighting, but on the controversy surrounding Auchinleck and Montgomery, and almost invariably take sides, supporting one general or the other. Sometimes an author will try to avoid this by concentrating on personal stories and experiences, leaving aside the big picture.
Niall Barr has done neither of these. He has sought to tell the story of an army and its coming of age in the cauldron of battle. The Eighth Army is his central character here and he concentrates on telling the story of the battles and how the army developed and responded through those challenges.
In doing this he does of course touch on the generals and their controversies, and the officers and men, and their stories. However, his narrative is clear and impartial, and the reader will be shown the strengths and weaknesses of all parties, including the Germans, with a clear logic and impartiality. It was this which impressed me most.
Additionally, he goes into great detail about the various components of Eighth Army - infantry, armour, artillery, engineers, armoured recovery teams etc - and details their roles and development in clear and interesting detail. Their responses to technical and tactical challenges are detailed and explained, and the reader can see the faults of the army going into these battles and understand the incremental development and improvements made to turn the army into a true fighting machine. At the end of this book I understood far more than before about the army's inner workings, and such detailed matters as techniques of mine lifting, artillery barrages, infantry tactics and amoured warfare.
The authors clear and lucid dispassionate style explains the Eighth Army struggles at Alamein far better than any previous book I have read. This is a book I would recommend to both the newcomer and the expert, and I can only hope that we will see more of the same from Mr Barr.