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A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front [Paperback]

MR Winston Groom
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 April 2003
"A Storm in Flanders" is novelist and prizewinning historian Winston Groom's gripping history of the four-year battle for Ypres in Belgian Flanders, the pivotal engagement of World War I that would forever change the way the world fought -- and thought about -- war. In 1914, Germany launched an invasion of France through neutral Belgium -- and brought the wrath of the world upon itself. Ypres became a place of horror, heroism, and terrifying new tactics and technologies: poison gas, tanks, mines, air strikes, and the unspeakable misery of trench warfare. Drawing on the journals of the men and women who were there, Winston Groom has penned a breathtaking drama of politics, strategy, and the human heart.


Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press; Reprint edition (7 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139986
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 822,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"At a time when patriotizm is strong among Americans, it would be good to read this entertaining and instructive narrative."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Forests have been sawed down for the paper to explain the origins of the First World War; historians argue and debate it still. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ambrose for World War I 21 Feb 2004
Format:Hardcover
I have a long-standing interest in history in general and military history in particular. After reading dozens if not hundreds of these books, I have found that the ones that stick with me are the ones that are beautifully written.
"A Storm in Flanders" is such a book, focusing on the British experience in the Ypres Salient during World War I. Groom wrote "Forrest Gump," as well as several history books. He knows how to put a sentence together and how to tell a gripping story. Once I picked this book up and started reading, I was hooked.
Much as Stephen Ambrose did in his elegant books about World War II, Groom moves seamlessly between the generals in their chateaus and the grunts in their trenches. He makes use of diaries and poetry to tell the human story of a struggle that is all too often reduced to an abstract description of maneuver and battle. And he is very fair in his assessments--he acknowledges the criticisms of General Haig and many of the other leaders of the war, but he is always careful to balance these views with other considerations. The result is a well-told tale, fair and sympathetic to everyone involved.
The story of the Ypres Salient is not pretty. Groom does not pull his punches and does his best to give the reader, sitting in a comfortable armchair, some sense of just how horrible the Great War was.
How anyone could live and fight in such conditions without going mad is simply beyond my comprehension, yet many British, French and German soldiers managed to do just that for four years running. Groom doesn't delve too deeply into the psychology of the soldiers, observing that "the search for 'why' and 'how' remains elusive and any effort to reason it out is to fashion a mirror of hell itself.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Winston Groom's latest historical work 'A Storm in Flanders', offers the reader an interesting and satisfying overview of the fighting around the Ypres Salient between 1914 and 1918. The book is 276 pages in length of which over 260 is text. This account cannot be considered comprehensive in its study of the Ypres Salient in the Great War, for that you will need to look elsewhere. However what Mr Groom does offer is a compelling look at the numerous battles fought around the Ypres Salient, including one of the most dreadful battles of World War One, Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres.
The author has attempted to give you, the reader, an insight into the lives of the soldier huddled in his wet trench under constant artillery fire, where thousands of soldiers lost their lives in daily 'wastage', even during quiet periods. The story is told mainly from the British point of view, with numerous first-hand accounts offered throughout the book. The narrative is fast paced and you never get tired or bored with the story. I have read many books on the Great War and I never cease to wonder why these brave men endured what they did and for so long.
The author provides the reader with details about the introduction of new weapons of destruction unleashed for the first time during the Great War. Stories of how poisons gas was utilized by the Germans and then the Allies, followed by accounts of the victims and witnesses to the effects of gas are truly horrendous. Then follows the introduction massive underground mines and the flame-thrower to combat the trench systems and machine gun posts of the enemy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A good clear exposition 30 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent book which simplifies the conflict around Ypres and makes a fairly complex and confusing set of events understandable. The author is American and so maybe he can review the events with a little more detachment than the numerous English authors he follows.

He handles the conflict between the English generals well, and follows the changes in both British and German tactics with clarity.

I have read most books on this conflict and this is one of the most readable and informative.

A nicely produced book with excellent photos and maps.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book....... 29 Jan 2009
Format:Hardcover
If you want to read about the British Army in Flanders in World War 1, then this is the book for you. Absolutely superb.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  64 reviews
55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ambrose for Word War I 22 Jun 2002
By William Holmes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have a long-standing interest in history in general and military history in particular. After reading dozens if not hundreds of these books, I have found that the ones that stick with me are the ones that are beautifully written.
"A Storm in Flanders" is such a book, focusing on the British experience in the Ypres Salient during World War I. Groom wrote "Forrest Gump," as well as several history books. He knows how to put a sentence together and how to tell a gripping story. Once I picked this book up and started reading, I was hooked.
Much as Stephen Ambrose has done in his elegant books about World War II, Groom moves seamlessly between the generals in their chateaus and the grunts in their trenches. He makes use of diaries and poetry to tell the human story of a struggle that is all too often reduced to an abstract description of maneuver and battle. And he is very fair in his assessments--he acknowledges the criticisms of General Haig and many of the other leaders of the war, but he is always careful to balance these views with other considerations. The result is a well-told tale, fair and sympathetic to everyone involved.
The story of the Ypres Salient is not pretty. Groom does not pull his punches and does his best to give the reader, sitting in a comfortable armchair, some sense of just how horrible the Great War was. In a passage that I found especially memorable, Groom quotes Lieutenant Alfred J. Angel of the Royal Fusiliers during Third Ypres: "The stench was horrible, for the bodies were not corpses in the normal sense. With all the shell-fire and bombardments they'd been continually disturbed, and the whole place was a mess of filth and slime and bones and decomposing bits of flesh."
How anyone could live and fight in this hell on earth without going mad is simply beyond my comprehension, yet many British, French and German soldiers managed to do just that for four years running. Groom doesn't delve too deeply into the psychology of the soldiers, observing that "the search for 'why' and 'how' remains elusive and any effort to reason it out is to fashion a mirror of hell itself." He is probably right in saying that "[a] truly sobering thing would be a glimpse of what was actually going on in their minds during the fighting. That would not only be sobering; it would be perfectly frightening."
If you like a "A Storm in Flanders," I would recommend two other books. The first is "Face of Battle" by John Keegan, which tries to explain how soldiers keep fighting despite the horrors of war and the threat of instant death. The second is Sir Martin Gilbert's "The First World War," which describes the entire war using a relentless chronology that is truly compelling. Neither of these books is as well written as Groom's "A Storm in Flanders," but both are well worth the effort to read.
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Introduction to the Fighting around Ypres during WW1 21 July 2002
By Aussie Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Winston Groom's latest historical work 'A Storm in Flanders', offers the reader an interesting and satisfying overview of the fighting around the Ypres Salient between 1914 and 1918. The book is 276 pages in length of which over 260 is text. This account cannot be considered comprehensive in its study of the Ypres Salient in the Great War, for that you will need to look elsewhere. However what Mr Groom does offer is a compelling look at the numerous battles fought around the Ypres Salient, including one of the most dreadful battles of World War One, Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres.
The author has attempted to give you, the reader, an insight into the lives of the soldier huddled in his wet trench under constant artillery fire, where thousands of soldiers lost their lives in daily 'wastage', even during quiet periods. The story is told mainly from the British point of view, with numerous first-hand accounts offered throughout the book. The narrative is fast paced and you never get tired or bored with the story. I have read many books on the Great War and I never cease to wonder why these brave men endured what they did and for so long.
The author provides the reader with details about the introduction of new weapons of destruction unleashed for the first time during the Great War. Stories of how poisons gas was utilized by the Germans and then the Allies, followed by accounts of the victims and witnesses to the effects of gas are truly horrendous. Then follows the introduction of massive underground mines and the flame-thrower to combat the trench systems and machine gun posts of the enemy. The author doesn't spare you the details of what happened to men during the fighting in the trenches and the terrible affects of an artillery bombardment or a underground mine exploding under a trench packed with soldiers.
The beauty of this book is that it really gives you an idea what these poor men, from both sides of the conflict, had to live through. The oft told story about Lieutenant General Kiggell viewing the battlefield after Passchendaele fell, breaking down into tears, crying out "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that." still saddens me, regardless of how many times I read it.
If nothing else this, book will offer the first time reader of the fighting around Ypres a good understanding of the terrible battles fought there and will entice many to follow up with further reading. As such I can recommend many good titles to follow through on with for those who may be interested:
'In Flanders Fields' by Leon Wolff
'They Called it Passchendaele' by Lyn MacDonald
'Passchendaele: The Untold Story' by Robin Prior & Trevor Wilson
'Passchendaele: the Sacrificial Ground' by Nigel Steel & Peter Hart
'Passchendaele: The Story Behind the Tragic Victory of 1917' by Philip Warner
Of these Lyn MacDonald's account is one of the more interesting in that she utilises many accounts of the soldiers who fought during that terrible battle. Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson's account also offers much new information and has received much acclaim of late.
Any person who reads this book will not fail to come away impressed with the stolid courage of the officers and men involved in this terrible carnage and if that's the least this book does then that is more than enough as far as I am concerned.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A highly readable introduction 27 Nov 2002
By John Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
One can't really say that one "enjoyed" a book devoted to one of the most protracted and bloody sequences of battles in a truly terrible war, but I certainly found myself moving through Groom's book with an interest and a speed that I hadn't encountered in many other "histories". From the outset Groom makes it clear that he is NOT interested in writing a "definitive history" rather he wants to introduce a new -and primarily American-audience to an aspect of World War I that seems to have faded from public knowledge. In this I think he succeeds brilliantly. That being said, I do have some serious quibbles with the book. First of all, I never felt that we really got much insight into what the generals and politicians were thinking or how they rationalized four years of slaughter. We get periodic references to tension between French & Haig, Haig and Lloyd George, etc. but Groom never really discusses the cause of these tensions in any detail, nor does he emphasize the often tragic outcomes of staff-level disagreements. The strength of the book is really in the middle, where Groom settles in to describe the horror of trench warfare and the period from 1915-1916. Both the beginning and the end of the book have a feeling of being "rushed". I am not sure how well a reader unfamiliar with any background material will do dealing with the events leading up to the battle, and by the time we get to Passchendale one gets the feeling that Groom is as exhausted as the armies involved -the final (and ultimately decisive) battles are covered in a handful of pages & while Groom quotes various authorities as to their importance, his own description leaves me feeling vaguely disappointed. I appreciated the "what happened to them all" section at the end, it must have been amazing to have gone through Ypres as a young man and to then have lived into one's nineties, long after the whole political & social systems that one had fought for (and against) had disappeared! In all I would encourage readers who have never studied the First World War to perhaps use this book as part of a general jumping-off point, you will need to read additional texts to cover even the Western Front, but Groom has done a major service by providing a taste of a ghastly, tragic, and, yes, heroic episode in military history
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Storytelling 19 Jun 2002
By "kgover@steptoe.com" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Having read several books about the whole of WWI and getting lost in the maze of battles and strategy and desensitized to the casualty figures, I found this book unique in conveying the horror of the Great War. By focusing on a single place on the western front and inserting a few recurring characters (such as Corporal Adolf Hitler), Groom is able to tell the story as it should be told. At times up close and personal, at others distant and strategic, the information blends seamlessly. He puts Ypres into its proper context by occasionally reporting on the larger war, but does so without losing focus on his primary story. The illustrations are terrific, too. The pictures from the battlefield are chilling and heartbreaking. Not all war histories are pageturners; this one is.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent account 27 Jan 2005
By Schmerguls - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
No footnotes, a poor bibliography--and still five stars? Yes, this book should have footnotes and a decent bibliography, but it is such a felicitous treatment of its intensely interesting subject that it merits five stars. I have long looked on In Flander Fields, by Leon Wolff (read by me 8 June 1965, and that year winner of my Best Book Read This Year award) as having told me all I needed to know about the Flanders fighting. But that book covered only the 1917 time in Flanders. This book does the first battle of Ypres in 1914, the second (in 1915), the third in 1917, and the 4th in 1918. In fact, this short book does a able job on the war itself--and serves as a bit of corrective to Wolff's damning view of Haig. Not that Haig gets the kind of favorable treatment that John Terraine gives him in his book, Ordeal of Victory (read by me with much appreciation on 16 May 1986), but one can see that there is something to be said for Terraine's thesis that the foundations of victory were laid on the Somme in 1916 and in Flanders in 1917 and that if those battles had not been fought the German drive in 1918 would have won the war for Germany. Groom is a popular historian only but he does an able job in this book, and I found it compelling reading.
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