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A well outlined bigger picture, but where was the detail?
on 13 September 2013
I have to say I was savouring the reading of this book but, sadly, once I finished, I ultimately came away feeling a little disappointed.
I approached this volume with enthusiasm as, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no other recent books telling the story of the Alps at war in such a holistic fashion - the region really does have a mystical and romantic feel about it (a point Mr. Ring labours) and at the same time I also have to admit that unlike the previous reviewer, my knowledge of the wartime history of the area was somewhat scanty; I for one was unclear how the history of the region might have all fitted together for example. This bigger picture scene setting was well done, especially when discussing the precarious positioning of Switzerland throughout the war.
So in the context of the above comment, I would have to say that my disappointment was twofold. First, I found the lack of depth frustrating; there simply was not enough of what looks tantalisingly like some really fascinating detail. This, to me at least, is the missed opportunity for this book - the wartime history of the region was characterised much less by the clash of the big battalions as seen on the Eastern Front or that of the logistics war with the West but much more about how individuals could and did influence events.... Guisan, Dansey, Dulles, Tito, as well as myriad of other lesser characters, are all worthy of greater exposition.
Despite the scrimping on the detail, Mr. Ring has certainly done enough to demonstrate that he knows his stuff well and so, personally, I would have happily read a much longer book encompassing much more of the story of the various resistance groups, spy rings, occupiers, invaders, refugees, locals, politicians both national and international, liberators, deserters, prisoners etc than this volume goes into.
My second issue with the book was really stylistic. Sometimes the writing style was good, but at other times it was bemusing or repetitive or flabby or simply confusing. The author / editors seem to have had the strange idea of mixing up various descriptive writing styles when in fact all that was required was for someone to apply some crispness and organisation to the prose. The other problem, as it is with most history books these days, was a lack of detailed maps.
To conclude, I would say this is an interesting book which is well worth reading (so I do recommend it), but the satisfaction derived from it was a little like eating sushi - your appetite is whetted at first, you feel satiated at the time of eating but unfortunately one is hungry for more a very short while later.