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The Good Soldier: The Biography of Douglas Haig Hardcover – 8 Nov 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (8 Nov. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843542803
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843542803
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 24.1 x 4.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 741,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Mead has an excellent turn of phrase that renders military matters more comprehensible to the lay reader... This engaging and vivid writing style makes this probably the most accessible of the Haig biographies. -- British Army Review

This engrossing book has the great strength of having been written by someone who, by his own admission, started out a sceptic and came to admire, like and appreciate his subject.
-- David Edelston, The Field

the best and fairest biography of Haig that I have read... well-written, admirable biography. -- Allan Massie, Daily Telegraph

About the Author

Gary Mead was a journalist for the Financial Times for ten years and has worked extensively with the BBC. He is the author of The Doughboys: America and the First World War (2000).


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. N. Arnold on 20 Nov. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Gary Mead's brilliantly written and compelling biography of one of this country's most controversial generals is likely to become the definitive work on Field Marshall Haig. With opinion still bitterly divided between those who see Haig as a 'good soldier', doing his job to the best of his ability under extreme conditions (as Mead suggests) or simply the butcher of millions, this is the kind of even handed biography that is needed right now. It succeeds in rising above some of this endless controversy to paint a portrait of a man who was complex, introverted, Victorian in outlook and at best hard to fathom. It is no coincidence that the book is subtitled 'the' biography of Douglas Haig for the simple reason that no on has ever before quite captured the essence of the man - until Mead's biography, that is.

There is no doubt that Haig believed in what he was doing and fighting for and Mead captures the man's persona through a combination of diligent research (the material on the First World War must be truly gargantuan) and a style of writing that is at once effortless, engaging and easy to follow. Despite the difficulties in describing complex battlefield manoeuvres (and the pros and cons of certain types of explosive shell that at times left me a tad confused) Mead still manages to sustain a forward momentum in his narrative that is constantly captivating and demands that you read on.

The two brilliant central chapters of the book, on the Somme and Passchendaele, bring the horror of war into sharp relief and help place Haig's sometimes impossible position as C-in-C in a new light. His dealings with the ever difficult French and the pesky Lloyd George make you wonder how we ever got through it all as eventual victors.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eternal Student on 24 Jan. 2011
Format: Hardcover
This biography of Douglas Haig replaces the often hated figure blamed for much of the slaughter of British men in WW1 (though a hero in his lifetime) with a human being - though still one hard for a modern reader to feel close to. I would recommend it whole-heartedly and especially to those who, like me, have only just started trying to get to grips with the confusion and horror of the First World War. Haig has always seemed hopelessly mired in this, after all the 'Lions led by Donkeys' accounts.

So in a way I started reading as a duty rather than a pleasure, feeling that I ought to understand the man and his times better. Military stuff hasn't in the past been my favourite reading matter, and Haig was above all a soldier, hence the title with its complex associations.

But this is a pleasure to read, because it is brilliantly well-written - lucid, not show-offy - and as far as I can judge, balanced and accurate, as well as challenging to modern preconceptions. Mead writes about Haig as a man, trained in the Victorian era, confronting the new kind of warfare that was a shock to every general; he shows how his stolid personality interacted with others, such as, crucially for the conduct of the war and for Haig's post-war reputation, his antagonist Lloyd George.

He does not gloss over Haig's responsibility for some of the costly mistakes that led to the disastrous losses on the Somme and at Passchendaele, but he shows how difficult it would have been for others who were around at the time to do better. And the quirks of Haig's home life, with his sister Henrietta taking him to seances, and never quite getting over his marriage to his much younger wife, are sometimes funny - though Mead, to his credit, never overdoes this aspect or goes for the easy sneer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Gerrard on 2 Sept. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Douglas Haig is a figure known to many by name and yet about whom most of us, especially myself, know little; or at least I did know little until I read this excellent book. Each day walking to and from work, I pass Haig's imposing statue in London; a statue which exudes power and authority that is almost tangible. No other military statue in Whitehall has this effect on the passer-by. Who was this soldier whose statue is given such a commanding position in London and why is it facing down Whitehall towards the Cenotaph which commemorates the fallen thousands of war? Read this book and your eyes will be opened to events that took place around a hundred years ago and which defined a turning point in the history of the world. Haig the person, his world and the central role he played in these critical events emerge clearly from this most readable book. For me this book achieved the remakable feat of filling-in my considerable gaps in knowledge about the First World War, through what felt like contemporary eyes, and left me to decide whether on balance Haig was the right man, in the right place at the right time, or not.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A. Smith on 23 Dec. 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In `The Good Soldier', Mead has taken on seemingly insuperable odds and won. Could there be a character less sympathetic to the age we find ourselves in? How, in an `anti-war' and above all `anti-THAT-war' environment, do you hope to determine whether someone whose "name today is still synonymous with pointless expenditure of life in conditions of ghastly filth" is worth de-demonising, and still command a reader's attention? How, when celebrity is all and available to all, can you hope to persuade a contemporary audience to connect with a "tongue-tied Scots cavalryman", "without sparkle", who had "no charlatanism in his nature", and - beyond today's pale - came from old money and was not averse to pulling a string or two to assist his progress up the slippery military pole.? Mead therefore rather understates his task: "he is a hard character to like, not least because `being liked' was never very high on his list of ambitions." Yet he pulls it off, quite simply by telling his story, simply. And by the end of this tour de force - from Aldershot to South Africa, from India to the killing fields of Flanders - you feel something for a leader of men who showed little feeling. And something a lot less for Haig's peers - like Lloyd George and Churchill - who more readily strike a chord with "today's society, one in which public figures, at the drop of a hat, lay bare their souls, beat their breasts, thump tubs, even if they have very little to say." This is a very `good' book, indeed.
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