This short but well-illustrated book is a concise and even-handed military history of the Yom Kippur War. The other reviewer is right to believe that this was originally published as two separate volumes, covering the Sinai and the Golan Heights respectively. The one-volume edition has some extra material and some extra photographs, and is also quite a bit cheaper than buying the two volumes separately, making for excellent value.
Israel was not prepared for the Yom Kippur War, and there is still disagreement about why it wasn't. It is well-known that Egypt and Syria were still angry about their crushing defeat in the Six Day War of 1967, and that Egypt's President Nasser in particular wanted revenge. Israel and Egypt kept up the so-called War of Attrition along the Suez Canal for some time after 1967. Nasser died in 1970, and his successor Anwar Sadat made peace proposals to Israel that were rejected immediately, even though they were, as Dunstan points out, very similar to proposals that Israeli Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan had himself put forward. Sadat somewhat reluctantly decided that he had no option but to make military preparations.
A combination of factors prevented the Israelis from taking Sadat's preparations seriously. One was that he and his predecessor had a habit of announcing that they were going to go to war against Israel, and the Israelis ended up not believing him. Another was that the Israelis were so over-confident after their stunning military victory in 1967 that they refused to believe that Israel or Syria presented credible threats. Another was that Prime Minister Golda Meir, in what may have been one of her relatively few shrewd moments, was convinced that in any future conflict with Egypt or Syria, Israel should not strike first because it would cause Israel to be seen as the aggressor. In those days, relations between the US and Israel were not as friendly as they are now and aggressive action on Israel's part, such as a pre-emptive strike, would have made the US less likely to offer crucial military and logistical support later on.
As a result, when the Egyptian army launched its offensive across the Suez canal, Israeli defences were under-prepared. Dunstan rightly praises the remarkable work of Egyptian combat engineers in using high-pressure water jets to cut holes through the enormous bank of sand and rubble that constituted the front line of the Israeli fortifications. The first wave of the Egyptian offensive was very successful.
Israel reeled from the sudden attack. The Egyptians and Syrians had excellent weaponry, using infantry armed with shoulder-launched missiles with devastating effect against Israeli armour. They also had a good plan, and at least in the early stages of the war their soldiers fought bravely and skilfully.
However, Israel had a number of factors in its favour. Its command structure was a good deal more flexible than that of the Arab armies, allowing more initiative to field commanders. Syrian commanders kept being recalled to the operational HQ many miles behind the front line in order to receive fresh orders, whereas the Israelis gave their commanders a long leash. Israel began to receive supplies from the USA. Almost as importantly, it was seen to be doing so; in one amusing propaganda coup, a US Air Force C5 transport landed in Israel and unloaded a main battle tank, signalling to the world's press that America was even prepared to supply Israel with heavy armour. As soon as the journalists had filed their stories and gone home, the tank was loaded onto the plane and flown back to Germany where it came from; America was prepared to seem more generous than it actually was.
Perhaps crucially, the two sides were not fighting for the same reasons. The Arab armies were fighting partly for ideological reasons and partly to regain lost prestige. Their remarkable success in the early phases of the war helped them to recover that prestige. The Israelis, however, were fighting for national survival, or at any rate believed themselves to be doing so. This boosted Israeli morale, and is one of the reasons behind the many acts of remarkable valour displayed by individual Israeli units.
The fighting lasted throughout October 1973 until the Israelis managed to turn back the Arab armies. A ceasefire was signed. The Israelis had technically won, but the myth of Israeli military invincibility was shattered forever. Israel lost more soldiers per capita in one month of fighting than the USA lost over the course of the entire Vietnam war. Egypt and Syria felt, with some justice, that although they had lost many more men than the other side, they had made their point. Israel did not cease to occupy the West Bank or the Gaza strip, but in 1982 they finally withdrew their troops from the Sinai. The whole region still lives with the consequences of the Yom Kippur War.