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From the D-Day invasion to the liberation of Paris, a vivid retelling
on 15 May 2013
For a layman like myself who hasn't done a great deal of reading on this subject, Anthony Beevor's D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, is a fine book that gave me a greater insight in to that summer of 1944 and a richer appreciation of what happened after the beachheads had been secured. Other reviewers who have clearly done a good deal more reading were not particularly impressed with this book.
Initially, this book covers the Normandy beach invasions, as you would expect. Beevor then takes us through the battle-scarred landscape of north western France, right in to the center of Paris. As was the case with two of his most well-known previous books, Stalingrad and Berlin, it is in the smaller details that Beevor really tells his story - his effective use of personal anecdotes and diaries that really breathe life in to his narrative, are what sets him apart from countless other historians of the same era.
Despite Beevor's considerable writing skills and his mastery of marshalling such a vast amount of information in to a coherent narrative, D-Day never quite scaled the heights (or plumbed the depths, depending on your perspective) as his two above-mentioned books. This could well be because this facet of the Second World War is so ingrained in to our British consciousness that we feel like we already know the history, even if we actually don't. However, this book is still highly recommended because Beevor brings his story to life with the personal details: the petty bickering of the generals - Patton's rampant egoism and comical machismo, Montgomery's papal infallibility, Hitler's paranoia and the frustrations of his generals (the British command had decided against assassinating Hitler as they thought his increasing detachment from reality was causing him to make awful strategic decisions that aided the Allies, whereas saner German military leadership might end up lengthening the war) and of course, many personal accounts from frontline soldiers and the civilians caught in the middle, watching their historic towns get destroyed.
My main criticism of this book is that it begins with the Allies deciding when to invade France, depending on the weather conditions. Therefore, the preliminary planning decisions had all been made. As with any history book, the author must decide on a specific start and ending date of the story - just how far back do you need to go? I would disagree with Beevor in choosing to begin his book so close to the actual invasion itself. I would have appreciated some space devoted to why the decision was taken to mounting a primarily seaborne invasion, why that particular location was chosen (why France and why that area of France), why were certain beaches allocated to certain nationalities, what were the logistical issues behind such an unprecedented invasion, when these decisions were made and who by?
Anthony Beevor once again tells the story of another crucial battle of the Second World War in such a masterful way. Whether this becomes the definitive text on the subject is another debate but certainly D-Day: The Battle for Normandy was another rich, impressive book, only just missing the mark that two of his previous books had set impossibly high.