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on 7 July 2010
I gave this book to my father, who is a veteran of the Kohima seige, a member of the 'Forgotten Army'
His response was that the author's research was remarkable, and very clearly set out the grim reality of that part of the war, probably better that any previous attempt, as the book was so accessible to the reader
His view is that many more should read this book, so that there can be a better understanding of the 'Stalingrad of the East'and the contribution made by so many.
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on 5 May 2010
I found this book informative and easy to read, which don't always go together.
A detailed account of the seige of Kohima and to a lesser extent the Japanese retreat.
The number of reminiscences by Japanese as well as Allied soldiers was unusual and welcome.
He also covers the mistakes and in-fighting of both sides commanders and senior offices.
The maps were useful but I felt could have been more detailed and possibly more frequent, there's nothing like a good map!
I was disappointed that the book did not cover the battle at Imphal at all, possibly Mr Keane is keeping this for his follow up book?
If he is it is a book I will read.
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on 4 May 2010
Given the upsurge in well written popular military history, it is about time that the British and Empire campaign against Japan had a chronicler equal to Anthony Beevor or Richard Holmes. The Japanese attack on Imphal and Kohima, while not the fully fledged assault on India it was believed to be at the time, nevertheless threatened the supply lines to China, and might have extended the chaos of war in the Far East.

What a great treat to find this battle's chronicler in the fine prose of BBC correspondent Fergal Keane. I have long been a fan of Keane's journalism, and the command of language he exhibited in his `Letter to Daniel'. You trust his description of the Far East in the 1940s given his time as a correspondent there, and the book is balanced effectively between the grand strategic sweep in Dehli, Washington, Tokyo and London, and the sharp end accounts of the Empire military and Burmese civilians. I learnt a good deal about the intelligence efforts against Japan, and the role of SOE and `V Force' behind the lines.

It's not perfect (`Worcester' Regiment??) but is a fine popular history. I was especially pleased by how Keane effectively used Japanese, Burmese and Indian voices without being clumsily revisionist or politically correct. It was refreshing to read of a Japanese enemy made of human beings.

Well written and harrowing in its description of combat, it does justice to the troops who `gave their today' for our `tomorrow'.
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on 18 January 2011
I love this book, and just could not put it down. In fact, when I first knew that this book was due to be published, and by such a World class journalist as Fergal Keane, then it was on my 'most wanted' list. Fergal Keane writes authoritively, and captures the raw grit of how the battle was fought and seen from both sides; from Private to Officer.

Despite my fairly extensive personal 'Kohima' library, Road of Bones has given me an even greater depth of knowledge and understanding of the Siege / Battle of Kohima, plus it nicely compliments all of the other publications. Fantastic job, highly recommended and a must for anyone interested in the Burma Campaign of WWII. Thank you.Road of Bones: The Siege of Kohima 1944 - The Epic Story of the Last Great Stand of Empire
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on 7 May 2010
One cannot find anything negative to say about this book. It's that good. Many readers will probably find themselves, as I did, simply shaking their heads at the terrible conditions both sides endured during this pivotal battle, which historians have pinpointed as crucial in the Allies victory over the Japanese in Burma. What strikes me most, however, is the touching moments of humanity amidst the slaughter, on both sides. As the Japanese juggernaut burst through the Indian frontier, we read of the young British infantry captains' valiant single-handed last stand against enormous Japanese numbers, but who was then laid to rest with full honors by those very same men who had killed him. At the siege itself the scene prior to yet another suicidal frontal charge by their company sees two Japanese officers catch one another saying farewell to photographs of their loved ones. Kean finds many uniquely emotive vignettes to decorate the epic, thus giving the reader the underlying humanity that was prevalent at this trench-warfare like battle.

It might not have the scale of numbers of men in arms of Beevor's 'Stalingrad', but in its recounting of what men on both sides suffered, and the heroism they displayed, then this book deserves just as many accolades.

A truly unique and important book, and one I am happy to recommend.
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on 17 April 2010
I am not a big reader of history books - my husband bought this book, I flicked through it and got caught. It is the story of one of the less well known battles during wwii, a dreadful siege, a terrible battle, but it is only a story about ordinary people in these circumstances and what war does to human beings. I loved that the author does not take sides, but that we are able to follow individuals from both camps. The language is absolutely stunning. The imagery vivid. Highly recommend it - even to the non-history book reader!
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This book details the Battle of Kohima fought on the boarders of India and Burma, a turning point in World War 2 in the fight against the Japanese invader.

It is well researched and extremely well written.
It is one of the few book that I have had lately that I was unable to put down and puts almost all other books on the subject into the shade. Full marks to the author and the style in which he has written it.

The book covers both the perspective of the Allies and the Japanese, this is what makes it so good. When you consider that the conflict that took place in Burma was seen as a sideshow to the greater goings on of the war, Kohima was as bloody as any battle fought in the history of warfare.

I have always had an interest in Kohima as a great family friend who is now in his late eighties was present on Garrison Hill and the tennis courts during the entire episode. Previous to this he fought in the Arakan the prelude to Kohima.

Fergal Keane has done these men proud in his account of the battle and without prejudice or judgement.

Well done.
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on 17 April 2010
I have read many account of battles of WWII, but Road of Bones is by far the very best. As I got deeper and deeper into the characters and what is probably one of the most gruesome stories I have every read. I really recommend this to anyone!
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on 17 February 2013
Rorke's Drift,Tobruk,Gloster Hill,Dien Bien Phu,Khe Sanh. The siege; a town or a military outpost held by a vastly outnumbered force against a persistent and determined enemy is one of the most stirring and enduring of war stories. Most will have heard of at least two of the aforementioned examples, but the battle for Kohima is one that may be new to many. It, along with the battles for Imphal and the Admin Box, turned the tide against the relentless Japanese Imperial Army in Burma and signalled the beginning of the end of the war in the far east.

Much of the war in Burma was fought around a series of towns, villages and junctions on the all-important Lines of Communication - roads - running through the jungle between Burma and India. In 1944, The Japanese Army launched a 15,000 man offensive to take India from the hands of its Imperial masters and one of the battles focussed on Kohima, a tiny town in the Naga hills that was defended by a paltry 1,500 men of the British and Indian Armies. Even at the beginning of the two week siege, the perimeter was barely a mile in circumference and by the end it had been reduced to less than two hundred yards across. The battle was fought, as are all sieges, with great savagery and persistence on both sides, but the level of that savagery is remarkable. One of the most hotly contested areas in the town was the District Commisioner's tennis court, and it's sobering to read the description of this part of the battle which sounds more like something from the Somme, thirty years before...

"Lance Corporal Dennis Wykes was also dug in with A Company at the tennis court, In old age his heart would quicken as he described the Japanese attack. 'They came howling and screaming and full of go. It was terrifying but the only good thing was the screaming let you know where they were coming from and so we got our lines of fire right and mowed them down. Wave after wave, we cut them down with machine guns. I didn't know if I was killing one or a dozen. I just swept the machine gun through 'em and that was it.'"

Keane's account may not be the first and perhaps it says nothing new, but it brings the story of this terrible battle to a new generation of readers. It is very very well written; readable and compelling, and as clear a description of a confused and hellish military encounter as one could expect. It not only provides an account of the battle itself but also describes the political situation in the Far East and the wider campaigns leading up to the crucial moment. There are plenty of maps (although they are distributed rather randomly through the paperback version) and a nice mix of tactical description and personal account. There are some fine pen pictures of the leading personalities of the battle, including Generals Slim, Sato and Mutaguchi, and also of the humble squaddies who did the killing and dying... on both sides. Importantly, Keane has gathered accounts from the Japanese, Indian, Gurkha and Naga combatants as well as the British. The accounts from the Japanese soldiers are expecially poignant and give the lie to the misconception of the robotic Jap killing machine that endures to this day. The description of the operations by the Naga hill men (led by the indomitable Ursula Graham Bower) make a truly fascinating - and tantalisingly brief - addition to the story.

"An (Assam Regt) officer moving into his position at the tennis court found several (West Kent Regt) men leaning on the parapet in firing positions. He ordered them to move and then he pushed one. There was no response. They were all dead."

Highly, highly recommended
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on 21 August 2011
Ah, history written as it should be: Unlike most teachers of the subject, fixated on dates and trends, Keane presents history as a kaleidoscope of biographies. As his wide range of characters - British, Japanese, Burmese; some extraordinary, others everyday - are introduced, the reader is conveyed into the story through their experiences.

For hardcore military enthusiasts, fascinated by the minutae of weapons, of equipment and of the slap of pointer on map, Keane may not hold a candle to Hastings or a Beevor, but his work more than makes up for that by being a far more human account: His characters are not quoted once, then discarded for the rest of the narrative. Instead, Keane maintains a Stephen Ambrose-style grip on his material. Characters re-appear as events unfold; we get to know these men as the story builds.

But this is not "oral history," those series of unconnected quotes so popular these days. Keane has done his homework: His narrative sketches in all relevant background events, so his characters are placed in context.

Be warned. There is some brutal description between these covers - the shock of artillery fire; the trauma of hand-to-hand combat; the effects of amoebic dystentery. But "Road of Bones" is not war porn: Keane's horrors are diluted with the balm of compassion.

Like every good story teller, the author ends his work by detailing the eventual fate of his cast after the guns fell silent.

All in all, this is a model that other military historians could profitably benchmark.

Andrew Salmon,
Author, "To the Last Round," "Scorched Earth, Black Snow"
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