Customer Review

27 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hatchet job for all time, 9 Nov 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Donkeys (Paperback)
Politician, legendary diarist, bon viveur, irresistible to women, a character from the pages of John Buchan, Alan Clark was born not so much with a spoon as a whole canteen of silver cutlery in his mouth. Eton, Oxbridge and the Brigade of Guards, the classic CV of the British upper classes, trained him to enjoy his castle in Kent, deer forest in Scotland, skiing lodge in Switzerland. Bred for a life of idleness, a chance reading of an old regimental diary aroused his interest in the First World War, whose carnage was at that time regarded as unavoidable, an act of God for which no individuals could be held responsible. Not satisfied with this, he asked questions; old men who would never have spoken to an academic historian gave him answers, as one officer and gentleman to another. With a scholar's attention to detail and the narrative skill of a great novelist, he wrote the book which made his reputation as a military historian.
The generals whose dreadful follies he chronicles are mainly allowed to condemn themselves out of their own mouths. Only the rare phrase of glacial contempt betrays the white-hot rage with which this book was written. We are shown some of the most unappealing military leaders in history, for whom the phrase could have been invented, "having all Hitler's faults without any of his redeeming qualities": men who sent their fellow-countrymen to die simply to avoid a tedious lunch engagement. Clark had no objection to their privileged lifestyle, a lifestyle which he himself shared, but to him the price of privilege was noblesse oblige, and their unforgivable crime was to refuse to pay it.
The self-serving memoirs of the generals themselves are long books, now deservedly forgotten. This is a short book by comparison, but at its end their reputations are utterly destroyed, never to recover.
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3.4 out of 5 stars (20 customer reviews)
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