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To Lose a Battle: France, 1940 Paperback – 28 Jun 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (28 Jun. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141030658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141030654
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.6 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 341,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

One of Britain’s greatest historians, Sir Alistair Horne, CBE, is the author of several famous books on French history as well as a two-volume life of Harold Macmillan.


Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
In "To Lose A Battle" Alastair Horne tells the story of the Fall of France in 1940 in great detail. Beginning with the political and military background which lead to French weakness, the reader is carried through to the final collapse and its aftermath.
The parts of the book which I liked the best were the beginning and the end. In the early parts we read how the tragedy of World War I set France up for failure in World War II. France had been badly divided politically for generations, a heritage which contributed to the disaster of 1940. The massive kill-off of 1914-18 followed by the low Depression-era birthrate left France with a much smaller manpower pool than had existed in 1914. The memory of World War I, along with the long-standing divisions in the French body politic prevented the French form preparing an army which could maintain the distinguished French military tradition.
During the reading of this book, I gained a deeper appreciation of the role played by the Maginot Line. I has always heard that it was the last stand of fixed fortifications. In this book we see how the costs of the Line and its personnel demands drained money and resources which would have been more productively devoted to other units. During the "Phony War" the only effective relief that France could have provided to embattled Poland would have been an invasion of Germany. The ultimate irony is that the impregnable Maginot Line formed a barrier, not only to German invasion, but also to a French advance into enemy territory.
The massive middle of the book explains the facts of the defeat of France in agonizing detail.
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Format: Paperback
Alistair Horne has drawn three intense, beautifully detailed portraits of the tragedy that befell the "children of Charlemagne," the Germans and the French, which occurred over a 75 year period; three wars, both the ones that claim "World" status, as well the war of 1870. His book on the later is entitled The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71; he covers the First World War by focusing on its cataclysmic battle, in The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 (Penguin History); and "To Lose a Battle, France 1940" is on the Second. The particular battle that is the centerpiece of the book is the breakthrough at Sedan, the exact same place the Germans broke through in 1870. In 1940, it took only six weeks after the breakthrough until France capitulated. Horne has also written a truly excellent account of the war of Algerian independence, entitled A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-62 Although he has written other historical accounts, it is these four books that have established his reputation as one of the preeminent historians of the 20th Century. I have reviewed the other three, and will now conclude with this one.

In all Horne's works he manages to master an immense amount of historical facts, and then write a fluid, moving account that ranges back and forth from the salons of power, where the personalities interact, and make their decisions, to individual stories of the "grunts" upon whom the ramifications of those decisions fell.
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This is a superb account of the Battle of France. I was particularly struck by the long account of the lead-up to the Battle of France itself. Making up something like a third to half of the book you might expect this material to be less interesting than the part dealing with the fighting itself but in fact Horne's account of the pre-war period makes truly fascinating reading.
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Well written, full of pace and drama, not afraid of the factual and the personal in equal measure. It's the third of Horne's quartet that, he argues, defines France, and it reads easily, any interested reader could get into it, the story is well placed in history, part of larger dramas and, for those wishing to consolidate some knowledge it's a good read. It's a story many of us have an inkling of. The scope and speed of the disaster is described well and I think it really takes that inkling we have further and sets it well within France as a whole, and Europe.
Worth reading to compare to Shirer's Collapse of Third Republic; they're both fine works.
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Format: Paperback
It's a good forty years since Alistair Horne wrote "To Lose a Battle", his account of the German Invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. The third part of his trilogy of books on the conflicts between France and Germany it begins with an account of the French victory parade after The Great War, and moves on through the twenties and thirties, charting the disparate experiences of France and Germany up to the eve of the German invasion. This scene setting takes up a third of the book and includes the political, social, demographic and economic developments in France and Germany with a view to the war to come. He does stretch further a-field to paint a picture of the European scene including that in Britain, the Spanish Civil War, the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, and the negotiations between the Soviet Union, France and Britain that failed and gave rise to the Nazi-Soviet pact of August 1939.

The invasion itself was a highly fluid affair, a textbook example of movement and the combined use of air and ground forces. The reader, unless they has a firm grasp on the geography of the area and the order of battle, will rather rapidly find themselves bogged down trying to picture the movement of the forces detailed in the text and end up in full sympathy with the confusion in the French command. The most interesting parts are those where ordinary soldiers are quoted, which give an insight into the reality of the war from both sides, including the copious adventures of one Erwin Rommel. The French hardly acquitted themselves well, even taking into account that they were to an extent hamstrung by pre-war decisions of which the Maginot line (almost totally marginal to the battle) is the most blatant.
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