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The Somme (Cassell Military Paperbacks) Paperback – 2 Oct 2008

4.9 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (2 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0304367354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0304367351
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 13.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 259,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

'Peter Hart pays handsome tribut to the 'ordinary soldiers...' ... one could not wish for a more appropriate testimony to that generation for which the Somme was much more than a topic for academic research or a source of poignant reflection.' (LITERARY REVIEW )

'A monumental feat of research, his book is also a memorial of the most compelling kind to the hundreds of individuals whose diaries, letters and recollections are presented so vividly here.' (THE SCOTSMAN )

'[Hart] has produced a remarkably even-handed account... and the first-person accounts he has unearthed are rich in vivid images...' (SUNDAY TIMES )

'Hart has succeeded in presenting his massive subject with objective clarity... the material gives it curious immediacy... brilliantly well-written extracts... Prepare to be enlightened, but prepare to feel respect for all the men involved.' (SOLDIER MAGAZINE )

'Excellent' (TLS )

'Hart is an accomplished author of anecdotal histories and here he is on top form... it deserves a wide readership.' (BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE ) --Smith

Book Description

A major new history of the most infamous battle of the First World War, as described by the men who fought it.

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Format: Hardcover
'The Somme'. To many people these few words have come to be bywords for murder, mayhem and pointless slaughter. They conjure up views of Chateau Generals and poor Tommy Atkins living in fetid trenches waiting to die in a hail of machine gun bullets.
At long last we have a book which challenges this often heard view of the battle of the Somme. For nearly 90 years many eminent military historians have helped to colour the views of our nation with the same old bigoted, jaundiced and ill informed view of this great but tragic battle.
In this work Peter Hart looks at the battle in a logical and orderly manner. The book starts by giving the reasons why Douglas Haig was forced into fighting on the chalk downlands of the Somme. Once the political reasons for the battle are covered he moves smoothly to the tumultuous first day. This starts at Gommecourt and steadily moves southwards along the battleline to Maricourt on the banks of the river Somme. All through the text one sees an educated analysis of the opening day's events, which are greatly aided by new facsimiles of the Official Histories maps.
Upon the conclusion of the first day the reader is then taken through the further battles that comprise the Battle of the Somme. All the time there is logical analysis of the Generals actions. In many parts one is made aware of unforgivable errors made by Haig, Rawlinson and others which lead to the death of many thousands of men. But one is also made aware of incidents that will hopefully lay down the myth of Lions led by Donkeys! The analysis of the battles is clear and concise, sticking to known facts. All too often we are served up myth and legend, in what are frankly pseudo histories of this conflict.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cannot praise this book enough! Hyperbole is not something that I am given to but for any book on such a well trodden subject as the Somme to be as engaging as this signals a major achievement.
What I believe sets this book apart from many that I have read is the strength of genuine feeling that the author has for the men who experienced the battle. That is not necessarily the impression I get from some authors. You do get a real sense of how deeply moved he was when laying out the first hand accounts of men who underwent such appalling experiences. The book never, though, descends into sentimentality.
It would be a book that I would happily recommend to anyone who'd never read anything about the Somme or to someone who had their own personal equivalent of the British Library in the spare room. As such, it stands in a clear line from Martin Middlebrook's classic, "The First Day on the Somme", and stands some what higher, in my view, than Lynn McDonald's book, "Somme", good book though that is.
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Format: Paperback
I saw a review of this book the New York Times ( extract below) and totally agree with Max Boot's take on it...is a great piece of work.

"The Monstrous Anger of the Guns. By MAX BOOT. Published: January 2, 2009. For most of us today, the bloodlettings of World War I are refracted through the despairing work of Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and other soldier-writers. As Peter Hart notes, the contemporary view of the Somme "can be brutally summarized in just five words: `the pity of it all.' Politicians are portrayed as Machiavellian, but simultaneously weak, generals are stupid, soldiers are brave helpless victims and war poets -- war poets are the latter-day saints made flesh."

Hart, the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum in London, offers a different perspective in "The Somme." While not flinching from the horrors of trench warfare, he argues that the carnage was hardly senseless. In his view, attempts by Winston Churchill and other strategists to find a shortcut to winning the war were fundamentally flawed. The soldiers dispatched to Gallipoli, Salonika and Mesopotamia would have been better employed, he believes, in battering German defenses on the Western Front -- the only place where the kaiser could have been defeated.

Even more daringly, he comes to the defense of Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, who has usually been depicted as an unimaginative, uncaring idiot who sent the flower of British youth to an early grave for no good reason. Hart argues that even though Haig made plenty of tactical mistakes, "the broad thrust of Haig's strategy in 1916 was probably correct. . . . Haig's way was excruciatingly painful, but it was the only realistic way at the time.
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Format: Paperback
The size of Peter Hart's book may be off-putting for some, but once opened, it becomes an intimate companion. I felt so close to those at first uncomprehending, soldiers. The futility and the bravery of the battle are given equal coverage, and the special quality of this book is the link the reader gets to the men themselves. I will return to the fields of the Somme with a clearer and even sadder vision of those who fought and died in that tiny piece of France.
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I have read quite a few accounts of the First World War and the Somme and this must be one of the best. Peter uses narratives from the soldiers who were there (officers, other ranks, friend and foe) to relate to us the story of this terrible battle. These are used to good effect as you get really involved with the men who were writing them at the time, whether the soldier on the frontline or the officer having to send his troops "over the top", to what was probably death or injury. Throughout the book Peter tries to relay a more balanced view of some of the shocking decisions made, but this is not overpowering like in some books I have read and provides you with plenty of opportunity to make up your own mind.
I think Peter succeeds in making the reader aware that, with hindsight, this battle should probably never have taken place and that during the battle some decisions made were disastrous, but what we should remember was that this was a new type of war and no-one had much of an idea how to fight it.
Overall, a very good book. Very sad and moving in parts but also very informative.
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