Top positive review
11 people found this helpful
A biography for our time
on 20 November 2007
Gary Mead's brilliantly written and compelling biography of one of this country's most controversial generals is likely to become the definitive work on Field Marshall Haig. With opinion still bitterly divided between those who see Haig as a 'good soldier', doing his job to the best of his ability under extreme conditions (as Mead suggests) or simply the butcher of millions, this is the kind of even handed biography that is needed right now. It succeeds in rising above some of this endless controversy to paint a portrait of a man who was complex, introverted, Victorian in outlook and at best hard to fathom. It is no coincidence that the book is subtitled 'the' biography of Douglas Haig for the simple reason that no on has ever before quite captured the essence of the man - until Mead's biography, that is.
There is no doubt that Haig believed in what he was doing and fighting for and Mead captures the man's persona through a combination of diligent research (the material on the First World War must be truly gargantuan) and a style of writing that is at once effortless, engaging and easy to follow. Despite the difficulties in describing complex battlefield manoeuvres (and the pros and cons of certain types of explosive shell that at times left me a tad confused) Mead still manages to sustain a forward momentum in his narrative that is constantly captivating and demands that you read on.
The two brilliant central chapters of the book, on the Somme and Passchendaele, bring the horror of war into sharp relief and help place Haig's sometimes impossible position as C-in-C in a new light. His dealings with the ever difficult French and the pesky Lloyd George make you wonder how we ever got through it all as eventual victors. But then the haunting photograph of German troops returning home to Berlin in 1918 "with a sense of betrayal and their heads held high" reminds us that after four years of unspeakable slaughter it is difficult still to know what it was all for.
With Amazon's bargain price (at the time of writing) of 50% off, you would be foolish not to ensure that this exceptional work ends up under someone's Christmas tree. Better still, buy it for yourself.