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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

on 12 March 2014
Engaging and extremely well written. I highly recommend this and the other two books in the trilogy, if anything the other two are even more interesting.
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on 9 October 2017
A fascinating time in history clearly written and easily read which given the complexity is a triumph
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 March 2003
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. Although the credentials, such as thus usage of this book by the Israeli Armed Forces, suggests that this book has real value for the military professional, the endless recital of names and actions makes it difficult for an amateur historian, such as myself, to maintain interest.
In concluding sections, the narrative returns to more recognizable themes, such as the breaking of the lines, the collapse of the Belgians, the evacuation of Dunkerque and the last effort to organize a final defense in France. This book introduced me to the depth of irony in the French surrender. I had known that the French were forced to surrender in the same rail car and at the same location as the Armistice signing of 1918. I was unaware that the Versailles Conference had taken place in the same hall in which Wilhelm I had been proclaimed Emperor of Germany in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War.
I did enjoy reading about the involvement of Rommel and de Gaulle, two figures who would play major roles later in the War and, in de Gaulle's case, thereafter.
Although this book focuses on French failures, it is balanced in that it does note that the British performed no better than did the French.
In the end, Horne explores the question of how the defeat of France influenced subsequent developments in Europe and the world.
This book may be a great one for pursuing expertise in the Battle of France but it is a bit detailed for recreational reading.
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on 28 January 2013
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 March 2011
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. He commences, as so many others have, with the "logic of peace," the settlement that was made at Versailles, and how those decisions led inexorably to the "logic of war" in only 20 years. The first third of the book covers the politically, social, and intellectual life of the post-war period, and how the ossified political process, coupled with equally ossified military thinking, exemplified by the Maginot Line, would result in France's rapid collapse. The second two thirds covers the six week debacle (for the French), and is detailed military history, with strategy, small unit maneuvers, and General Staff drama.

Horne manages to capture the detail that seems to explain the general concept. He quotes Napoleon: "Above all, be distrustful of eye-witnesses... the only thing my Grenadiers saw of Russia was the pack of the man in front," in order to raise the issue of the unreliability of eyewitnesses. Better than most of us, he manages to present a balanced account of multiple points of view, but occasionally his personal political convictions (conservative) reveal themselves with a dry, acerbic wit: "...no form of literature demonstrated a greater revolt away from reality that the existentialism of young Jean-Paul Sartre and his fellow inmates of the Café Flore in the latter 1930s." Or, "In their film going, this dread of war led Sartre and Beauvoir to miss Renoir's classic, "La Grande Illusion," by preference seeking escapism in such American farces as "My Man Godfrey"..."

Speaking of Sartre, despite Horne's jaundiced view, for those interested in this period, I would highly recommend his "Les Chemins de la Liberté," (The Roads to Freedom), which is available in English in the three volumes, The Reprieve (Penguin Modern Classics) The Age of Reason (Penguin Modern Classics) and Troubled Sleep (Chemins de la Liberte = The Roads To Freedom)

Horne's books are worth reading just for the quality of the chapter epigraphs that he uses. This book is also accompanied by some excellent maps, and a solid bibliography. He normally writes for an upper English class audience, and assumes they know French. In this volume there is very little un-translated French. I always enjoy his epilogue section the most. After following some individuals throughout the 700 pages, it is fascinating to discover what happened to them in later life, and they range the entire spectrum of fates. Horne concludes by pondering how the French and Germans now zip peacefully across the borders, and wonders: "did the First Sedan, the Battle of Verdun, the Second Battle of Sedan have to be fought before Germany and France would lower the frontier barriers between their two countries?"

The past is not dead, as Faulkner famously proclaimed. Isn't it an equally valid question to ask the "children of Abraham," the Arabs and the Jews? How many more battles, before the frontier barriers, particularly of the mind, are removed?

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on February 03, 2010)
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on 2 March 2010
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. That much is obvious, as well as the strengths of the German planning and their militaries execution of the invasion; whether the British were quite as heroic as Horne states appears to me a little questionable, especially giving the extravagant praise he applies to Lord Gort and the lack of any significant account of what the British Expeditionary Forces were up to in the early stages of the campaign.

Reasonably well written (though with enough exclamation marks for a medium sized revolutionary manifesto!), I was left thinking that Horne's view of the build up to and execution of the German invasion of France in 1940 is marred by his particular political outlook (much finger wagging at the left in France) which while obvious, is thankfully rather less crassly partisan than the laudatory footnotes regarding Israel, the 1967 and 1973 wars and Ariel Sharon's prowess on the battlefield. I suspect that this in inevitable in a writer who thanks William Buckley Jr in his acknowledgements, and has had the dubious duty of writing Henry Kissinger's official biography bestowed upon him (bravery or foolishness?). That said, it's not a bad book though I would be a bit shy about calling it impartial scholarship (no references either!), it's more one mans view of the build up to the 1940 invasion and the invasion itself, and despite it's limitations it's still an interesting read, though not in the same class as Horne's seminal work on the Algerian War of Independence (A Savage War of Peace).
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on 20 December 2016
Anyone familiar with Horne's work will know what to expect here: deep scholarship combined with insightful analysis and a fluent writing style that is ideal for the non-specialist reader. The first one third of the book is a masterful overview of French politics in the 1920s and 30s which sets the scene for what happens when the Nazis invaded; I learnt a lot from this. Horne then dives into the actual battle and here, for this reader anyway, is where the book becomes quite heavy going. Horne tells the story of each of the military units on both sides so there is a huge amount of detail about the make-up, and disposition of the opposing armies; his command of detail is impressive but unless you're a real military anorak you might find it a question of 'too much information' (I did). Having said that I doubt there's a better book on the market which tells the dramatic (and shameful) story of the French collapse - political, military and moral - in 1940. And anyone who sticks the course will have a much deeper understanding of why France was so comprehensively defeated - essential background to understanding the France of today: that defeat left a wound in the French psyche which has yet to heal.
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on 26 December 2015
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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on 19 May 2014
This book provides a very detailed account of the battle of France and events leading up to the German offensive, which tends to concentrate primarily on social, political and military events in France. I think this background provides the reader with a good snapshot of the prevailing mood in France on the eve of the battle and the inevitably of the forthcoming storm. I would recommend the book for those interested in this particular subject.
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on 2 September 2013
Having read Alistair Horne's fantastic book about the Siege of Paris and the Commune (1870-1) I figured I should try this one. 'To lose a battle' is definitely unputdownable and I finished the close to 700 pages in barely a week. Amazing how a story of which you already know the ending can be so captivating.
Alistair Horne is one of the few writers who are strong both on general background and detail; he is equally comfortable describing the 1930s politics as he is discussing strengths and weaknesses of the various tank and aircraft types.
Approximately one third of the book is dedicated to the pre-war period. In Horne's opinion the French defeat was to some extent pre-programmed by the excessive emphasis by the French army on defence, its lack of innovativeness and also the general mood in France in the 1930s. Perhaps he takes this idea a bit too far; for example I could not help wonder if it is realistic to blame the 'melting away' of the French army by panic and lack of will to fight, just on those sit-in strikes in 1936 that would have undermined 'authority' in general.
However, Horne is not a determinist in that he points out very clearly just how lucky the Germans were that bad weather in late 1939 prevented them from attacking (as Hitler wanted) based on a very mediocre rehash of the Schlieffen Plan, and how an aircraft crash actually made them can the old plans and come up with the much better Manstein plan. Further, the Germans were very lucky that the critical part of the French 'line' was occupied by below average troops, that the French were so painfully slow to counterattack (in fact their high command was often days behind the actual facts on the ground), that the weather was so good ('Goering weather'), etc. Something I had not realized before is just how critical the infamous German '88' guns were, not just to knock out heavy French B-1 tanks but also to blast the bunkers and pillboxes defending the Meuse.

Very highly recommended!
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