Book Review: The Victors

victorsThe Victors: Eisenhower and his boys, the men of World War 2 is the second book I’ve read by Stephen Ambrose (Pegasus Bridge was the first) and I’ve watched Band of Brothers of course.

The Victors is essentially several books spliced together to give a more overall picture of the war in Europe from D-Day onwards (so nothing on the Pacific, or the Russian war, little on North Africa or on the Italy invasion going north). It focuses on two ends of the spectrum, the very top with the man who made the decisions Ike Eisenhower and the the very bottom, the men who did the shooting and the dying. It’s compelling stuff.

I’ve not read enough WWII history to know how reliable a guide Ambrose is but it seems to me that he is an excellent oral historian. There are literally hundreds of first hand accounts of what happened and so the picture painted is authentic, genuine, gritty and certainly strips you of any illusions of glamour that there may be about war.

Not surprisingly there’s a focus on the American armies (they after all put in the largest number of troops on the Allied side) so don’t expect too much on the British or Canadian contributions after D-Day for example and it seems clear that the Americans had by far the toughest job at Omaha Beach on that ‘day of days’. Ambrose is relatively even-handed with his praise and criticism to all sides including the Germans, although he evidently didn’t rate the British General Montgomery.

Because there is so much personal testimony, there is real pace and action to this book and an immediacy that bridges the last 65 years effortlessly which in itself is a remarkable achievement. I definitely learnt far more about the details of the liberation of Europe and have a much greater appreciation for the role of the USA in accomplishing that. This isn’t quite as comprehensive as the publisher makes out because it essentially tells the linear story of the American advance but nevertheless this is an excellent book.

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