It took longer for me to read this than it took the Allies to take Paris. That’s because it is an intense and extremely detailed account of the D-Day landings, the Normandy battles and the march to Paris. It covers the action from four sides; the British under Monty (portrayed as a fool throughout by Beevor – he clearly has a thing against Monty), the Americans under Patton (The top dog in Beevor’s eyes), the Germans under Hitler and Kluge and the French under De Gaul.
Actually, the D Day section is no more than quarter of the book. The vast majority is dedicated to the battles in Normandy, and focusses heavily on the ultimate victory when the allies trapped the Germans in the Falaise Pocket. His description of the feelings of the Allies landing on the beaches of Normandy are so vivid and visceral that it makes you flinch.
If you don’t like extreme detail this book will not be for you, but if you can deal with the unceasing map reading and referencing, and if understand your east from your west and your left flank from your right you may well love this. The language is real and hugely engaging. But the thing that really grips one in reading this account is the huge degree of human suffering, unneccessary death and the sheer scale of retribution, rape, murder and looting that went on on all sides.
The French play a big part in this book as both heroes (it would not have happened without The French Resistance) and villians (there was an incredible amount of both forced and willing prostitution going on all over France).
For me the single most engrossing aspect of the whole thing is Beevor’s description of The Bocage. Thousands of tiny Normandy fields with huge hedgerow surrounding them that had to be taken on a field by field basis with German booby traps and dug in Panzers everywhere. To say progress was slow and dangerous would be the understatement of the century.
Beevor’s skill is to turn the delivery of historic fact into a form of prose that grips one from start to finish. He truly is a unique talent. Stalingrad is equally compelling and I would not hesitate to recommend either of them.