“The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777”

Rick Atkinson

I enjoyed Atkinson’s “Liberation Trilogy” World War II histories so much that I was eager to get this, the first of a trilogy devoted to the American Revolution. I wasn’t disappointed. This is detailed but readable, full of telling character detail, and an all-around great narrative history.

I was especially struck by the attention the author pays to logistics. For instance, a number of British actions — and their timings — were dictated by the difficulties of supplying armies across an ocean in the age of sail. This is just one example of Atkinson’s ability to explain decisions in terms of the factors that influenced the decision-makers.

I hope the next two volumes in this series aren’t too far off.

“The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944”

Rick Atkinson

“The Day of Battle” is the second volume in Rick Atkinson’s monumental “Liberation Trilogy”.  Like the fist book in the series (“An Army At Dawn”) its focus is on the US Army in the European theater of World War II; British and German decisions and actions are related mostly in terms of how they affected the Americans.  I don’t mean that as a criticism, it’s just a comment on the story Atkinson chose to tell. The conflicts among US commanders and between them and the British is as much a part of Atkinson’s story as the fight between the Allies and the Axis.

As in the previous volume, Atkinson concentrates on command decisions.  He doesn’t ignore the experience of the common soldier, but individual GIs are de-emphasized in favor of majors, colonels, and generals.

This isn’t a Stephen Ambrose style history; it’s a more substantial, less sentimental work than many recent books on World War II.  Atkinson avoids the “greatest generation” trope and the book is based on contemporary accounts instead of veterans reminiscences.  As a result, not every commander looks selfless and atrocities committed by both sides are not ignored.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which will cover Normandy and the final defeat of Nazi Germany.

(For another excellent, more narrowly focused and more personal book about the campaign, see Lloyd Clark’s “Anzio: Italy and the Battle for Rome – 1944”.)

“The Guns At Last Light”

Rick Atkinson

This volume brings Rick Atkinson’s magisterial history of the US Army in Europe in World War Two to a close. Like its predecessors “An Army at Dawn” and “The Day of Battle”, it’s an impressively detailed but still readable history. Refreshingly, it doesn’t hide occasional incompentence and poor leadership under “greatest generation” rhetoric.

I’d characterize the book as traditional military history. The author’s focus is on the high command, not a “Band of Brothers” style narrative about individual soldiers. That said, he doesn’t completely ignore the GI experience.

The conluding chapter, which describes the often-ignored story of the recovery of US dead is especially interesting. Though I’ve been to the moving Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, I had never thought or read about the ships full of thousands of coffins that returned fallen soldiers to the United States so that they could be buried in their home towns.