Atkinson’s book, the second in his Liberation Trilogy (liberationtrilogy.com), is wonderful. Atkinson’s skill, also evident in the first book, is his ability to move the camera back and forth between the big picture and the small moment as well as between the famous leader and the ordinary soldier. The names are here – Patton, relegated to the sidelines in part because of his temper. Churchill, aware of the declining importance of the British contribution to the war effort and its overall place in the world. But Atkinson’s implicit thesis is that the war is less about its leaders and more about the ordinary soldiers. That, in fact, the victory was less about any kind of tactical supremacy and more about simply having more people and more stuff than the Germans did. The logistics of the battles are amazing as are, sadly, the casualty numbers, especially since, I learned quite late, not everyone thinks it was a campaign worth fighting. I also learned that we came close to using chemical warfare, and the preparations for such an attack ended up costing us dearly.

Atkinson does an impeccable job of writing historical narrative. He is, first and foremost, telling a story.

And after all those battles and casualties and miles, they finally take Rome – the day before D-Day.

The third book, The Guns at Last Light, is out in hardback. I’ll wait until it comes out in paperback. I’ll need that much time to recover.

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