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THE SUPREME COMMANDER: The War Years Of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Editorial Review - Kirkus - Jane Doe

Stephen Ambrose elected to describe the war years of General Eisenhower from Eisenhower's own frame of reference, an approach which is valid for a biographical study and effectively executed here, but is certainly not without its drawbacks. By describing Eisenhower's wartime service in the terms that Eisenhower himself saw it, Ambrose illuminates the way in which Ike operated, the manner in which ... Read full review

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This was a hefty book I put off for a long time due to its size. I thought 670 pages had to be excessive as a biography of only one person over a period of only 4 years. It was. This was much more than merely a biography. This was an excellent birds-eye view of the entire portion of WWII during American involvement in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Europe. It was a very good and often surprising account of the war.
Although I enjoy war books that include perspectives of the soldiers in the line, too narrow a focus leaves out the context. Likewise, leaving out the experience of the people doing the fighting, the killing, the bleeding and the dying gives a less-than-complete story. Of course, at the end of the day, no single book--no number of books no matter how large--will transmit the totality of the thing. Still, the very best, I feel, transition from command to front-line and back. I think Rick Atkinson's Army at Dawn and Day of Battle are the best balanced I've read.
So this one did give a great view of the war, but it was very much, even sometimes disturbingly, separated and isolated from the horror and suffering of those giving their lives to execute the decisions made at AFHQ and SHAEF. It was often chilling but, I think, realistic, to see the depersonalized processes of directing war at high levels; the disconnect between that and the intimacy of the act of taking a man's life face-to-face was a real and unvarnished aspect of this account of war.
Ambrose was an advocate for Eisenhower throughout, but of course all biographers tend to err on the side of serving the subject as their "relationship" with their subject develops through their writing and research. Ambrose's bias is not bold or blind--he does acknowledge mistakes and counter-arguments--but it is at least visible enough that the reader does not have to wonder and guess at how the author's bias is entering his work. It's better that way sometimes, so that you can account for the bias rather than having to wonder.
All in all this was a very worthwhile read despite its length, and its length contributed to a very satisfying feeling at having finished it. I average about 3 to 7 days for a typical nonfiction war book 300-500 pages. This one took me 14 days exactly.
Overall, this was excellent, but not among the very very best.
 

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