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The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Frontby Peter Hart
Synopses & Reviews
On July 1, 1916, the British Army launched the "Big Push" that was supposed to bring an end to the horrific stalemate on the Western Front between British, French and German forces. What resulted was one of the greatest single human catastrophes in twentieth century warfare: scrambling out of trenches in the face of German machine guns and artillery fire, the British lost over twenty thousand soldiers during the first day. This "battle" would drag on for another four bloody months.Expertly weaving together letters, diaries, and other first-person accounts, Peter Hart gives us a compelling narrative tribute to this infamous tragedy that epitomized the futility of "the war to end all wars."
"Hart is the current master of an approach to military history developed by Martin Middlebrook and Lyn Macdonald. Direct quotations from participants establish 'the face of battle,' then combined with a narrative/analytical backdrop contextualizing the personal experiences. As oral historian of Britain's Imperial War Museum, Hart has unrivaled access to relevant sources. This book, published in Britain in 2005, is a masterful synthesis of the human and the operational aspects of a campaign that increasingly defines the British experience in the Great War. Hart vividly presents the runup to the 'Big Push' expected to end the war; the disaster of July 1, 1916, when the British army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties; and the numbing months of attrition as British troops bled against the German defenses. Hart describes the horror as reflecting not the stupidity of individual generals and politicians but the determination of nations to resolve their differences by a war fought to the finish. The British army learned how to fight battles like the Somme, built around fire power. But its learning curve was slippery with blood. Hart honors the men who paid the price. Photos, maps." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. — Laurence Binyon from "For the Fallen," a traditional eulogy for British soldiers since World War I ... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Peter Hart's "The Somme" is a memorial. The book brings to life the men who fought at the Somme in an accurate and precisely detailed history of one of the most gut-wrenchingly obscene desecrations of humanity our species ever perpetrated upon itself. The Battle of the Somme took place in the low, rolling countryside of northeastern France in the summer and fall of 1916. By then the war was two years old, Europe was reaching complete mobilization, and the angry scar of front-line trenches stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea. Despite Hart's caution against "emotional vampires" who perpetually misstate the scale of the battle for modern political reasons, one cannot avoid some enumeration. On the very first day of a struggle that was to last four-and-a-half months, some 19,240 British soldiers fell dead. Twice that number lay wounded. Add to this the casualties suffered by the French and Germans, multiply them over the course of the battle, and the number of killed and wounded on all sides easily exceeded a million, according to most sources. The mind staggers in trying to comprehend this cold fact. Here is the ultimate strength of "The Somme": One cannot reduce the story to mere statistics because the book is only half-written by Hart. The other half consists of the words of the men who were there, telling their stories themselves. If there is a fault in this book, it is an understandable one. In 534 pages of narrative, the author barely manages to cover the British side of the battle; the Germans and French, who lost heavily as well, are essentially left out. As director and oral historian of the British Imperial War Museum in London, Hart is uniquely positioned to do justice to the British participants in the battle. A talented historian, he succeeds in that most important element of history, storytelling. However, one needs time to read this book. I suggest it be taken in small doses. To do otherwise, as I have for this review, invites nightmares. Robert Bateman teaches military history in the Strategic Studies program at Georgetown University. His most recent book was "No Gun Ri, A Military History of the Korean War Incident." Reviewed by Robert Bateman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The definitive account of one of the bloodiest battles in world history--a military tragedy that would come to define a generation.
About the Author
Peter Hart studied at Liverpool University before becoming a director at the Imperial War Museum in London. As the museum's Oral Historian, he works frequently with war veterans recording their wartime experiences.
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