This is one of several books that has been opened and started but not really got underway. There is no obvious excuse for that because the writing is not difficult to digest and the narrative is hardly lacking in action.
One of the problems perhaps is the names that crop up with numerous military officials weaving through the story of the D-Day landings. Luckily you can stick with the main thrust of what is happening, that was the case with reading Stalingrad, and Beevor doesn’t wait too long getting into the actual invasion.
Having reached the part where the Americans land on Omaha beach the credit has to go to Beevor for managing to weave a narrative that is both factual but in its own way as gripping as the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. We all have a rough idea of what happened but telling us, largely from the perspective of the foot soldier, is a great way of illustrating what it was like to go through the hailstorm of bullets and bravely struggle up that beach to take control of the Normandy coastline.
If you judge a book by its cover and the blurb that is splashed across it then you could be mistaken for picking this up with the impression it was by the world’s greatest historian. Beevor is good but the narrative history strand that he is part of is by no means something that he alone carries a torch for.
But what you do get here is an account of a period of the Second World War that is everything including the kitchen sink. Details like Eisenhower smoking four packs of cigarettes a day in the run up to D-Day might not seem necessary but are the sorts of visual image that make you realise just what it was like for those at the top.
As the first couple of chapters paint a scene of disunity and fear as the allies try to get on with each other enough to launch the D-Day offensive. Beevor doesn’t waste too much time filling in the background and so you get the story starting with just a few days to go until the launch. That creates a sense of engagement that some dusty summary of the first few years of the war would have never managed to do. So far this feels like a good follow-up to Stalingrad, which benefited from a story that was so powerful the numerous generals and army group details washed over you.
More to come next week…