On the first Friday of June, an errand took us to Bethesda, where we meant also to see a movie. We had some time between errand and movie, which we used to look into the Barnes and Noble at Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues. There we bought several books, among them The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson, the last of his "Liberation Trilogy" on the US Army's campaigns in the North Africa and Europe during World War II. It was only later that I noticed how tidy it was to have bought the book on the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
I finished the book in four or five days. It helped, of course, that I know how the story comes out, knew even the broad outlines of Huertgen Forest, the Colmar Pocket, etc. But Atkinson writes plainly and clearly, for one thing. For another, the story remains absorbing for those of us who grew up when most of the fathers around had been under arms during World War II.
I am no historian. Yet Atkinson's judgments in the trilogy have mostly matched what I read elsewhere, in Moorhead, Weigley, Keegan, Howard, and others. I believe that he has his facts down, and that his judgments are generally sound.
He writes well, a few annoying tics set aside. He has the weakness for the occasional foreign word in italics: gefreiter, frere, resistant. His thumbnail characterizations of his generals (and a few noted field or company officers and NCOs, for example Audie Murphy) recall Ernie Pyle at best, Time Magazine at worst. Allied forces figure only to the extent that they affect American actions--the action on Sword, Gold, and Juno beaches in 1944 gets very little more attention than the British operations on Walcheren Island in 1809; that is a reasonable choice, given that he is writing about the US Army, but occasionally it is distracting.
I am glad to have read it. I'm not sure what happened to my copy of An Army at Dawn, the first volume of the trilogy, but probably I gave it to my brother. I gave away the second volume of the trilogy, The Day of Battle, about the Italian campaign, in part because I found it too tempting to re-read. I may give away The Guns at Last Light on the same grounds.