D-Day by Stephen Ambrose [Rating – 5/5. Reviewer – daikama]
Simply put, D-Day is one of the best WW II history books that I have read. Quite possibly my favorite. D-Day is a special book for me because my first copy (I own two) was given to me by a relative who served during WW II, and reading it inspired my interest in the WW II history. I’ve also read Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers by Ambrose, and in my opinion, D-Day is by far the best of the three.
What makes D-Day outstanding is that as much as any WW II history book I’ve read, it puts me front and center into the action. It’s not a pure oral history book like The GIs War or The Forgotten Soldier, but the vast majority is oral history – and damn good oral history at that. When German Lt. Frerking shouts “Target Dora — Fire!” into the telephone inside his pillbox overlooking Omaha Beach, I can almost hear him. When US Lt. Joe Smith says “Believe me, I am a destroyer man from that day on”, by that point in the book, I am one too.
Somehow, Ambrose manages to organize a LOT of different oral history statements from both sides into a compelling and completely engrossing tale. I’ve read the book three times, and I can’t help but get swept up in the story. It is powerful stuff, and in my opinion the literary equivalent of the first 20 minutes or so of the movie Saving Private Ryan. On top of that, for what I consider to be primarily an oral history type book, Ambrose generously adds some much appreciated maps. That’s something you don’t get with most oral history books, and makes it a LOT easier to follow the action while reading.
It should be noted that some of Ambrose’s books have been criticized for apparent plagiarism (primarily his early works), and in a few instances, allegations that some content is fabricated. In Ambrose’s defense, D-Day is very well cited with pages of footnotes. I certainly do not condone plagiarism nor do I want the author intentionally adding fictional accounts. I looked into the issue a couple of years ago, and I found no claims of plagiarism for D-Day, and one instance of probably fabricating a small event. That’s it. I’d rather not have any mistakes, but I can overlook such a minor one. In fact, considering that the book was reviewed under high scrutiny, I believe all the rest of the oral history is true and correct. In short, at least for D-Day, the above issues are mute IMO.
D-Day is not perfect by any means. As noted, D-Day is a hybrid with some reference/”textbook” type sections to go with the oral history, and those sections contain some factual errors. To be fair, there are not that many factual/data errors, but some are very noticeable and come across as sloppy editing. Ambrose is definitely on the patriotic side = he’s not entirely objective in his analysis. For example, (paraphrasing) “Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was one of the worst military blunders in history”. Given the myriad of problems surrounding the Atlantic Wall defense (which wasn’t even finished), it’s hard to take that kind of conclusion as anything credible when Ambrose is going on and on about how close Omaha Beach was to collapsing, and thus the entire invasion likely to fail. Human conflict has existed for thousands of years. I’m pretty sure a large number of bigger military “blunders” were made. Conversely, many (but not all) US mistakes are given a free pass.
Given such short comings, it may seem odd that I rate the book so highly. Let me explain. I do not read Ambrose’s books for the reference content or his analysis. LIke Citizen Soldier and Band of Brothers, I read D-day for the the beautifully woven oral history. As I wrote above, D-Day puts me in the proverbial combat boots as well as any other WW II book I’ve read. Perhaps better. Gripping, compelling, emotional – all in a “story” in which you already know the ending, and may have a good idea of what happened. So I highly recommend this book with the above caveats. Take the reference stuff and (especially) Ambrose’s analysis with a few grains of salt while you immerse yourself in the tale that is D-Day.