The Waving Flag: Book Reviews - Western Desert 1941-42

Thursday 30 July 2020

Book Reviews - Western Desert 1941-42

It's been a while since I posted a book review.  Over four years in fact.  Not that I've stopped reading or buying books.  It's more that I've been reading mainly fiction and the non-fiction books I have read haven't really inspired me.  Until now.

These continue my fascination with the Western Desert during WWII.  My reading list is quite lengthy; so long that that I've reached the point where I'm looking for something a little different.

Crisp's Brazen Chariots fitted the bill nicely.  I knew it was classic (that's why I bought it) and, having read it the day it arrived, I now understand why.  Pace, adventure and it's first hand approach made it a truly great read.  One of the great WWII memoirs.  Recommended.

Dothery's El Alamein book is the 2017 revised edition of his 2002 book The Sound of History: El Alamein 1942.  It was also different.  This book has it all: in addition to the excellent text it has lots of maps (all at the front), sources, bibliography, and an index.  I read this in two days.  I particularly liked:

  • The opening sections of the book.  They gave a good overview of the build up to El Alamein and the three battles fought there.
  • The way Dothery tackles the thorny Auchinleck/Montgomery debate.  He refers to it throughout the book, almost a sub theme, but it doesn't get in the way of the battle narrative.
  • The strong link between the text and the maps.  Having all the maps at the beginning made it much easier to follow the text and maps in concert.
  • The writing style.  It is clear and concise making reading the inevitable complex passages no harder than they need be.

My biggest bugbear with books about the Western Desert is that they can contain passages that left me totally confused about just exactly who was moving where to do what.  At worst these passages become interminable lists of unit designations, compass bearings and place names (often not on the maps) with no real structure.

It is to Doherty's credit that there were very few passages where this happened and I finished the book feeling I understood the battle far better than before.  Recommended.

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