British historian and journalist Holland (Fortress Malta) vividly recalls the final year of World War II in Italy in this masterful narrative. The controversial decision to invade Sicily and Italy following the North African campaign was ""purely opportunistic"" and intended to draw German resources away from the main action in Normandy. As critics had feared, Italy, with its rugged mountains, was ""a truly terrible place to fight,"" and the campaign became a bloody war of attrition. The final toll on combatants, civilians, and the Italian landscape was staggering; total casualties exceeded a million and entire cities were leveled. Cassino, the site of a decisive battle, was ""utterly-100 per cent-destroyed"" and Benevento resembled ""a post-apocalyptic ruin."" Holland's balanced account of the savage fighting and wholesale destruction draws on the eyewitness testimony of Allied and German combatants, Italian partisans and Fascist loyalists. He concludes-echoing historian Rick Atkinson's excellent recent account of the campaign, The Day of Battle-that despite its terrible cost, the fight in Italy played a decisive role in defeating Germany. A complementary volume to Atkinson's account focusing on the earlier stages of the campaign, this is popular history at its very best: exhaustively researched, compellingly written and authoritative.