The Somme: The Darkest Hour on the Western Front

Peter Hart, Author . Pegasus $35 (589p) ISBN 978-1-60598-016-4

Hart is the current master of an approach to military history developed by Martin Middlebrook and Lyn Macdonald. Direct quotations from participants establish “the face of battle,” then combined with a narrative/analytical backdrop contextualizing the personal experiences. As oral historian of Britain's Imperial War Museum, Hart has unrivaled access to relevant sources. This book, published in Britain in 2005, is a masterful synthesis of the human and the operational aspects of a campaign that increasingly defines the British experience in the Great War. Hart vividly presents the runup to the “Big Push” expected to end the war; the disaster of July 1, 1916, when the British army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties; and the numbing months of attrition as British troops bled against the German defenses. Hart describes the horror as reflecting not the stupidity of individual generals and politicians but the determination of nations to resolve their differences by a war fought to the finish. The British army learned how to fight battles like the Somme, built around fire power. But its learning curve was slippery with blood. Hart honors the men who paid the price. Photos, maps. (Jan. 7)

Reviewed on: 11/03/2008
Release date: 01/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
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