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An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943 (2002)

by Rick Atkinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Liberation Trilogy (1)

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2,795625,268 (4.26)69
In the first volume of his monumental trilogy about the liberation of Europe in WW II, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson tells the riveting story of the war in North Africa. The liberation of Europe and the destruction of the Third Reich is a story of courage and enduring triumph, of calamity and miscalculation. That first year of the Allied war was a pivotal point in American history, the moment when the United States began to act like a great power. Beginning with the daring amphibious invasion in November 1942, An Army at Dawn follows the American and British armies as they fight the French in Morocco and Algeria, and then take on the Germans and Italians in Tunisia. Battle by battle, an inexperienced and sometimes poorly led army gradually becomes a superb fighting force. Central to the tale are the extraordinary but fallible commanders who come to dominate the battlefield: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, and Rommel. Brilliantly researched, rich with new material and vivid insights, Atkinson's narrative provides the definitive history of the war in North Africa.… (more)
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English (59)  Spanish (3)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
Perhaps it is a tautology to say that no commander has ever entered a battle he has won before. Every new battle, every new war demands innovation. Only fools enter war confident they have mastered every contingency. The Allies entered the African campaign of WWII with a lot of preconceptions, but with few soldiers who had been there before. It seems so odd to us today reading that Dwight D. Eisenhower was named Supreme Commander of the Allied force with no experience leading an army into battle. None. Certainly the British generals under him scratched their head at the decision. Eisenhower had been in war before, but not from such lofty heights. In this account of the Allied invasion of North Africa we see Eisenhower make a lot of costly mistakes. Still the Allies beat one of the best armies ever assembled led by some of the best generals on the planet. To be fair, many of the Allies' costly mistakes came from a certain newness to the situation, a newness even the British generals took time cluing in to. The US Army may have fought in WWI, but they had never invaded a hostile continent before, nor supplied the soldiers of three nations to do it. They bumbled, they stalled for time, they failed to move in for the kill most of the time. But in Atkinson's great account, what the US soldiers had to learn first was to really hate the enemy. When you really hate the enemy you kill with abandon. Bernard Montgomery hated the enemy. His 8th British Army fought Rommel's army in their schoolhouse and pushed him back. And what the Allies had to learn was to trust and learn from each other, and to learn from their foes. Once the Americans, British, and French buried their differences and worked together, they found the secret sauce. As General George Patton said to his soldiers, " Once you look across at what was once the face of your best friend and see a gooey mess, you'll know what to do." (I paraphrase.) ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
History told in literary prose. Listened on Audible while driving to Syzygy job. I DO have a physical copy of this book. ( )
  tlanson | Oct 11, 2023 |
OK history but a bit tedious in parts. Helped me understand the war in N. Africa a little better. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
“Memory, too, has transcendent power, even as we swiftly move toward the day when not a single participant remains alive to tell his tale, and the epic of World War II forever slips into national mythology. The author’s task is to authenticate: to warrant that history and memory give integrity to the story, to aver that all this really happened. But the final few steps must be the reader’s. For among mortal powers, only imagination can bring back the dead.”

The first book in the Liberation trilogy provides a riveting account of the Allied landings in North Africa during World War II. Allied troops landed in Algeria and Morocco, overpowered the Vichy French, and fought the Axis forces on the way to Tunisia, the planned launching point for the invasion of Italy. It is a detailed description of tactics, strategy, and impact of military operations. It includes profiles of many commanders, including Commander-in-Chief Eisenhower, Alexander, Bradley, Montgomery, Patton, Rommel, and von Arnim.

This is an exceptional work of non-fiction. Atkinson’s writing is outstanding. As I read this book, the descriptions were so vivid that I felt as if a movie were running through my head.

“Not until dusk did the British vanguard reach the col below Longstop’s northwest face. Rain had transformed the Medjerda valley into a vast brown sea too quaggy even for mules. A brace of bullocks was harnessed to pull a few guns forward. Wheeled vehicles bogged down 5,000 yards from the hill. Even tracked carriers could get no closer than Chassart Teffaha, a farm hamlet two miles away. There, in a damp cellar that stank like a slaughterhouse, surgeons worked by candlelight over boys beyond surgeoning; stretcher bearers dumped another load and headed back into the night without even bothering to fold stretchers stiff with blood.”

The author inserts plentiful quotes from journals, correspondences, and official documents to support his conclusions. I appreciated the inclusion of the many maps, photos, and endnotes. We get a “behind the scenes” view of the interpersonal conflicts and military politics among commanders, but it is not just a view from the top. It is also sprinkled with stories of individual soldiers. Atkinson highlights both mistakes and triumphs. “Confusion and error, valor and misdeed marked this first night of green troops in combat.”

North Africa provided a training ground for the previously untested American troops. By the time they reached Tunis, the troops were battle-hardened and ready for the fierce battles to come. It is important to understand the North African campaign in order to get a full picture of the road to the ultimate victory in Europe. I plan to read the final two books in the trilogy. This is history at its finest. I highly recommend it.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
First let me say that this was a thoroughly interesting book and I enjoyed it to the last. I am not going to say more about the quality of the writing that has not already been said.

What I can say is that I learned quite a bit about the north African campaign that I simply did not know. When I have read books about WWII they have tended to be about the war in Europe or I have read biographies like Carlos d'Este's Patton which talks more about the person than it does the theater of war.

A good book and I look forward to reading the other two in the trilogy.
  DarrinLett | Aug 14, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
"I don’t think I’ve ever read a history book that flowed so well. The book is an incredible marriage of storytelling and historical fact, so that the reader feels both entertained and very well informed."
 
"The most thorough and satisfying history yet of the campaigns in North Africa."
added by whitrichardson | editKirkus Reivews (Jul 15, 2002)
 
"This is a fascinating work which any reader can enjoy, and professional historians will find perusal of it eminently worth their while."
 
"Despite diction that occasionally lapses into the melodramatic, general readers and specialists alike will find worthwhile fare in this intellectually convincing and emotionally compelling narrative."
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rick Atkinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
At last the armies clashed at one strategic point,
They slammed their shields together, pike scraped pike,
With the grappling strength of fighters armed in bronze
and their round shields pounded, boss on welded boss,
And the sounds of struggle rocked and rocked the earth.
 
    The Iliad, Book 4
Dedication
To my mother and father
First words
PROLOGUE
Twenty-seven acres of headstones fill the American military cemetery at Carthage, Tunisia.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the first volume of his monumental trilogy about the liberation of Europe in WW II, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson tells the riveting story of the war in North Africa. The liberation of Europe and the destruction of the Third Reich is a story of courage and enduring triumph, of calamity and miscalculation. That first year of the Allied war was a pivotal point in American history, the moment when the United States began to act like a great power. Beginning with the daring amphibious invasion in November 1942, An Army at Dawn follows the American and British armies as they fight the French in Morocco and Algeria, and then take on the Germans and Italians in Tunisia. Battle by battle, an inexperienced and sometimes poorly led army gradually becomes a superb fighting force. Central to the tale are the extraordinary but fallible commanders who come to dominate the battlefield: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, and Rommel. Brilliantly researched, rich with new material and vivid insights, Atkinson's narrative provides the definitive history of the war in North Africa.

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