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Books  >>  History

Rick Atkinson

The Guns at Last Light

Rick Atkinson The Guns At Last Light The War In Western Europe 1944 1945 Volume Three Of
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Series:

The Liberation Trilogy

Biographical note:

Rick Atkinson is the bestselling author of An Army at Dawn (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history), The Day of Battle, The Long Gray Line, In the Company of Soldiers, and Crusade. His many other awards include a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, the George Polk award, and the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award. A former staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post, he lives in Washington, D.C.

Excerpt from book:

PROLOGUE

A killing frost struck England in the middle of May 1944, stunting the plum trees and the berry crops. Stranger still was a persistent drought. Hotels posted admonitions above their bathtubs: “The Eighth Army crossed the desert on a pint a day. Three inches only, please.” British newspapers reported that even the king kept “quite clean with one bath a week in a tub filled only to a line which he had painted on it.” Gale winds from the north grounded most Allied bombers flying from East Anglia and the Midlands, although occasional fleets of Flying Fortresses still could be seen sweeping toward the Continent, their contrails spreading like ostrich plumes.

Nearly five years of war had left British cities as “bedraggled, unkempt and neglected as rotten teeth,” according to an American visitor, who found that “people referred to ‘before the war’ as if it were a place, not a time.” The country was steeped in heavy smells, of old smoke and cheap coal and fatigue. Wildflowers took root in bombed-out lots from Birmingham to Plymouth—sow-whistle, Oxford ragwort, and rosebay willow herb, a tall flower with purple petals that seemed partial to catastrophe. Less bucolic were the millions of rats swarming through three thousand miles of London sewers; exterminators scattered sixty tons of sausage poisoned with zinc phosphate, and stale bread dipped in barium carbonate.

Privation lay on the land like another odor. British men could buy a new shirt every twenty months. Housewives twisted pipe cleaners into hair clips. Iron railings and grillwork had long been scrapped for the war effort; even cemeteries stood unfenced. Few shoppers could find a fountain pen or a wedding ring, or bedsheets, vegetable peelers, shoelaces. Posters discouraged profligacy with depictions of the “Squander Bug,” a cartoon rodent with swastika pockmarks. Classified advertisements included pleas in the Times of London for “unwanted artificial teeth” and cash donations to help wounded Russian war horses. An ad for Chez-Vous household services promised “bombed upholstery and carpets cleaned.”

Other government placards advised, “Food is a munition. Don’t waste it.” Rationing had begun in June 1940 and would not end completely until 1954. The monthly cheese allowance now stood at two ounces per citizen. Many children had never seen a lemon; vitamin C came from “turnip water.” The Ministry of Food promoted “austerity bread,” with a whisper of sawdust, and “victory coffee,” brewed from acorns. “Woolton pie,” a concoction of carrots, potatoes, onions, and flour, was said to lie “like cement upon the chest.” For those with strong palates, no ration limits applied to sheep’s head, or to eels caught in local reservoirs, or to roast cormorant, a stringy substitute for poultry.

More than fifty thousand British civilians had died in German air raids since 1940, including many in the resurgent “Baby Blitz” begun in January 1944 and just now petering out. Luftwaffe spotter planes illuminated their targets with clusters of parachute flares, bathing buildings and low clouds in rusty light before the bombs fe

“A magnificent book...[Atkinson] is an absolute master of his material.”—Max Hastings, The Wall Street Journal

“A tapestry of fabulous richness and complexity...The Liberation Trilogy is a monumental achievement, about 2,500 pages in all, densely researched but supremely readable.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Breathtaking, unforgettable...This volume is a literary triumph worthy of the military triumph it explores and explains.”—The Boston Globe

“Monumental… As befits a journalist who knows his material inside and out, Atkinson can provide the incisive explanation to a complex situation or personage…A masterpiece of deep reporting and powerful storytelling.”—The Los Angeles Times

“Atkinson] reconstructs the period from D-Day to V-E Day by weaving a multitude of tiny details into a tapestry of achingly sublime prose…With great sensitivity, Atkinson conveys the horrible reality of what soldiers had to become to defeat Hitler’s Germany.”—The Washington Post

“Detailed in its research, unsparing in its judgments and confident in its prose…This trilogy—on which [Atkinson has] spent 12 years, twice as long as the war itself—may well be his masterpiece.”—Time Magazine

“Great characters, vivid details…The final volume of Rick Atkinson’s ‘Liberation Trilogy’ proves again that few can re-tell a story as well as he.”—USA Today

“A remarkable conclusion to his three parts on WWII… A fabulous book.”—Tom Brokaw on MSNBC’s Morning Joe

“The same qualities that garnered Atkinson a Pulitzer Prize for An Army at Dawn—meticulous research married to masterful narrative—are apparent in The Guns at Last Light. The new book relates the oft-told (but never better) story of the war’s final year, from D-Day to the German surrender.”—The Chicago Tribune

“Epic, set-piece battle sequences are balanced by deft portraiture. The Greatest Generation is nearly gone….The Liberation Trilogy is the monument it deserves.”—Vanity Fair

“A sweeping, prodigiously researched epic…The Guns at Last Light is a definitive, heartfelt work of grandeur, atrocity, and profound sorrow. It is also, along with the two previous volumes, a long, fervent prayer for the fallen.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[An] extraordinary accomplishment. This is a beautifully written, moving account of one of the most bittersweet chapters in modern history…The details build a stunning and precise account of major movements—from Normandy to Paris, from the South of France to Grenoble—and close-up portraits of famous figures that make them living, breathing beings.”—Smithsonian Magazine

“A riveting book…Few historians have Atkinson’s gift for language and few journalists pay as much attention to historical sources…Atkinson writes with the descriptive and lyrical power of a first-rate novelist.”—Christian Science Monitor

“Emotionally gripping…This 850-page military history captivates the reader with the high drama of a spellbinding novel and a cast of characters that a master storyteller would be hard-pressed to invent…It’s hard to imagine a more engrossing, dramatic, fair-minded and elegantly written account of these 11 months that changed the course of history.”—Associated Press

“A terrific read…Atkinson never loses track of the men who fought the war. Mining their diaries and letters, he has produced an account that is achingly human.”̵


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