Posted 06 September 2008 - 01:40 AM
The review that follows appeared more than six years ago in the San Francisco Chronicle. In fairness to the author of the book, I've italicized the part of the review that I believe deserves emphasis. An online bookseller's brief description of the book said it is too short and general to satisfy specialists in the field.
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, June 30, 2002
by Mark Luce
A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front
By Winston Groom
Atlantic Monthly Press; 288 pages; $27.50
The four-year battle on the Belgian plains near Ypres in World War I makes Gettysburg look like a bar fight. Fighting for nominal gains measured in feet and yards, the Germans battled the Allies nonstop in conditions that can only be described as horrific. When it was finally over, nearly a million men were dead, and the once-gorgeous landscape, dotted with poppies, was a morass of mud, craters and corpses.
Winston Groom, of "Forrest Gump" fame and lately proving himself an able historian, has now written "A Storm in Flanders," a fascinating, evenhanded, page-turning account of the events, strategies, leaders and soldiers who fought and died in the fields immortalized by such World War I poets as Wilfred Owen and John McCrae.
Groom explicitly states that he is writing for Americans unfamiliar with the war and the strategic importance of the four large battles at Ypres. He succeeds at making the details of the fighting and the technological advances that rendered killing more efficient -- poison gas, tanks, mines, artillery guns and airplanes -- accessible to war novitiates.
Great War buffs (and perhaps the British) may chide Groom for refusing to pass judgment on British Expeditionary Force leader Sir Douglas Haig, who repeatedly consigned tens of thousands of troops to certain death. Groom's purpose is not to judge, though, but to introduce. He gives readers a nice mixture of sources, from personal diaries to official histories, and puts them in fairly chronological order to create a dramatic, thoughtful and extremely humanistic treatment of this heartbreaking chapter in early 20th century history.