Neptune by Craig L. Symonds
ABOUT THE BOOK
Published: Nov 25, 2014
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Length: 15 hrs 18 mins.
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Seventy years ago, more than six thousand Allied ships carried more than a million soldiers across the English Channel to a fifty-mile-wide strip of the Normandy coast in German-occupied France. It was the greatest sea-borne assault in human history. The code names given to the beaches where the ships landed the soldiers have become immortal: Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and especially Omaha, the scene of almost unimaginable human tragedy. The sea of crosses in the cemetery sitting today atop a bluff overlooking the beaches recalls to us its cost.
Most accounts of this epic story begin with the landings on the morning of June 6, 1944. In fact, however, D-Day was the culmination of months and years of planning and intense debate. In the dark days after the evacuation of Dunkirk in the summer of 1940, British officials and, soon enough, their American counterparts, began to consider how, and, where, and especially when, they could re-enter the European Continent in force. The Americans, led by U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, wanted to invade as soon as possible; the British, personified by their redoubtable prime minister, Winston Churchill, were convinced that a premature landing would be disastrous. The often-sharp negotiations between the English-speaking allies led them first to North Africa, then into Sicily, then Italy. Only in the spring of 1943, did the Combined Chiefs of Staff commit themselves to an invasion of northern France. The code name for this invasion was Overlord, but everything that came before, including the landings themselves and the supply system that made it possible for the invaders to stay there, was code-named Neptune.
Craig L. Symonds now offers the complete story of this Olympian effort, involving transports, escorts, gunfire support ships, and landing craft of every possible size and function. The obstacles to success were many. In addition to divergent strategic views and cultural frictions, the Anglo-Americans had to overcome German U-boats, Russian impatience, fierce competition for insufficient shipping, training disasters, and a thousand other impediments, including logistical bottlenecks and disinformation schemes. Symonds includes vivid portraits of the key decision-makers, from Franklin Roosevelt and Churchill, to Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who commanded the naval element of the invasion. Indeed, the critical role of the naval forces–British and American, Coast Guard and Navy–is central throughout.
In the end, as Symonds shows in this gripping account of D-Day, success depended mostly on the men themselves: the junior officers and enlisted men who drove the landing craft, cleared the mines, seized the beaches and assailed the bluffs behind them, securing the foothold for the eventual campaign to Berlin, and the end of the most terrible war in human history.
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It was a great change of pace to finally get back into reading History books. It has been quite some time and even longer since I last reviewed one so I seem to have lost touch…we’ll try this today anyway.
While listening to the audiobook of Neptune, it struck me that the writing of this book is easily the most lovable thing about this book. It seems to differ from the writing style used in Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts (which I am also currently reading) and it is, in its own way, much better. The writing style seems more personal and easier to follow. The author has written (and performed) the book in such a way that it mostly felt like I was listening to a story rather than historical data about a certain event.
At one point in the book, quite early into the book, there is a scene in which Roosevelt is about to give a speech and the author paints such an image of that singular moment that it felt so personal and intense, almost as if I was a part of it. It describes how Roosevelt paced back and forth in his office, revising his speech, and his concentration on making sure his speech was as clear but potent as it could be. The significance of that moment, as I listen to how Roosevelt looks at the speech, crosses out one word, and replaces it with another felt unbelievably real, as if I was in the moment. While Napoleon was a compilation of historical data, Neptune felt like almost like a personal narrative.
Neptune also tends to flow fluidly from one chapter to another. While listening to the book, I wasn’t really ever aware that I’d already finished a chapter and moved on to another. And when I did notice, I realized the author also has a way of ending his chapters is such a way that despite the fact that this book is purely factual, it still makes the reader want to turn the page and find out how the story continues…almost like a cliffhanger. So while listening, these chapter breaks felt more like section breaks and I flew through hours of this audiobook in the span of a week.
What I liked the most about this book, however, is that it focuses on more than one aspect of the Normandy invasion as a historical event. It displays the political drama between nations, the military tactics through which such an event was undertaken, and the somewhat personal side of what war was like for the soldiers themselves and the socio-political relationships between American and British soldiers.
This is what makes this book a really great educational read. And I think it would be appealing to many audiences, well, many audiences who enjoy non-fiction. If you have a history buff in your family and are looking for a gift this Holiday, I would highly recommend trying this one.
Disclaimer: An audiobook copy of this book was provided by Audible in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced by any person, place, or event.
This review is also available on BookLikes.