Killing Rommel – Book Review
Killing Rommel. Steven Pressfield. Doubleday, doubleday.com, 2008. 335 pages.
Reading Killing Rommel is the closest thing to actually participating in one of these daring WWII raids.
We’ve come to expect “ripping good yarns” from best-selling novelist Steven Pressfield, but usually his historical novels are set in the ancient world and feature the likes of Alexander the Great or Leonidas the Spartan. This time out, however, Pressfield moves the target of his unmatched skills as storyteller 2000 years forward to World War II’s desert war in North Africa where the Desert Fox, Germany’s Erwin Rommel, reigned as Britain’s nemesis in 1942. But, chiefly, this is a compelling, thoroughly-researched story based upon the exploits of Britain’s Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), the daring, often eccentric commandos who roamed the vast stretches of North African desert in jeeps and light trucks conducting reconnaissance missions and raids on Axis units far behind the front lines. Rommel himself declared that “man for man, the LRDG had done more damage to the Axis cause than any other outfit in the North African campaign.” Pressfield shows you how they did it.
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The story is presented as a first-person-account memoir written by a fictional citizen-soldier, Lt. R. Lawrence “Chap” Chapman, a British Eighth Army armor officer “seconded” to the LRDG in the summer and fall of 1942. Ostensibly only temporarily joining the LRDG for a single patrol to assess the trafficability of remote routes that large armored formations might take through the forbidding desert, Chap quickly bonds with his new “band of brothers” mates and defies orders to return to his regular Eighth Army unit – even going AWOL from a field hospital while sick with pneumonia to rejoin the LRDG. Historical personalities, however, are part of the story, too, and legendary desert commandos like Jake Easonsmith, Paddy Mayne, Nick Wilder, Ron Tinker, and Vladimir Peniakoff, aka “Popski,” appear to help propel the “can’t put it down” narrative. These historical personalities and their authentically detailed missions — and Pressfield’s extraordinary attention to the historically accurate details and experiences of the desert war — make the book read more like an exciting unit battle history of the commandos than a work of fiction. As Pressfield explains, “Practically no incident depicted in these pages as happening to the men of T3 patrol did not occur in fact to others at other times during the desert war. In other words, if an event didn’t happen to these soldiers literally, it either did happen to men just like them or it could have.” Yet, Pressfield doesn’t just tell us a fascinating story about the Long Range Desert Group, he takes us along for the ride! Reading Killing Rommel is the closest thing to actually participating in one of these daring WWII raids in the trackless desert of North Africa that any of us today will ever get.
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