The Fighting Pattons – Book Review
Not everyone may be enamored with book reprints, but there is no question they can expose an older book to new readers. This was the case for me with Brian Sobel’s The Fighting Pattons. This was a book I had seen many years ago (first printed in 1997) and was very interested in reading at the time. The years have passed and the book slipped my mind, but seeing it recently in reprint immediately regenerated my interest. I made sure I would read it this time—and I’m glad I did.
To begin with, Sobel’s title is a bit misleading (which is a good thing), suggesting the book provides a vivid history on the warfighting prowess within the Patton family, with an obvious emphasis on George S. Patton Jr. There are only a couple of pages at the beginning about earlier Pattons, such as the Confederate officer George S. Patton, however. This book truly revolves around the life of Patton Jr.’s son – George S. Patton IV. Because of this emphasis, Sobel’s volume is a significant addition to our understanding of a man often overlooked and compared unfairly to his father.
Sobel dedicates roughly the first quarter of the book to the life of Patton Jr. However, he does not focus on the events of that life which most of us are very familiar with. Instead, he keys on two objectives. First, he wants to provide a basic understanding of the relationship between father and son. Readers will find it was not as complicated as they might think. Second, he seeks to offer the perceptions and opinions George S. Patton IV had on some of the events his father was involved in and the military leaders his father worked with (Eisenhower and Bradley in particular). I found these portions of the book extremely fascinating.
As noted, the preponderance of this book is essentially a biography of Patton IV. Within these pages, Sobel clearly focuses in two areas. First, he strives to capture Patton IV, the man, and utilizes many sources to do so. He includes perspectives from Patton IV’s family (particularly of his wife of 52 years—Joanne), friends, and from the man himself. Readers will find that Patton IV had several characteristics in common with his father. Conversely, there was no question that he was very different from his father and unquestionably his own man.
Second, Sobel provides a comprehensive look at the 34-year military career of Patton IV, who was every bit the “muddy boots” soldier that his father was. Interviews with the soldiers he led and fought with also accentuate that he was greatly respected as a leader on the battlefield (in Korea and Vietnam) and as a tactician. In fact, Sobel provides a compelling argument that Patton IV could have very well achieved more than his retired rank of major general if he wasn’t the son of his famous father.
Sobel makes tremendous use of the words of Patton IV himself, putting them in italics throughout the book to draw attention to them. I found Patton IV’s comments enlightening and entertaining. In particular, I found the book’s last chapter, “Quiet Reflection,” to be highly beneficial. In it, Patton IV provides his thoughts on a variety of subjects including the Vietnam War, leadership, the conduct of war and the changes he saw in the US Army. It is an outstanding and fitting ending to the book.
In comparing the 2013 edition of the Fighting Pattons with the 1977 original, there are not many differences. Sobel has essentially inserted two additions. The first is a forward by Joanne Holbrook Patton (Patton IV’s wife). She praises the book and is especially grateful that it provided a forum for her husband to share his thoughts. The second addition is an introduction by Sobel in which he addresses pertinent events involving the Patton Family which occurred since the original was published, including the passing of Patton IV in 2004.
The Fighting Pattons is a superb book. Again, do not let the title fool you. This is principally a much needed biography of George S. Patton IV. A biography that highlights the significant challenges he faced and met in his life, his service to our nation, and his accomplishments on and off the battlefield. This is clearly a book I wish I had read when it was first published.
About the Author:
Rick Baillergeon is a retired U.S. Army Infantry officer. Since his retirement, he has served as a faculty member at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is also co-author of the popular Armchair General Web series “Tactics 101.”