75 Years Since D-Day

Ten reviews to commemorate the anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

Love the Hot Topic Titles? Try our other newsletters.

Beevor, Antony. D-Day: the battle for Normandy. Viking, 2009. 592p ISBN 9780670021192, $32.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2010

Beevor (Univ. of London) has written a powerful history of the battle for Normandy in WW II. His detailed narrative covers the entire campaign from General Dwight Eisenhower’s decision to launch the invasion in June 1944 all the way to the liberation of Paris on August 25, 1944. His research has taken him to more than 30 archives in six countries. The result is a major account of the Normandy invasion, in which Beevor follows the Allied forces in their campaign from Normandy to Paris. In his narrative, he describes the Normandy campaign as seen not only by the US, British, French, and German forces, but also by the French people who suffered from the Allied bombing and shelling. Beevor’s history is enhanced by an excellent series of maps and illustrations. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —K. Eubank, CUNY Queens College

The D-Day companion: leading historians explore history’s greatest amphibious assault, ed. by Jane Penrose. Osprey Publishing, 2004. 286p ISBN 1841767794, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2004

As the title indicates, this is not a history of the Normandy invasion, but rather a supplement to such a history. It is composed of 13 largely independent essays that examine various aspects of the planning and conduct of the invasion. Specific topics range from the functioning of the Allied high command and its deception and intelligence activities to German defensive measures and the contributions of naval and air power. The authors are recognized military historians, many of whom have already published important books on aspects of the war, and they write with authority. Their purpose is not to introduce new scholarship, however, but to present what is generally known to a wide audience in a readily accessible manner. In this, they succeed admirably. This is a book one can either read through in its entirety or simply delve into for those essays of particular interest. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General audiences and public and undergraduate libraries. —R. H. Larson, Lycoming College

D-Day in history and memory: the Normandy landings in international remembrance and commemoration, ed. by Michael Dolski, Sam Edwards, and John Buckley. University of North Texas Press, 2014. 308p bibl index afp ISBN 9781574415483, $24.95; ISBN 9781574415582 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2014

This study examines how D-Day has evolved into a complex symbol for the six principal national actors to demonstrate how the construction of the memory of this singular event exists in different historical contexts and current political exigencies, and how it has been represented in films, novels, monuments, celebrations, and news media. Contributors analyze the commemoration, memorialization, and remembrance of a story that emerges as one of “national parochialism shaped by transnational imperatives.” For the US, for example, D-Day is a heroic crusade and virtuous war; for the UK, it represents imperial solidarity and the establishment of a special relationship with the US; in Germany, the prelude to Nazi defeat jousts with the counter-myth of national liberation by the Red Army; for Russia, the one-day event is trivial in comparison to its long campaign of the Great Patriotic War. Throughout, two dominant themes of sacrifice and redemption emerge in two distinct periods of commemoration: 1944-50s was marked by museums, memorials, and cemeteries; the early 1980s launched D-Day as myth and symbol in popular films and media, supported by the rise of the “memory boom” and “heritage industry.” Provocatively, the study ponders the nature of the then-forthcoming 70th anniversary in 2014. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —B. Osborne, Queen’s University at Kingston

Dolski, Michael R. D-Day remembered: the Normandy landings in American collective memory. Tennessee, 2016. 310p bibl index afp ISBN 9781621902188, $45.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2016

Arguing that memory is a vague concept and that popular consciousness is a malleable phenomenon, Dolski explores the evidentiary trail of archival materials, organization of ceremonies, and construction of memorials around D-Day commemorations and their representation in scholarly and popular media. An introduction establishes the theoretical objectives. The following eight chapters address the continuously evolving process of commemoration since 1944. From an initial analysis of the strategy, tactics, and home perceptions of D-Day, the eclipse of its iconic image ensues in the subsequent decades when divisive wars, economic decline, social divisions, and political crises cast a dark cloud over the US self-image. The chapter on the dramatic “Redemption” of D-Day in the 1980s and 1990s recounts an explosion of popular awareness propagated by a wave of articles, books, monuments, movies, commemorations, tourist pilgrimages, and stage-managed presidential pronouncements on national pride and protection of a moral world order. This exploration includes a powerful analysis of the role of films, television, news media, cyberspace, and a “plethora of books.” An excellent scholarly work accompanied by 48 pages of footnotes; 19 pages of sources, including novels, films, and journals; and 31 illustrations. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Most levels/libraries. —B. Osborne, Queen’s University at Kingston

Hart, Russell A. Clash of arms: how the allies won in Normandy. L. Rienner, 2001. 469p ISBN 1555879470, $79.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2001

This book is an analysis of how and why the Allies were able to defeat the Germans in Normandy in 1944. Hart (history, Hawai’i Pacific Univ.) thoroughly examines how the American, British, Canadian, and German armies organized, trained, and equipped themselves during the interwar years and then describes how they adapted to the challenges of war from 1939 to 1944. His conclusion that the Germans were ahead of their rivals in 1939 will surprise no one; his argument that by 1944 the Americans had shown the greatest flexibility in adapting to the realities of combat and consequently had the most effective forces in the field challenges the conclusions of many, but is convincingly argued and well supported. Hart understands the complexity of his subject and skillfully pieces together the institutional development of the military forces with the political, economic, social, and cultural values of the societies that produced them. The result is an outstanding comparative study that blends the so-called new military history with traditional operational history. This is one of the most original and important studies of the war to appear recently. Summing Up: All collections. —R. H. Larson, Lycoming College

Kershaw, Robert. Landing on the edge of eternity: twenty-four hours at Omaha Beach. Pegasus Books, 2018. 376p bibl index ISBN 9781681778662, $27.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2019

After decades filled with movies, documentaries, and books about WW II comes this unique and enlightening narrative on the first 24 hours of the assault and fighting on Omaha Beach. Kershaw, a British military historian, has a distinctive style of presenting information—one that characterizes many of his other publications—that makes his account of these decisive hours on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy stand out, despite the many books on this landmark battle. He weaves together a wealth of information and perspectives from German soldiers, Allied forces, and eyewitness French citizens. The individuals whose accounts color the narrative are introduced to the reader at the start of the book in a dramatis personae complete with short bios. Kershaw is upfront about the information he employs for his account, and how relying on personal testimony can give rise to a maze of contradictions. Nevertheless, he does a masterful job of locating the common threads between multiple personal accounts and makes use of surviving documents and telephone logs from those hours as well. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —K. C. New, University of Southern Mississippi

Messenger, Charles. The D-Day atlas: anatomy of the Normandy campaign. Thames & Hudson, 2004. 176p ISBN 0500251231, $34.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2004

Military historian Messenger (Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; Exeter College, Oxford) offers a badly needed reference work on the Normandy campaign, the first book dedicated solely to a campaign to which other military atlases devote a few pages. Researchers will find this study of the battles and related operations very valuable. Messenger covers all phases of the campaign, including planning and buildup, an hourly account of the invasion, and subsequent battles from the breakout to the fall of Paris. The text provides a balanced, comprehensive, and authoritative history of the entire campaign, summer 1943 through September 1944. Supplementing the text are more than 70 detailed, computer generated, color maps of the various landings, operations, and defenses based on Allied maps used during the campaign. Messenger also includes some 80 photographs plus sketches of weapons, aircraft, ships, and artillery. Command organization charts, a code word glossary, suggested readings, and a list of the participating divisions accompany the text. A valuable addition to academic and research collections emphasizing military history, particularly WW II. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General and academic collections. —T. L. Storey, Lamar University—Beaumont

Roberts, Mary Louise. D-Day through French eyes: Normandy, 1944. Chicago, 2014. 211p bibl index afp ISBN 9780226136998, $25.00; ISBN 9780226137049 ebook, $18.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2014

In all the accounts of WW II’s Normandy invasion, one group of “participants” has been invariably ignored—the Normans themselves. They occasionally appear as “extras” in brief vignettes: the local who appears with champagne to welcome the invaders; the child killed by stray gunfire. Roberts (Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison) has moved these civilians—compulsory participants in a war that literally dropped into their lives—to the center of the narrative. They too, paid a high price for liberation: three thousand died on D-Day; some twenty thousand perished in the brutal campaign that followed. Utilizing both regional archives and printed primary sources, Roberts provides fascinating details on the experience of civilians caught up in the defining moment of WW II in the West. The author shows great skill in allowing these eyewitnesses to “speak for themselves,” vividly evoking their experiences of the tragedy, the brutality, the destruction, the joy, and the fear that the invasion brought. (After all, they were often in mortal danger themselves.) In its treatment of an often neglected aspect of military history, this will be an attractive acquisition for all collections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levles/libraries. —G. P. Cox, Gordon State College

Sylvan, William C. Normandy to victory: the war diary of General Courtney H. Hodges and the First U.S. Army, by William C. Sylvan and Francis G. Smith Jr.; ed. by John T. Greenwood. University Press of Kentucky, 2008. 575p ISBN 9780813125251, $50.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2009

General Courtney Hodges is one of those commanders who only rarely come to mind when historians discuss the “great captains” of war. A West Point dropout, Hodges enlisted as a private, was swiftly commissioned, and thereafter held a succession of ever more important positions, culminating in command of the First Army. He led it during some of the most critical days of WW II, as it battled across France and Belgium, broke the Siegfried Line, weathered Hitler’s last-gasp offensive in the West, and fought on into Germany and the link-up with advancing Soviet forces. If overshadowed by flashier commanders, Hodges nevertheless gained a deserved reputation for his unflappable, methodical, and thorough preparation and planning. This is far more than simply a reprinting of his war diary, as commendably kept as it was by authors Sylvan and Smith. Instead, editor Greenwood, himself a distinguished military historian, has meticulously annotated and documented the diary, enabling readers to gain important insights into both the war and Hodges’s command style and leadership. Long needed, this is a vitally important work for understanding the war in the West in 1944-45. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —R. P. Hallion, Hallion Associates

Symonds, Craig L. Neptune: the Allied invasion of Europe and the D-Day landings. Oxford, 2014. 422p bibl index afp ISBN 9780199986118, $29.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2014

D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history, and Symonds (emer., US Naval Academy) brings its sheer complexity to life in this treatment of the operation’s naval side, codenamed “Neptune.” From the start, the Allies agreed that Germany should be the first target in the war, but there were serious disagreements between Britain and the US concerning strategy. The US wanted to invade Western Europe as early as 1942, while Britain thought this was too ambitious and preferred smaller operations designed to weaken Germany. The 1942 North African invasion exposed problems with the inexperienced US forces, thus proving the British correct, but it also drew the Allies into more Mediterranean operations. Additionally, Pacific campaigns contributed to a chronic landing craft shortage and further delayed D-Day. Nonetheless, Neptune planning continued, and Symonds covers the invasion buildup in Britain, troop and naval training, technological developments, and the personalities involved in the operation. The chapters on the invasion itself cover the bombardments, troop movement to the beaches, and the often-chaotic landings, especially at Omaha Beach, where naval shelling ultimately saved the operation. This well-written book illustrates the complexity and dangers of any amphibious operation. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levles/libraries. —P. L. de Rosa, Bridgewater State University