A Smashing Good Read

I was at the library the other day, looking for some new materiel, and quite by accident I ran across a new(ish) novel by Steven Pressfield called Killing Rommel Steven Pressfield is the author of Gates of Fire, which is such a rip roaring fine piece of work that I simply hand to any male I meet who is looking for something new to read. It almost never fails, such is the power of that story, and the great writing chops of the author.

The main problem I’ve had with Gates of Fire is the antiquity of the story. The movie 300 did much to get the average American interested in all things Greek, and specifically in the battle of Thermopylae, but before it came out, trying to sell someone on the idea that a battle 2500 years ago would deeply move them today was a bit of a struggle.

Another issue with Gates of Fire is the historical accuracy of the novel. Fighting with human powered edged weapons is a bloodbath. There is simply no escaping this. Pressfield, to his credit, does an excellent job of describing this to an audience who has only a modern (and largely Hollywood) view into the violence of war. The kid gloves definitely come off in that novel, and it can be really distressing to those who do not like to be knee deep in gore.

So when I picked up Killing Rommel, I discovered I found the next “perfect” book to hand to any man. The story revolves around the LRDG or Long Range Desert Group in the North Africa campaign in WWII. This was the British Army’s answer to the German Afrika Korps, and the precursor to today’s special forces.

The level of detail is astounding, and completely draws the reader in. Pressfield does an excellent job of describing the day-to-day life of the soldier on both sides, including their equipment, tactics they used in battle, what its like to be in a retreating army, and an advancing army (amazingly similar), and how to drive over sand dunes without getting stuck.

From the very first page, to the entire end, the book reads exactly like a memoir of a solider who was in the thick of things. One also gets a sense of the rather haphazard way in which a war can appear as one if prosecuting it. There is very little, if any, heroic posing. This book was certainly not meant to be made into a movie to showcase the latest Hollywood star. No one single handedly holds off the German army with a machine gun. Instead you get boredom, breakdowns, being shot at by your own guys, and the occasional terror of getting mixed up with the enemy.

I should also note that this book is far less bloody than Gates of Fire. There is only one battle scene in which crosses from battle to gore, but it is blessedly short, and holds a moral significance to the protagonist, something you don’t truly get (or at least I didn’t) until you read the afterward. Other scenes show the protagonist actually evading bloodshed by quick thinking and decisive action.

For those with a more religious perspective, the characters are not religious, but the protagonist does face a rather interesting moral dilemma, one in which I think many Christians will likely be able to identify with. The solution to this dilemma is both inspiring and satisfying, but does not fully play out until, as I mentioned before, one reads the afterward.

The amazon page lists a few reviews, but I thought this one was the most appropriate for a closing.

I am particularly fond of historical novels because I consider them a painless way to learn history.

Amen to that brother. Killing Rommel is an excellent way to learn about one small part of WWII. It reads as if written by your favorite uncle, and is as exciting to read about the mundane as it is to read about the heat of battle.

I liked it so much that as soon as I returned the book to the library, I went out and purchased a paperback version for myself. Right now it’s sitting at my father-in-laws bedside, where it will no doubt keep him with a silly grin on his face for many a night as he recovers from surgery.

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