Book Review: Patton And Rommel

Patton And Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century, by Dennis Showalter

As a book in the parallel lives tradition popularized by Plutarch [1], a fact that the author does not point out, this book consists of several thematic chapters (Prologue, Frameworks, Tests, Preparations, Runups, Interims, Resolutions, Coda) that switch back and forth between the two generals with only occasional direct comparison and contrast between them. Those who read this book will find much to enjoy (if they are fond of reading biographical histories with insights into the First and Second World Wars as they relate to the protagonists) and will also find this work to be one where the author’s style is a major part of the work.

Whether because of the strength of Showalter’s personal style of writing (and the rather light editing from a clearly respectful publisher that appears to have taken place here) or because of the book being written rather quickly, this book contains a great deal of personal cliches of the kind that inhabit anyone’s work, provided they have their own unique and strong approach. For example, when Showalter wants to say a task is not easy, he says it is no bagatelle. Also, when he wants to say that something finally happened or that someone finally realized something, he says “at seventh at last,” for reasons known only to him and those who are familiar with his cliches. Occasionally he gets a cliche wrong (and his editor did not correct him), such as one memorable case on page 183 where Rommel makes lemons from lemonade, a task that would be impossible on the face of it, rather than merely putting the best face on a difficult situation, as one does when making lemonades from lemons [2].

These flaws aside, this is the sort of book that is both a profound work of military history on figures that are well-beloved by many, even if both have known periods of relative popularity, as well as the sort of book that reminds one of having a chatty and witty conversation with someone who is expansive, full of wit and sarcasm, and who is deeply passionate about history. It reads more like a very lengthy and not entirely formal lecture than it does a work of scholarly history, though is not necessarily a bad thing. Occasionally the author makes deeply profound thoughts on his subjects, whether he is looking at the psychology of the Patton family (delicately referred to here) and of George Patton’s putting on a hypermasculine face to cover a natural sensitivity of personality that might have been thought of as too piano for his chosen profession. Of Rommel, Showalter is no less witty and incisive, commenting at one point that Rommel’s thoughts on non-military subjects were so shallow as to be the intellectual equivalent of walking in ankle-deep water, which is a rather harsh comment.

If the reader is indulgent about the author’s cliched and hackneyed way of speaking, and if the reader has an interest in 20th century military history, psychological matters such as speculations on the reasons why Germans prefer Patton’s love of maneuver and why Americans seem to prefer Rommel’s intuitive and personal approach to warfare, as well as large amounts of sarcasm and wit in a biographical account, this is a work that will be thought of like an intelligent and beloved but slightly eccentric friend or relative. Admittedly, not everyone will have a tolerance for such quirks, but for those who do, this work is a pleasurable, enjoyable, and worthwhile read. Of particular importance to readers is the author’s nuanced view of Rommel and Patton’s political worldviews, insofar as they relate to the thorny question of anti-Semitism and Nazism.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/parallel-lives-michelle-branch-vanessa-carlton/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/book-review-when-god-makes-lemonade/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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