Killing Patton: The Strange Death Of World War II’s Most Audacious General, by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard
Although Bill O’Reilly has made a bit of a career for himself in writing about notable deaths , this book just might be the moment where his career jumped the shark. Sometimes an author needs to know what they are doing and be honest about it with the audience. In stark contrast to the author’s previous books, there is not really enough material here to really live up to the title conceit, which imagines that the book is even mostly about the killing of Patton instead of being a look at the end of World War II and how it involved the death of a great many people. In reading this book I came to a part where the author started talking about the Franks and their time in the concentration camp, and I asked myself, “What did Anne Frank and her family have to do with the death of Patton?” The answer was that the authors needed to pad the length of this book and why not talk about one of the more famous victims of the Holocaust so that this book could be large enough to hit its target length of 300 pages or so.
This book’s 28 chapters and various supplementary material takes up about 350 pages or so. The book begins at the moment of Patton’s death where he is paralyzed and in the hospital and trying to fend off reporters who want a scoop and then manages to meander all over the course of World War II. We see Patton’s race with the British in Sicily, his efforts to attack Germany while almost out of fuel, his efforts to win the Battle of the Bulge, which end up costing plenty of tanks and lives that lead his rival Montgomery to be chosen as the tip of the spear for the Allied invasion of West Germany in early 1945. The authors portray Patton’s tendency to create controversies with his showoff attitude and bluntspoken harshness, and how his focus on image and attention managed to alienate a potential ally in Truman. If this is not enough, the authors then look at the German side of the Battle of the Bulge, the diplomatic struggles between the Big 3 allies, and only at the very end come down to the car accident and mysterious death in the hospital that ended his life with the potential that it was done by either the Soviets or American spies left as an unproven accusation.
Ultimately, this book isn’t terrible, but it does not live up to its title premise at all. In fact, I cannot think of very many people who would be happy with this book. Readers of World War II history have plenty of more skilled popular historians to go to before checking this book out . Those who are looking for information about the conspiracy theory that the authors present for the death of Patton have only some weaksause speculation based on the long-after the fact ramblings of a single American spy as well as the admittedly shady lack of an autopsy for Patton which didn’t happen because Patton’s widow didn’t want it. Most of this book meanders far off topic, assuming that the reader needs a summary of Patton’s conduct throughout World War II as well as a discussion abut the death of FDR and his affairs, Patton’s own affair with his niece (incest for the win!), Stalin’s affair with a dancer, and the squabbles over the postwar world and Hitler’s own sordid end. This book could have been a short historical article had the authors managed to stay on point and limit themselves to what they were talking about, and it likely would have been better for it even if it would not have sold as well for being so small.
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