Needing something set in Germany for Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge I was planning on reading Alix Christie’s 2014 historical novel Gutenberg’s Apprentice since I’ve owned a Kindle edition of it for about five years. But last weekend I came across a YouTube video of Andrew Roberts, a British historian and author of the highly praised The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. Roberts, in his lecture, convincingly makes the case Hitler, pretty much single handedly lost World War II thanks his disastrous military decisions. (A war by the way Roberts claims Germany could have one, had Hitler listed to his most capable generals instead of basing his decisions solely on Nazi ideology.) With my interest in WWII piqued I then remembered buried and forgotten in my personal library was a hardcover copy of Cornelius Ryan’s 1966 modern classic The Last Battle. The following day I began reading Ryan’s book and was not disappointed. Just like last year when I finally read John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, another book that had been on my bookshelf for years and ignored and unread, I wished I’d read The Last Battle years ago.
Whenever I pick up and read any old book, especially a work of nonfiction I wonder how well it’s held up over the years. I’m happy to report The Last Battle has withstood the test of time. Yes, Ryan pays attention to all the great movers and shakers making history like the generals and their respective heads of state but also shows how a diverse collection of Berliners lived day to day from the eve of the battle to the city’s fall to the Soviets. Caught in the doomed German capital are an Allied spy posing as a Swedish businessman, a wrongly imprisoned political prisoner awaiting execution, a dairyman trying to do his job as war rages around him and a pair of covert Communist women made homeless by the Allied bombings forced to live in a packing crate. Finally, if having to dodge American and British bombs for the last four years only to face an onslaught by the Red Army wasn’t tough enough, we follow the day to day lives of several Jewish residents who successfully avoided being arrested and murdered by the Nazis.
I enjoyed The Last Battle. It taught me a lot about the climactic Battle of Berlin including all the political battles that went on between the USA, USSR and Great Britain over which of the Allies would attack the German capital. I don’t often get to recommend a 50 year old book, so please consider The Last Battle recommended.