27 December 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors No comments yet

Some of you might recall my mentioning that, while whiling away the hours in Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Parking Lot….oops, Airport…on our way home from California after Thanksgiving, that I had begun reading a joint biography of George S. Patton, Jr. and Erwin Rommel. The book is titled Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century by a fellow named Dennis Showalter. Showalter is the former head of the Society for Military History, and is a professor of history at Colorado College who has written several books and has a long resume. He is an expert on the Prussian military establishment, and is well-qualified, in particular, to address the life of the Desert Fox.

Given the author’s pedigree and the fascinating subject, I had very high expectations for this book. Having finally finished it last night, I unfortunately am left with the conclusion that this book is really a mixed bag. Although it is obviously not a Civil War book, I mention it because the book’s overall quality is spoiled by three of my biggest complaints: atrocious production values, not a single photograph, and not a single map.

Rommel performed some really remarkable deeds in the Tirolean Alps of Italy during World War I. Showalter spends a lot of ink and a lot pages describing these episodes in detail, but there is not a single maps. Personally, I had almost no familiarity with this theater of World War I, and REALLY would have liked to have seen some decent maps that portrayed these events to help me to understand them. Likewise, I would have liked to have seen maps of Rommel’s role in the invasion of France in 1939, and in North Africa during his tenure as commander of the Afrika Korps.

Likewise, I would have liked to have seen maps of Patton’s campaign in North Africa, his role in the invasion of Sicily, and finally of the dash across France, including his remarkable movement of a major portion of his Third Army to come to the aid of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Again, I was left to try to recall, from memory, the geography of Europe and of Patton’s movements, and while my memory is pretty good, it’s not THAT good.

In addition, the only two photographs are images of Patton and Rommel that appear on the dust jacket to the book. There is not a single photo anywhere in the book, even though images of both of these military giants abound. There are plenty to go around, but either the author or the publisher, or, perhaps, both, dropped the ball, and left them out altogether.

Thus, while I think that the book was well-done–it’s pretty well researched, and written in a readable, conversational style that draws solid conclusions–I would have been significantly more impressed by, and ultimately more favorably inclined to recommend it to other readers, if it had contained good maps and good illustrations on top of the decent material that constitutes the book.

It’s a shame. It could have been a really great book, but without the inclusion of maps and illustrations, I can’t say that it is. Without maps and illustrations, it is, at best, a decent read that is ultimately disappointing. I hate that.

Another thing that really surprised me was that this book is so chock-full of typos, grammatical errors, and other screw-ups as to make it very difficult to read. The production values for the entire book are absolutely atrocious. How a book got into print with this many typos and grammatical errors mystifies me, especially when a distinguished academic historian is the author. Apparently, the publisher’s editorial/proofreading staff took that week off, because there simply is no evidence that they did their job. It’s sad, because these types of things really distract the reader and really harm the overall credibility of the book.

So, to conclude, this book sort of hits the grand slam of all of the things that I hate about books. That I actually finished it, given that fact, is really pretty remarkable.

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