Eloquent, thorough, focused, and well documented; Neptune, by Craig L. Symonds, is a definitive work regarding maritime’s most immense project, the invasion of Normandy during World War II.
That said, I urge the reader to get a hard copy of this book, because the e-reader version as I saw it had charts that were useless; in addition maps, so important to a work like this, are simply impossible on a tablet. For a book of this importance that should hold a place of pride on the shelves of any professional or serious personal library, it is worth the investment to procure a hard cover copy.
Symonds’ narrative opens with strategizing and secret diplomacy regarding American aid to Britain, which is in far worse condition during the war against Nazi Germany than I had ever understood. Just as a plan begins to gel, word comes that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Months of careful planning must now be carefully reexamined and new plans made. Should the USA fight on one front, or on two? Should it attack Japan first, or go straight to Europe (as most US advisers were inclined to do), or follow Churchill’s suggestion that the fight begin in Northern Africa? Americans tended toward quick action and massive investment of resources; the British were careful in husbanding materials and preferred to examine every aspect of every possible plan before moving forward. Frankly, I am glad I didn’t have to be there during the debate.
Symonds has put together a narrative different from any other I have read regarding this period, and the only work I have read that deals exclusively with the invasion of Normandy from the naval viewpoint. I have also never seen any writer try so valiantly to balance the perspectives, the strengths and challenges of both Britain and the USA. It was in reading the ways in which cultural attitudes not only created friction but directly impacted military positions that I realized how completely American I am. He further explains how the decisions that were made came about and all of the careful compromises and considerations that went into the events as they unfolded.
Because this is such a momentous work, I found myself marking far too many pages—a weakness when I become overly enthusiastic—and now it would be too much to go back and refer to all of them. The vantage point was enormously enlightening, and I came away feeling as if I had only just begun to grasp the enormity of this horrific conflict.
Highly recommended…in hardcover, not tablet form.