Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, by Giles Milton**

My attention was riveted on the title. Frogmen! Spies! Thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt for the galley, which I expected to love. Though I am disappointed, I would have been more so had I paid the cover price for this fast-and-loose pop history.

The author takes the events surrounding D-Day, the massive attack that turned the tide of World War II, and recounts them from the perspectives of those that were there, both on the Allied side as well as on the Germans’. Though the narrative flows in a congenial tone, it represents a smallish amount of research stretched and padded, and the result is a smattering of important information that’s already been conveyed in a million other sources, most of which he doesn’t cite, and a great deal of trivial information provided by bystanders, which he does.

So there is the research—or mostly, there isn’t. The author draws to some extent upon stories garnered through his German wife’s family, but a lot of it comes across as the sort of long-winded recounting that causes even loving family members to inch toward their coats and make noises about how late it’s getting to be. Long passages of direct quotations pass without a citation, and then later there are citations, but they aren’t well integrated, and almost nothing has more than a single source provided. In other words, it’s sketchy stuff that cannot pass muster.

In all fairness, I have to admit that it’s bad luck on the author’s part to have his work released so soon after Spearhead, which is brilliant and meticulously documented. On the other hand, this is no debut, and though I haven’t read the author’s other work, I can’t imagine that he doesn’t know he’s cut corners here.

Then there’s the other thing, an elephant in the room that isn’t entirely this author’s fault. Why is it that when a war ends and enmities cool, the folks that are invited back into the fold by the UK and USA are always Caucasians? Brits and Americans wax sentimental now alongside Germans, none of whom belonged to families that liked the Fascists, yet the Japanese fighters of World War II never make it back into the family, so to speak. And in this Milton has a vast amount of company, but this is where it is most obvious, so this is where I’ll mention it.  

So there it is. It’s for sale now if you still want it.

Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings, by Craig Symonds *****

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.