Books in Brief

Somme: Into the Breach, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard, 607 pp., $35.00).  This book is a superlative history of the Battle of the Somme between July 1 and November 18, 1916, by the author of Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man.  Sebag-Montefiore’s masterly account of the engagement that claimed more than a million men dead or wounded on both sides draws upon such primary sources as the diaries, letters, and dispatches of the participants, from the highest military levels down to the least and greenest men in the trenches—a battle of four-and-a-half months in which the extreme heroism on the part of the British and German combatants was tragically offset by the miscalculations and other mistakes made by the commanding officers, and the politicians standing behind them.  Somme is epic history, effectively combining the sweeping broader narrative with the detailed presentation of its subordinate and incidental parts, while maintaining a focus throughout on the persons and personalities involved.  Sebag-Montefiore is British, yet his presentation of the Battle of the Somme as it was experienced by the German army is no less empathetic and human than when the author is recounting the sufferings on the British front.  Indeed, he functions as a sort of shocked benevolent overseeing presence, or witness to the catastrophe.  After...

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