THE ENDS OF GREATNESS: Haig, PÉtain, Rathenau, and Eden: Victims of History by Gene Smith

THE ENDS OF GREATNESS: Haig, PÉtain, Rathenau, and Eden: Victims of History

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the prolific author of The Dark Summer (1987), Lee and Grant (1984), the best. selling When the Cheering Stopped (1964), etc.: a popular historical work that attempts--though unsuccessfully--to demonstrate that four heroes of WW I fell victim to the sweeping events occasioned by that conflict and its aftermath. Despite Smith's lively argument that crushing events mined the careers of his chosen four--the English Victorian general Douglas Haig, French military and political leader Henri PÉtain, German economist Walter Rathenau, and England's Anthony Eden--it soon becomes clear even by his account that all four lacked an essential virtue of great leadership--flexibility in the face of changing circumstances--and that it was this character flaw that led to their respective downfalls. Although Smith casts Haig as ""the distilled essence of Great Britain,"" a tragic figure dedicated to the outmoded concept of single-minded duty, the general comes off as a wooden-headed military strategist who, during WW I, directed repeated frontal assaults that led to the predictable slaughter of his men on the Western Front. PÉtain of Vichy France had flaws of character writ so large in his collaboration with the Nazis and victimization of the Jews that it is difficult to understand how Smith could seek to excuse him as a near-great and an almost innocent victim of ""lost yesterdays"" and vanished French honor. Rathenau, the economic genius of wartime and 1920's Germany, seems less the victim of events than of his own personal, impassioned, and rigid philosophy of Germany First and Foremost Now and Forever. And Prime Minister Anthony Eden of England's 1956 Suez Crisis certainly deserves more by way of historical explanation than his being portrayed as simply one more victim of outmoded pre-Great War thinking, in this case, that of England as empire. Entertaining, but not edifying.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1990
Publisher: Crown