FIRE IN THE NIGHT by John Bierman


Wingate of Burma, Ethiopia, and Zion
Email this review


An engaging biography of General Orde Wingate, the soldier whom Winston Churchill called “a man of genius, who might well have become also a man of destiny,” and whom Zionists called more simply “The Friend.” Wingate is one of those men whose life and character are as much the stuff of literature as of history. Born in India in 1903 and raised in England, he grew up in a family of Plymouth Brethren. He would later break away from the sect’s rigidity—he drank, he gambled—but his faith in God and a divine purpose would endure some very dark moments (he once attempted suicide in wartime Cairo). Although a peacetime army did not offer many opportunities, when Wingate was seconded to the elite Sudan Defense Force, he gained valuable desert experience. In 1936 he was transferred to Palestine, then under a British mandate, and here his faith, his support for progressive ideas, and his ambition combined to make him a passionate Zionist. His bold tactic of —going beyond the wire,— leading Jewish soldiers into Arab territory at night, would become the strategy of the future Israeli army. Veteran journalists Bierman (Righteous Gentile, 1981, etc.) and Smith (The Last Crusade, not reviewed, etc.) detail his decisive role in the Ethiopian campaign that led to Italy’s defeat in 1941; his tangles with the military bureaucracy; and his final triumph, the formation of the Chindits, the army that penetrated occupied Burma behind Japanese lines in 1943, the year before Wingate died in a plane crash on the Burmese front. Not as exhaustive or as graciously written as Christopher Sykes’s authorized biography, but still a page-turning tale of a military genius who despised the army brass and often broke the rules yet kept the faith as he led men on great and daring ventures. (16 pages photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-50061-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2000