Interwoven biographies of three of the great American military leaders of the 20th century.
Groom’s (The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight, 2014, etc.) three subjects are both interesting in their own rights and sufficiently contrasting personalities to keep the narrative from bogging down. Patton developed the essentials of tank warfare in World War I and went on to use them brilliantly in World War II. Marshall became typecast as a staff officer, too valuable at organizing logistics, personnel, and supply to risk in a combat command. He remains best known for the plan that led to the economic revival of Europe after the war. MacArthur was perhaps the finest field general of them all, yet like Marshall, his greatest achievement may have come when the war was over, in creating the groundwork for modern Japan. Steady, self-effacing Marshall was a team player, while the other two were ego-driven and jealous of all rivals. Groom takes each of them from youth to the ends of their careers, taking advantage of opportunities to comment on historical trends. While the author is by no means a strong stylist—too fond of clichés, given to piling up adjectives, often clumsy on the sentence level—he’s a first-rate storyteller, and these three men give him plenty of material. He trots out the great quotes and the telling anecdotes from each of their careers and takes full advantage of their many interactions with other famous figures, such as MacArthur’s discovery that Lindbergh was flying fighters in the South Pacific during the war. Groom also has a novelist’s sense of timing and scene-building. His research, drawing on his subjects’ own writings, effectively draws out their characters. Some readers may find his sympathy with the rather conservative politics of MacArthur and Patton off-putting, but one suspects that sympathy was a strong ingredient in his ability to paint such compelling pictures of them.
Military history that reads like a novel, full of great stories and vivid scenes.