Eleven Days in August

Written by Matthew Cobb
Review by Sarah Bower

Using a format popularised by Anthony Beevor in his Stalingrad, Cobb uses a lot of firsthand evidence from ‘ordinary’ diarists who witnessed or played a part in the last days of Nazi occupation of Paris in August 1944. As its title suggests, the book gives a detailed account of everything that happened, day by day, from Tuesday the 15th to Saturday the 26th, in a complex, multi-layered narrative which brings in not just the diarists but the many official and quasi-official organisations involved in the liberation. Thankfully, Cobb includes several comprehensive glossaries of key names and acronyms, to which I found myself referring frequently during my reading.

This is a fascinating book, and an invaluable reference source for anyone interested in the dying days of the Second World War, yet it is a disappointing read. There are, I think, two main reasons for this. Firstly, the format militates against clarity and economy; in order to adequately fill each chapter, Cobb is forced into a lot of incidental detail which is not, of itself, particularly interesting. Secondly, he displays an anachronistic and, I would suggest, an historically unprofessional blanket bias against the Nazis. This leads to some passages reading more like contemporary propaganda than a record of history which happened nearly seventy years ago, well outside the lifetimes of most readers. Even the Nazis surely deserve a degree of objectivity from professional historians.