The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945

Written by Rick Atkinson
Review by Viviane Crystal

June 6, 1944: D-Day was one of the most dramatic days in history. British and American troops carried out a momentous plan to invade German-held lands, beginning in Normandy. In the last of what Atkinson calls the Liberation Trilogy, the storytelling is intense as we learn of strengths and weaknesses of both military leaders and soldiers, plans and battles accomplished and destroyed. This nonfiction account covers the landing at Normandy, the taking of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, the Market Garden disaster which attempted to outflank the Germans in the Rhineland, and the final entry into Germany, including the liberation of German concentration camps. We see the uncertainty of Eisenhower as well as his commanding presence, the arrogance of Montgomery, the toughness yet compassion of Patton, as well as the thoughts and feelings of numerous minor officers, surviving soldiers, and wounded warriors. Those who believe wartime journalists have a glorious job will be shaken by their descriptions of the patriotism, cynicism, fear, and doubts of all.

The road to glorious victory is described as actually patriotic and hellish. As one private described it, “Killing is an obsession.” Lest one judge too quickly, this is what happens when it’s a choice between enemy troops. Germans’ treatment of German civilians at the end is horrendous. In the author’s own words: “The war and all that the war contained—nobility, villainy, immeasurable sorrow—shall light us down to the last generation.” An amazing description and analysis of history. Highly recommended!