Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein - the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby

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Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein - the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The story of the battle that seemed to turn the tide of war written for the generalist reader. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 544 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1846684456

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El Alamein is a totemic British battle, standing as it does with others which turned the tide of our fortunes. The Allies were still smarting from the effects of Dunkirk and harbouring the knowledge that had Hitler elected to press his advantage then the situation could have been very different. Churchill is often quoted as saying that there were no victories before El Alamein and no defeats afterwards. This isn't true - 'it seemed that' is generally omitted from the beginning of the quote - but it does sum up the fact that the battle turned the tide of perception as well as the fortunes of war, which was quite an achievement for fighting which took place on land to which none of the major participants had any legitimate claim.

Books about World War II are numerous and I'll confess that I usually try to avoid them. Two factors drew me to this book. Firstly, Jonathan Dimbleby's father, Richard Dimbleby, reported on the war from North Africa and I was interested to see how the family connection would colour the book. Most importantly though, Dimbleby is a writer and a broadcaster: non-fiction books about the war tend to be rather dry (perhaps because it befits the subject matter) and I thought that a book by someone who was used to communicating to the generalist might be a better read.

It's an excellent read. Dimbleby has the broadcaster's ability to marshal information and present it so that it makes sense and can be followed. And there are a lot of strands to this story. We're led through what was happening in each country - on both sides of the divide - and we get a feel for the personalities as well as the situation. (The pen pictures beneath the photographs of the main participants are gems.) There's an even-handedness too - I never felt that I was reading a particularly partisan account. Most touching were the stories of what was happening to the foot soldiers and even the animals involved in the war.

Maps are plentiful and clear. It's often easier to understand the scale of such a campaign when you see it visually. They're in the text where appropriate an this is one of the reasons that the book is an excellent starting point for someone without a great deal of knowledge of the war. The text itself covers approximately 450 pages - which might seem like a substantial book if the subject was not so far reaching - but the writing style (others have said 'lucid' and 'incisive' and I've have to agree) means that there's a great deal packed into what is actually a comparatively small space.

And how did his father's involvement affect the book? It added savour and the occasional particularly pertinent quote, such as the battlefield surgeon who liked the queue of men waiting for operation as being like a bank holiday at the cinema. The relationship was an added bonus but it never overshadowed the fact that Dimbleby himself has an excellent grasp of the subject.

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Recently we've also appreciated Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Cathryn J Prince. If you interest is in the First World War then we can recommend The Great War by Peter Hart.

Buy Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein - the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein - the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein - the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein - the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby at Amazon.com.

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