Shaara’s incisive portrait of war
Jeff Shaara, one of the grand masters of military fiction, returns with the final novel of his acclaimed WWII trilogy. No Less than Victory concludes the epic tale of the war in Europe from the Battle of the Bulge through the German surrender.
Shaara’s plump third installment illuminates the final six months of the war as told by a handful of men on both sides. The battles and timeline themselves are painstakingly accurate. As Shaara himself says, the only reason he is forced to call his work fiction is because he must use dialogue. And he uses it well. While battles may be enough for military buffs, it’s the dialogue and thoughts of Shaara’s characters that make the book a narrative success. On the American side, the story is mainly told by a trio of soldiers, two of whom you may have heard of: Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. George Patton.
Eisenhower comes across as wholly human and singularly humane. You’ll feel his exasperation when dealing with British Gen. Montgomery—whom Shaara absolutely skewers—and have a lump in your throat as Ike gets his first glimpse of a German concentration camp. Patton does not entirely shed the famous portrayal by George C. Scott, but we do get a glimpse beneath the bravado.
No story of WWII is complete without GIs. Their story is told by Private Benson, a raw recruit unlucky enough to arrive just before the Bulge. Benson is scared and confused, but draws courage from his fearless buddy Mitchell, whose hatred of the Germans grows along with his love of war.
The Germans are mostly represented by Gen. Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, who knows by the winter of 1944 that he is merely following Hitler into the abyss, but has little choice but to continue. Curiously, Shaara is gentler with much of the German military hierarchy than he is with the English. His empathy is fitting—on the front lines, where Shaara’s writing is limpid and concise, politics do not exist, only soldiers.
Ian Schwartz writes from San Diego.