Published On: Sat, Jun 30th, 2018

Book reviews: Arnhem: Battle for the Bridges, Eat, Drink, Run and more | Books | Entertainment


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Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, the commander of the XXX Corps (left) with Field Marshal Bernard

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ARNHEM: BATTLE FOR THE BRIDGES, 1944 ★★★★★
by Antony Beevor
(Viking, £25)

IN YEARS to come, declared Field Marshal Montgomery, “it will be a great thing for a man to be able to say: ‘I fought at Arnhem’.”

While the Parachute Regiment still proudly lists the valiant effort to take the bridge too far in its battle honours, it nevertheless remains one of Britain’s most abysmal failures of the Second World War.

Many people may know that the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem was the final hurdle of Operation Market Garden, Montgomery’s September 1944 plan to punch a hole through to Germany’s industrial heartlands.

The Allied advance through Europe since D-Day had caught German commanders by surprise, with units dissolving eastwards in a ragtag retreat.

The “Market” element of Operation Market Garden referred to the largest airborne drop in history, delivering 34,600 men of the US 101st, 82nd and British 1st Airborne Divisions as well as the Polish Brigade.

Of those, 14,589 troops landed by glider and 20,011 by parachute. Their task: to capture and control nine bridges, including Arnhem, and secure the ground route to Germany.


Atkinson’s style is much more descriptive than Beevor’s whose strength lies in his grasp of facts.

Marco Giannangel

“Garden” referred to XXX Corps, around 50,000 men and armour who would provide the main firepower once the bridges were taken.

Had it worked, the war would have been shortened by six months.

But it didn’t and it is difficult to know where to begin in pinpointing why it failed because the reasons are too numerous.

The landing zones were on only one side of the Rhine and a ground-thumping eight miles from target for men carrying heavy kit.

XXX Corps’ columns were forced to travel along a single narrow road dubbed Hell’s Highway.

And the decision to ignore intelligence reports suggesting Panzer tanks were in proximity all attributed to the overall Butcher’s Bill.

Underestimation of German forces also meant that landing zones were overrun, leaving vital ammunition and supply drops in enemy hands.

Beevor is not the first historian to tackle this subject. US historian Rick Atkinson wrote a notable offering, his Liberation trilogy, covering Market Garden well.

Atkinson’s style is much more descriptive than Beevor’s whose strength lies in his grasp of facts.

And Arnhem: Battle For The Bridges sees him return to Stalingrad form. Forensic is too soft a word to describe the breadth of detail he brings.

Ultimately the mission was a failure borne of hubris and ego.

As Beevor observes: “Montgomery refused to acknowledge… that Britain was now the junior partner in the alliance because the Americans were providing the bulk of the troops, much of the hardware and most of the oil.”

So when Eisenhower replaced him as Commander-In-Chief, Land Forces with General Omar Bradley, Monty seized Market Garden as his chance for glory.

The failings were compounded by 1 Airborne Division’s commander General “Boy” Browning.

So keen was he to use airborne troops that he failed to tell Monty that gliders would take three days to land, not one.

Market Garden defied military logic because “it made no allowances for anything to go wrong”.

As Beevor says: “It ignored the old rule that no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

MARCO GIANNANGEL

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Eat, Drink, Run ★★★
by Bryony Gordon 
(Headline, £16.99)

BY HER own admission Bryony Gordon is more of a loafer than a runner. But after telling the world about her struggles with depression in her celebrated memoir Mad Girl, the 37-year-old journalist and mother of one realised that getting outside, getting some exercise and talking to others for whom life was also a challenge could help her to feel better.

And going for the occasional run might not cure her obsessive compulsive disorder but it enabled her to prove to herself that she was trying to do something about it.

After being invited to a mental health event hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, in a comedic misunderstanding she somehow ends up agreeing to run the London Marathon in aid of the charity Heads Together.

The book charts how Bryony, who is unable to back out without losing face, proceeds to slog her way through the mammoth amount of training required to complete the 26.2-mile distance, mostly powered by burgers, booze and cigarettes.

It also documents how she comes up with the simple but quite brilliant idea for Mental Health Mates, a regular meet-up for people with mental health issues where they can walk and discuss their problems without fear of judgment.

Eat, Drink, Run is written in the same chatty, conversational style as Gordon’s newspaper column and while it is as readable as her previous memoir it felt at times as though there wasn’t quite enough material to fill a book.

Some of the longer anecdotes, while funny, are slightly rambling and it is easy for the reader to lose the thread.

Nearly a whole chapter is devoted to reproducing the transcript of an interview with Prince Harry talking about his own mental health and although it is interesting it could have been a lot shorter.

That aside, Eat, Drink, Run is on the whole an accessible, entertaining and inspiring read which throws a spotlight on what it is like to live with a mental health condition and how it is possible to tackle huge life challenges by taking small steps.

When Bryony crosses the finish line of the London Marathon in April 2017 after five hours and 53 minutes it is impossible not to cheer.

Bryony Gordon is a force for good. She shows us how we can all achieve extraordinary things no matter what life throws at us, if we are willing to keep going.

LAURA MILNE

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F*** YOU VERY MUCH: The Surprising Truth About Why People Are So Rude ★★
by Danny Wallace 
(Ebury Press, £8.99)

A BLAZING row about a hot dog inspired the latest book by bestselling author and columnist Danny Wallace.

He sets out to define “the new rudeness”, describing his book as “both a warning and a rallying cry for civility”.

This hot dog was served to Wallace and his son after a 45-minute wait. The server refused to apologise and proceeded to eject him from a roadside café for complaining.

It makes Wallace ask why people are rude, why in his view society is getting ruder and what we should or could do about it.

He comes armed with a survey commissioned from a “leading national polling company… for several thousand pounds” on Rudeness And Its Effects In Everyday Life.

He dubs the survey The Wallace Report and it is considerably flimsy for such an amount of money.

Its key revelation is that one in five British people considers themselves to be a rude person.

Wallace canters through the reasons why people are rude.

They include loss of community as more and more of us live in cities, the pernicious effects of anonymous social media and differing cultural attitudes.

He also asks numerous social scientists for their insights. There is some interesting material, particularly that centred on the rudest man of the moment and Twitter troll-in-chief Donald Trump. Wallace describes him as “an atomic plague of rudeness”.

But Wallace’s book fl its too quickly from one anecdote to the next without developing an argument or analysis.

And there are few facts that will surprise: that women who assert themselves are unfairly considered rude while their male colleagues are deemed confident; that Twitter has led to a debasement of public discourse.

In Wallace’s encounter with the server he christens Madam Hotdog, he is convinced he is in the right.

But where he sees himself as a victim of the sin of rudeness, others might see a well-heeled, successful author losing his temper with a service worker who undoubtedly toils for the minimum wage.

Perhaps rudeness, like much else, is in the eye of the beholder.

HUSTON GILMORE

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