My rating: 4 of 5 stars After having read a number of Steven Ambrose’s books on the battle for Normandy, Anthony Beevor’s version is a relief in that it has much cooler analysis, more maps (which every book on warfare should have more of) and manages to include the German, Canadian, Polish and French side of the equation to a much larger extent. (for instance, he points out that more French civilians died as a result of the war in Normandy, particularly the bombing and shelling, than died during the blitz in London).
Beevor is somewhere between Ambrose (who provides much more detail on the experience of the individual soldiers, particularly infantry) and Liddell Hart and Keegan, who take a more professional, tactical and strategic view. The balance is good. However, the book adds little new knowledge, as far as I can tell, aside from more detail on the rivalry between the various commanders, as well as a good account of the liberation of Paris, with all the political machinations and posturing that went on before it.
Beevor is sharply critical of Montgomery, seeing his egocentric posturing and lack of imagination as a diplomatic and political failure as well as tactically costly. He does point out, however, that Montgomery was facing a more heavily defended part of the front, except at the beachhead. Beevor is also critical of the use of bombers as infantry support, and points out numerous tactical and strategic errors which cost lives and time. In all, most generals seem to make more errors than good decisions – which, I suppose, is primarily an effect of having to take decisions all the time, with imperfect knowledge.
The book manages to give an impression of both the large and the small view of war, and points out how the slaughter in Normandy spared the rest of France a protracted war. For that reason, if you are going to read just one book on D-Day, this is probably it.