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The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

A-The Day of BattleIn the Pulitzer Prize-winning An Army at Dawn ( 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2003), Rick Atkinson examined the U.S. Army's triumphant march across North Africa during World War II. The Day of Battle follows the American army and their British allies-from the senior officers to the common soldiers-as they invade Sicily in July 1943, drive the Germans up the Italian peninsula, and engage in a costly campaign in the "soft underbelly" of Europe. The Italian campaign, waged most brutally at Salerno, Anzio, and Monte Cassino, produced an uncertain outcome: while Allied losses were terrible, the battles relieved pressure on Russian forces and seasoned the Allies. When Rome was liberated on June 4, 1944, and D-Day began two days later, victory felt inevitable.
Henry Holt. 816 pages. $35. ISBN: 0805062890

Wall Street Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Atkinson's achievement is to marry prodigious research with a superbly organized narrative and then to overlay the whole with writing as powerful and elegant as any great narrative of war. ... The reader's persistence will be richly rewarded at nearly every turn, with an understanding of the Italian theater and the valor of the men who fought there." Tom Nagorski

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Amidst the avalanche [of World War II books], Rick Atkinson's books stand out as superb. ... Unlike many other newspaper journalists, Mr. Atkinson is comfortable in archives and additional research venues that are normally the province of Ph.D. historians." Steve Weinberg

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Rather than choose between focusing on the strategy and the generals or on the soldiers in the foxholes, Atkinson tries to have it both ways-and he pulls it off. As in Army at Dawn, he combines an impressive depth of research with a knack for taut, compelling narrative, marred only by an occasional weakness for ten-dollar words and a few overwrought passages that should have been reined in by an editor." Casey Common

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] triumph of narrative history, elegantly written, thick with unforgettable description and rooted in the sights and sounds of battle. ... Mr. Atkinson presents the war as a clash not only of impersonal forces but also of individual characters and wills, captured deftly through interwoven snippets from letters, diaries, memoirs and face-to-face encounters among the principal actors." William Grimes

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It shoves sentimentality aside and shows us, plainly, how unskilled the army was in 1943, its rawness and profligacy a perfect reflection of an outraged and rapidly mobilized democracy. ... With this book, Rick Atkinson cements his place among America's great popular historians, in the tradition of Bruce Catton and Stephen Ambrose." Robert Killebrew

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Rick Atkinson exhaustively chronicles a yearlong, bloody slog that either contributed to overall victory or was a needless waste of lives. ... Despite its criticism of the campaign, The Day of Battle sides with military historians who argue that Churchill was right, the pressure on the Normandy invaders was alleviated by the diversion of German might to Italy." Ariel Gonzalez

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Day of Battle would be harder to read if Atkinson did not leaven the war's horrors with its consolations: the beauty and history of the countryside, the smell of its flowers, the taste of its wines. And there are great characters. Gen. George Patton wades ashore in Sicily with a Colt .45 Peacemaker on his hip, slapping a leather swagger stick and yelling at soldiers to 'Get your asses off this beach and go kill those Kraut bastards.'" Rick Hampson

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"But while there is new material here-like information about the deaths of Allied servicemen from American mustard gas at Bari-it is his ability to ferret out astonishing amounts of detail and marshal it into a highly readable whole that gives Atkinson the edge over most writers in this field. ... Yet, this book is unashamedly a celebration of the American experience in these campaigns, not that of the Allies as a whole." James Holland

Critical Summary

The Day of Battle continues the story Rick Atkinson told in An Army at Dawn; a future volume, about the Normandy invasion, will complete Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy. Day of Battle, like Army at Dawn, excels at presenting the complexities of war to a popular audience. Notably, Atkinson puts a human face on the carnage with three-dimensional depictions of Churchill, FDR, and General Patton-as well as lesser-known leaders and common soldiers. Exceptionally well researched and compellingly written, the book offers gripping accounts of high-level strategizing and on-the-ground fighting. A few critics cited thin analyses of command decisions, a bias toward the Americans' experience, and some florid writing. Overall, however, Day of Battle is "a fitting testament to the GIs of the Fifth Army and the Italian campaign" (Washington Post).