This book will be the definitive work, from the American point of view, on the war in North Africa, covering the period when the United States got involved (November 1942) up until the German surrender in Tunisia (May 1943). Mr. Atkinson effectively sets the stage by showing the sorry state the U.S. military had fallen into prior to the decision to invade North Africa. He points out that in September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, the U.S. Army had ranked seventeenth in the world in size and combat power, just behind Romania. When 136 German divisions conquered Western Europe in the Spring of 1940, our War Department reported that we could only field five divisions! Mr. Atkinson writes, "Equipment and weaponry were pathetic. Soldiers trained with drainpipes for antitank guns, stovepipes for mortar tubes, and brooms for rifles...Only six medium tanks had been built in 1939.....This in part reflected an enduring loyalty to the horse...The Army's cavalry chief assured Congress in 1941 that four well-spaced horsemen could charge half a mile across an open field to destroy an enemy machine-gun nest without sustaining a scratch." This sort of information helps you to appreciate what had to be overcome in order for us to play our part in the expulsion of the Axis forces from North Africa! Mr. Atkinson doesn't fail to show us what other problems had to be overcome...Eisenhower having to learn "on the job" how to be Supreme Commander; having to build and then hold together the Allied coalition...this was very difficult, as many top men in the British military had nothing but disdain for Eisenhower's abilities and also for the abilities of the American troops (and many of the top American brass, such as Eisenower, Bradley and Patton were Anglophobic, so it worked both ways!); the administrative and logistical nightmares....the actual amphibious landings, getting supplies to the troops, coordinating the actions of the British and American forces, etc.; plus the number one problem of building an effective fighting force, made up of officers who hadn't been in battle since WWI (and that was a type of battle that had little relevance in the current situation!) and green troops that had never experienced combat. So, as Mr. Atkinson states, North Africa was the place where U.S. forces (and their superiors) learned to integrate and coordinate their actions both with themselves and with their Allies; and on a more basic level, where we learned how to hate and kill the enemy. North Africa prepared us for what we had to do later on in Italy and, of course, after June 6th, 1944. Mr. Atkinson is very evenhanded in his account. He doesn't hesitate to point out the mistakes made by both the British and the Americans. Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, Alexander, etc. all come in for their share of criticism as well as being praised, when praise it due. One thing that really surprised me was the sheer level of backbiting that went on...the nasty comments made by the British about the Americans, and vice-versa. The author is also very good at pointing out the numerous strategic and tactical errors made on the various battlefields. Mistakes were made by not only the top brass, but also by people in charge at lower levels. Very basic errors were made....such as not sending out reconnaisance units, initiating tank attacks without proper artillery or air support, etc. Many brave men were sent to their deaths in useless and ill-conceived actions. Sometimes just the sheer confusion of the battlefield was responsible, or just plain error....planes bombing their own men or artillery falling short, etc. Another area where Mr. Atkinson excels is in the "thumbnail" sketch of the numerous personalities that are integral to the story. The writing is sharp, witty and, quite often, eloquent. Here are just a few sentences concerning General Patton: "More than a quarter-century had gone by since his first intoxicating taste of battle and fame, during the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916, when he had briefly become a national hero for killing three banditos and strapping their bodies to his automobile running boards like game trophies.....At the age of fifty, upon reading J.F.C. Fuller's classic 'Generalship: It's Diseases and Their Cures,' Patton had wept bitterly because eighty-nine of the one hundred great commanders profiled were younger than he. Now, when he was fifty-six, his hour had come round." Mr. Atkinson is also very good at describing the nuts and bolts of the various battles. The descriptions are clear, vivid and exciting. Some readers with a strong interest in the military aspects may be a bit disappointed in the maps. They are few and, barely, adequate. But this is a minor quibble. A more serious criticism might be that there is very little here concerning the view from the German and Italian side. But I don't think such criticism would be fair, because Mr. Atkinson's intent was never to show the war in North Africa from all points of view. He wanted to show the difficulties involved in the U.S. becoming an effective fighting force, the animosity that had to be overcome so that the Americans and British could start to form an effective alliance and, lastly, to set the stage for volume II of his "Liberation Trilogy"- the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943. He has accomplished what he set out to do, and he has done so brilliantly.