Monday, June 02, 2008

Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield

Like many of my generation I did not go to war gravely and soberly, as Lao-tzu tells us a wise man ought. But I returned from it that way.
[pg 285]

Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield
Doubleday, 2008
Fiction; 295 pgs

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was one of the most respected generals of his time, not only by those who served under him but also by his enemies. He was a gentleman even in battle. He thought nothing of fighting on the front lines with his men and showing his enemy mercy and respect. He was a force to be reckoned with, however, and his advances in the north and east African desert made him one of the biggest threats to the Allied Forces during the Second World War. In an effort to turn the tide of the war, the Allies targeted Rommel for death, hoping to loosen the grip of the Axis forces on the area. The British Long Range Desert Group, a special forces unit, played a major role in the attempt on Rommel's life, getting behind enemy lines in an effort to gather intel on the enemy as well as to gain an advantage on them.

Author Steven Pressfield uses this time in history as the setting for his latest novel, Killing Rommel. R. Lawrence Chapman was a young academic when World War II broke out. He had lost his mother at an early age and spent much of his later schooling in boarding school before moving on to Oxford University. In September of 1942, Chapman was eager to join his countrymen on the battlefield and enlisted with the Armoured Division, where he was assigned as a tank officer. He would later be assigned to assist the Long Range Desert Group who was tasked with killing the Desert Fox, Field Marshall Rommel.

Chapman sets out to put his story in writing, recording his experiences during the war. Written from the perspective of a soldier, the novel at times may seem dry with the technical details of equipment, strategy and tactics. And yet such descriptions add an authenticity to the story as well as to the main character, Chapman. Through Chapman's narrative, the reader is able to get a feel for the different characters in the book and to get a taste for just how difficult the conditions they were facing were.

Steven Pressfield has created a novel that is full of heart while at the same time painting a realistic picture of the war. The African desert is a harsh and dangerous landscape. The sweltering heat, sandstorms and flash floods only complicated matters. In addition, the soldiers had to make do with poor equipment that must be repaired on site with makeshift solutions and ensure that they had enough fuel for traveling long distances across the desert or else risk getting stranded or worse.

Chapman discovered that life with the Long Range Desert Group was much different from that in the regular rank and file. Everyone, regardless of rank, pitched in with even the most menial of tasks. Strong bonds developed between the men as they fought alongside each other. They would risk life and limb if it would save their brothers in arms. The missions were top secret and communication with the outside world was limited. Chapman went for long periods of time without word to his pregnant wife, and she without knowledge about him. I can only imagine how much the two worried about each other when they let themselves. Mostly, however, I think that Chapman stayed focused on the task at hand, on his survival, and immediate events. Not to could have proven deadly not only for him but also for those around him.

There were a few times as I was reading this book that I literally held my breath and read as fast as I could, afraid at what might happen as Chapman and his fellow soldiers fought to survive, sometimes fleeing for their lives. The next moment, my eyes would well up with tears at the loss of a life or a particularly touching moment between the men. I got to know the men through reading about their experiences. It was impossible not to grow attached. Chapman thought of himself as an ordinary man--and he was in many respects--but he proved himself extraordinary in midst of battle. He struggled with the morality of war, with the frustrations of being a soldier and his doubts about his leadership abilities. He cared about his fellow man, including those he fought against. He was not so different from Rommel in that respect.

Steven Pressfield has written a compelling novel that has left quite an impression on me. My father is a war veteran as was my grandfather. While they may not have faced the same dangers as the real life Chapmans and Steins, they did have their own battles to fight. As I finished reading Killing Rommel, tears running down my cheeks, I could not help but think of them and how they, too, were just ordinary men put into extraordinary circumstances.

Guess what my father is getting for Father’s Day this year.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

Miscellaneous: For those interested in the book or even the time period, I highly recommend you check out the author's website. The author presents a mini documentary, setting the stage for his book, which is not only informative but also very well put together. I watched the long version, and it sold me on the book.

Review book provided by Anna Jarzab from Authors on the Web.


  1. A powerful read indeed!
    I'm sure you'll get this book for your father, right? ;)

  2. Even though I don't really think I'd want to read this myself, I may have to look for a copy of it for my dad, too - great review, Wendy!

  3. Wow. It does sound like an amazing book, one that will definitely go on my must read list.


  4. This sounds like such a great book. I've read quite a few books about WWII, but not a single one of them gave me a soldier's perspective. This is going on my wishlist right now.

  5. Wow you don't give 4 1/2 stars often so it must be good! I will have to check it out. Great review!

  6. Melody - I hope my dad will like it as much as I did. I need to wrap his copy and get it in the mail this next week . . .

    Florinda - This probably wasn't something I would have given much thought to reading had I not read a little about the story behind it. It turned out to be a great book, and I'm glad I stepped outside of my box to give it a try.

    CJ - If you do read it, I hope you will like it. As I said, it's a bit dry in places, but it's such a great story.

    Nymeth - I think you might like this one. I like to read books set in this time period too, but never really considered this kind of book. I'm anxious to read something else by Pressfield now.

    Jaimie - I've been really stingy about giving out 5's this year. I wonder if it'll last. :-)

  7. I'm glad to see you liked this one. I have the audio version in my iTunes to listen to when I run ... after I finish the 45+ hour unabridged audio version of World Without End by Ken Follett.

  8. Shana - I'll be curious to know what you think of it once you've listened/read it. I'm happy to say that my father enjoyed reading it.

  9. Okay, I guess I did read this the first time around, since I commented :)

    Bad memory.

    You know, as I mentioned in my review, I think I should have read vs. listened.

    I'm glad your father enjoyed it. I can definitely see where this novel would definitely appeal to someone who has served in a war. My dad, who was in Vietnam, would probably really like this book.

  10. Shana - I'm not sure I'd remember reading a review of a book way back in June either. :-)


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