Tuesday 10 November 2020

Book review: A G.I. In The Ardennes, Denis Hambucken

I love this book!

It accomplishes what I think a lot of Dorling Kindersley style 'survey' type books attempt but, for me, usually fail to achieve, i.e. a colourful yet comprehensive synthesis of a vast amount of information, conveyed in an interesting, exciting yet easy to digest form.

Not only does this book tell the story of the Ardennes campaign, albeit in an admittedly very light and basic manner - from a primarily American perspective as the title makes clear - with numerous firsthand accounts, but it also covers a huge array of more general stuff. There are brief articles on everything from uniforms and equipment to more general American wartime institutions such as the USO (United Service Organizations) and PX (Post Exchange), and the ways in which the homeland and the 'sharp end' interacted.

Aside from the incredible richness and variety of the subject itself, perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the absolutely superb collection of photographic illustrations. These run the gamut from contemporary black and white photos to colour imagery, depicting everything from surviving veterans to a huge array of GI kit/weapons, from such small and humble items as socks, via back-packs and small arms, right up to various tanks, or such monster materiel as the mighty Long Tom 155mm gun.

Amongst this embarrassment of riches I think it's the ragtag yet colourful pictorial smorgasbord of ephemera that I find so evocative and exciting; the many beautifully designed things, from matchbooks (often also quite humorous) and food packaging, to the plethora of items of clothing and weaponry, all of which mix utility with a minimalist military aesthetic - in a range of colours, greys and browns and greens, that I happen to love - it's all just fantastic.

If you're interested in this theatre of the war, I'd highly recommended this thoroughly fascinating and incredibly beautifully put together book.

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