Because of the responsibility entrusted to them, top military leaders tend to be controversial figures. In fact, Agostino von Hassell and Ed Breslin begin their overview of the life of General George S. Patton, Jr., with a critique of the Academy Award-winning 1970 film that bears the general’s name. They seem to think that their subject was frequently depicted unfairly in this production. This book attempts to correct those misconceptions. Von Hassell and Breslin’s brief biography of one of the greatest general officers of World War Two is readable and comprehensive without drowning the reader in detail. One will come away with a much better understanding of a gifted and flawed leader.
Von Hassell and Breslin provide a good account of the legacy inherited by George Patton, one that was both a blessing and a burden. Although Patton was often a thorn in his side, Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower valued Patton and acknowledged that he was “born to be a soldier.” Patton was often intemperate, impolitic and impulsive, but he was a leader of men and produced results when they were needed. The authors’ theme is that all of Patton’s life prepared him for the greatest victory of his career, the relief of the embattled and surrounded American troops at Bastogne in the winter of 1944.
One of the more interesting insights of the book is the account of Patton’s gifts as a teacher. He was a student of war, especially cavalry tactics, and this informed his training of thousands of American troops. Patton was not only able to effectively organize vital teaching about preparation and tactics, he was an eloquent (although often profane) communicator who got his point across.
There are some shortcomings in the authors’ approach. First, they often heap excessive praise on Patton, forgetting that he was part of a team of diverse but gifted leaders. Patton himself was careful about sharing praise with others, especially his troops. Second, Von Hassell and Breslin tend to identify too many people (including General Mark Clark and General Omar Bradley) as “enemies” and “rivals” of Patton when they were really only men doing their jobs who might not have agreed with Patton! Third, they appear to think that war and politics are separate distinct endeavors and that Patton was above politics. In fact, Patton was politically savvy although not always careful in his remarks.
Early in their account of World War Two, Von Hassell and Breslin accuse Eisenhower of being a poor leader and envious of Patton, but later they acknowledge that Eisenhower knew Patton’s value and stood by him, even during some of his more foolish actions. Once again, just because someone did not along with every idea Patton presented, this does not mean that the person was his enemy.
The book is based on primary sources that are often mentioned but never footnoted, but this does not detract from the work but allows the reader to proceed through the pages quickly. For those who have never read anything about a remarkable military leader, Patton: The Pursuit of Destiny is worth the time.
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