Friday, September 2, 2011

A time for heroes: review of Operation Mincement

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied VictoryOperation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben MacIntyre

On the back cover, Malcolm Gladwell describes the book as "almost absurdly entertaining". It was a phrase I couldn't get out of my mind as I was reading it.

I already knew the story of The Man Who Never Was from a scary Saturday night film shown at prep school.

MacIntyre's sometimes exhaustingly thorough account of the successful plot to fool the Germans about the Allied invasion of Sicily in the Second World War puts the movie, and pretty much every aspect of the story into context.

The movie, it turns out, is a partial account by one of the protagonists. The truth was more complicated, and MacIntyre never shirks the complications even at the risk of losing his readers in detail.

But the extraordinary characters involved and the immensity of what was at stake, propel the story along, even when this reader occasionally grew irritated with MacIntyre's sometimes showy research (what was on at the local cinema at the time of the incident, for instance).

In the end, you have to admire the writer's mastery of his material and the, yes, "almost absurdly entertaining" richness of his tale. It is impossible not to get caught up in the drama of the times, and to want to continue reading until MacIntyre has reached the end of every thread he has followed.

I couldn't help feeling that today, not much is asked of us compared to those who lived through the war.

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