Customer Reviews (11)
Gernerals and Politics.
This is the bestanti-war novel I have ever read.It shows the creation of motivationsfor war and military action that come out of the personalissues of Generals andpoliticians.It underlines very clearly the massive destruction of livesas a brutal meaningless war (WWI)in the trenches went on for no reason except the personal ambitions of generals and politiians.
Small volume, large value
This relatively slim volume is in fact a great story with universal lessons for all."The General" ranks as high as a general in teaching lessons about how lessons ought to be taught to our leaders, political and military.
price is high but so is the value!
I know that this N&A edition is priced high but I payed the $25.95 here at Amazon and I was not disappointed.The General is one of the best war books I've ever read.It tells the tale of Herbert Curzon as he rises through the ranks to being a general in the British military.It's brilliant in revealing the world, social and political, of WWI Britain.One admires "old-school" Curzon and those like him and yet one is also shocked at the inadequacy of "old-school" tactics and their results.This book is gritty and polished, much like the British officers it illustrates.The war bits are very good though tragic.I had read The African Queen and disliked it.This is the second book of Forester's that I've read and I thought it was brilliant.
Classic novel of the first world war.
This is one of C.S. Forester's first novels about war, published in 1936 and hence pre-dating Hornblower.
Like almost all the novels which Forester wrote before he created the Hornblower books, this is brilliant, far less well known today than it deserves, and consequently quite rare. The author H.G. Wells described "The General" as "a magnificent piece of work."
Some of Forester's other books, particularly those describing battles against opponents of whom he strongly disapproved of such as Hitler's nazis or indeed Napoleon, can come over as patriotic to the point of jingoism or chauvinism. This story does not come into that category and it would not be far from the truth to call it one of the first great anti-war novels.
If you collect books about war, and you are fortunate enough to find a copy of "The General" for sale at a remotely reasonable price, buy it at once.
This novel describes the military career of a fictional first world war general. It begins and ends between the wars, with a sharp pen-picture of the retired general Curzon sitting in a bathchair on Bournemouth Promenade, having lost his leg during the great war and never managed to learn to walk properly with an artificial one.
Then the story goes back to Curzon's first battle as a subaltern in 1899 during the Boer war, and follows him through to the climax of the book at the battle of St Quentin on March 21st 1918 when the last desperate German offensive nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Forester appears to have set out to do three things; to entertain, inform, and explain. He entertains with an engaging story; he informs by describing the ghastly conditions and waste of life which was the first world war in the trenches; and he tries to explain one possible answer to the question of how British commanders could possibly have given the orders which sent hundreds of thousands of young men to their deaths.
One of the most memorable passages in the book describes the debate as generals and senior staff officers of an army corps prepared a report of why the attack they had just organised had failed and how to succeed next time. "In some ways it was like the debate of a group of savages as to how to extract a screw from a piece of wood. Accustomed only to nails, they had made one effort to pull out the screw by main force, and now that it had failed they were devising methods of applying more force still ... they could hardly be blamed for not guessing that by rotating the screw it would come out after the exertion of far less effort".
But that does not mean that Forester is simply repeating the popular caricature of First World War generals as dangerous idiots. Although he is critical of the mistakes of the generals who wasted so many lives, his criticism is far more sophisticated than the old "Lions led by donkeys" cliche.
Although Curzon, the central figure of this book, is old fashioned and conventional, he is intelligent enough to change his mind when confronted with clear evidence of the need to do so, and decisive enough to enforce that change of mind on others when many men would freeze in panic. Had he been as stupid as some reviewers make out, Curzon would not have survived the first few months of World War 1, let alone been rapidly promoted.
He is intelligent enough to realise that his men need to eat and to make sure that they are fed properly, and to make use of officers who understand newfangled things like engineering, railways, or how many men it takes to carry a gas canister. He is ruthless enough to sack staff officers who are not up to the job even when one of them is his wife's cousin.
Within minutes of arriving at the front and seeing what artillery and machine-guns can do, Curzon abandons his pre-war attitude of deliberately evading training on how to dig trenches, and instead orders his men to dig for their lives, demanding compliance from junior officers who are afraid that the men might get dirt on their uniforms. "God damn it, man!" he explodes, "Get your men digging, and don't ask damn fool questions."
In the first round of battles in the Great War, heroic efforts from Curzon in the face of greatly superior german numbers prevent the British from being flanked and probably defeated at the First Battle of Ypres. Having fought with distinction up to this point, he is promoted to much more senior positions. But then things start to go wrong.
Forester makes a great many good points about the need to use the tactics which will win the current battle rather than the last war: indeed, thateven the tactics which won earlier battles of the current war should be dropped if they are out of date. But that is not the only message he is trying to put over.
The main theme of "The General" is a World War One version of the Peter Principle. The very qualities which make Curzon successful on the battlefield up to and including the command of a brigade have disastrous consequences for England when he is a Lieutenant-General commanding an army corps, and when both he and all the other senior officers of the army are still displaying the characteristics which colonels and brigadiers need to hold their regiments in the line.
Forester states quite explicitly in the book that the very strengths of the World War One generals, not just their weaknesses, were part of the problem. I quote - "It might have been ... more advantageous to England if the British Army had not been quite so full of men of high rank who were so ready for responsibility, so unflinchingly devoted to their duty, so unmoved in the face of difficulties, of such unfaltering courage."
This book is an unforgettable classic.
Generals fighting the last war
While most of the authors novels were set during the time of Napoleon, some were set at later times including the well known novel, "The African Queen," and this lesser known novel, "The General," both of which were set during World War I.It has often been said that generals plan tactics based on the last war.Napoleon had developed tactics based on an artillery barrage followed by an attack by infantry and cavalry.The British Army was still trying to use those tactics at the start of World War I, ignoring the change in armaments which included the introduction of machine guns.
Herbert Curzon is an officer from the old school, entering World War I in command of a lancer regiment, expecting to charge the enemy on horseback.Command of machine guns had been relegated to a lieutenant "who did not sit a horse very well," and most officers did not study the tactics of their use.They did not expect to fight on foot, and did not carry entrenching tools.The machine guns quickly became the most critical part of the battle, and men had to dig in the best they could in the muddy ground.
The British were slow to learn new tactics, and still adhered to the tactics developed by Napoleon well into the war.Curzon is given promotions, partly because he survives and impresses the War Office with his reputation for holding his positions, and partly because he marries the daughter of a Duke who has a position in the government.He rapidly rises to Lieutenant General and Corps commander.The novel ends when he is badly wounded trying to rally his men against a German offensive which is breaking the British lines.
The novel illustrates the muddle that occurred during the war.Officers had little experience trying to handle the orders necessary for the movement of half a million men, and there was an insufficient number of experienced officers.Reserves were in the wrong place, roads became clogged preventing movement, officers had a fixation on large assaults across torn up ground that their own artillery had rendered impassible.It rained, turning land into swamps where the artillery had destroyed the drainage systems.Changes to tactics were very slow.Observations were by balloons and airplanes instead of cavalry patrols.Tanks were introduced, but too few, and not readily accepted by the generals.
Hundreds of thousands of men were lost for little purpose.It is truly amazing that the government did not totally collapse, but they did not have the news media of our present day; and they had almost hysterical patriotism, with young women publicly shaming men who would not volunteer to go to the front.
The novel ends halfway through the war, when Curzon is badly wounded.
The novel was published in 1936.The forward indicates that it was used as a military manual in some countries.
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