Battling with History
J. Furman Daniel III
University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, 2020, 320 pages
Book Review published on: September 25, 2020
Many readers will look at another book about Gen. George Patton with only passing interest, believing nothing else could be written about the legendary commander. However, author J. Furman Daniel’s recent book Patton: Battling with History deserves a second look. Part of the American Military Experience Series and edited by noted historian John McManus, this book separates the facts about Patton’s success from the myths that have perpetuated for decades.
The author’s goal is to demonstrate that contrary to some of his biographer’s claims, Patton was not a natural warrior but a serious student of his profession and was “shaped by his experience as a student, writer, and maker of history.” Daniel proves this by developing his argument along two lines. First, he proves Patton was a lifelong lover of history, and his success “was not preordained but based upon a lifetime of dedication and hard work.” Second, Patton frequently used his historical knowledge for his own “self-serving purposes,” presenting “an idealized version of himself for posterity” by embellishing and falsifying his deeds when necessary to shape himself for future historians.
The author uses extensive research and a clear writing style to prove his assertions and achieve his goal, clearly linking Patton’s battlefield successes to his historical preparation. Daniel is evenhanded in both his praise of Patton’s achievements as well as his failures and shortcomings. For example, upon learning that he lost the job as commandant of the Army War College to a friend, Patton wrote to his wife criticizing the officer. Daniel concludes, “Here Patton was simply being petty and giving voice to his anger at the expense of his friend.” The author also questions other historians on their treatment of Patton, pointing out areas that deserved more attention.
I recommend this book to all readers interested in Patton, leadership, command, or World War II. Patton: Battling with History will provide many insights into what made the man a successful battlefield commander. The author concludes that the study of history allowed Patton to achieve a mastery of warfare that was the key to his success. The book will serve as an example for why lifelong learning is important for members of the Armed Forces for the future.
Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas