Book Review:The Liberator by Alex Kershaw

World War 2 produced many heroes, and many stories that haven’t seen print yet. Alex Kershaw has brought one truly fascinating story to light in this book, which tells the story of Felix Sparks and, to a lesser extent, the men he led through Europe. Kershaw sticks to Sparks’ perspective throughout the book, pausing only momentarily to introduce us to other characters who will become important to Sparks’ story. We see everything through Sparks’ eyes, which often leads to a skewed perspective on historical figures like Mark Clark. We see events through the filter of a “common soldier” — which is ultimately what Sparks is throughout the book, no matter what his rank. He continues to consider the soldiers he leads, and everything that happens, every order given, is seen not in a grand strategic or even grand political light, but in a very tactical light. Withdrawals that make sense strategically are seen as defeats because of the moral of the soldiers who fought for those gains, only to have to give them back. The truly moving part of the book comes almost at the end, when Sparks and his Thunderbirds liberate Dachau. This is an event that changes how each of his men looks at the war, and their duty.

Throughout the book, Sparks is an advocate for his men, often arguing with his superiors when his men’s lives are at stake and are about to be sacrificed unnecessarily. Kershaw paints him as the only real sympathetic character with any rank at all; while this makes for a fascinating and entertaining read, the history nerd in me wants to learn more — to see the other side of Sparks’ conflicts with his superiors, to find the warts and imperfections that would make Felix Sparks more than just a character in a book. That’s really the only shortcoming I found in this highly readable account of a part of the war that is far too often ignored.

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2 responses to “Book Review:The Liberator by Alex Kershaw

  1. Thanks for the insightful review. A careful reading of the book shows Sparks to be an agressive and reckless commander. While he does advocate for his men, he holds in contempt any authority that disagrees with him. Should we really lionize any commander who has two units under his command totally destroyed, and a third unit accused of killing unarmed prisoners?

    The actual writing is uneven and pooly edited. With sentences like, “As Caesar’s Legions had before them, Sparks and his men passed through the town of Benvento’s famous archway in jeeps and trucks.” (page 61). Really? Where did Caesar’s legions get jeeps and trucks? This is but one example of where Mr. Kerwin’s editor really let him down. There are many more

    The narrative is marginally interesting. The subtext, when examined closely is disturbing. Looking for heros? Look elsewhere.

  2. I wrote a somewhat critical review of “The Liberator” and author Alex Kershaw sent me a message to “f*** off”: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/the-liberator-by-alex-kershaw/

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