Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bookworld Tuesday: Alastair Horne

In his 60 Minutes interview this past Sunday, President Bush told Scott Pelley he was reading a book about the French campaign against insurgents in Algeria in the late l950s. If so, he's made a good choice, because chances are he's talking about Alastair Horne's study, "A Savage War of Peace." That came out several years ago, but it's been the hottest read among American military personnel dealing with Iraq for as long as the war has been with us. I have read parts of it and can recommend it with high praise. There are lots of useful parallels between the two wars--a pity the President didn't read it earlier.

Alastair Horne is probably the leading historian of France in our time. He is a gifted writer, too--there is seldom a temptation to put down one of his books because the writing is difficult or unclear. Almost anyone interested in modern history can find a Horne offering to his liking. Students of insurgencies will find "A Savage War of Peace" useful. Those interested in World War I, especially its course and nature, should pick up his "The Price of Victory: Verdun l9l6." There will never be any further doubt in your mind as to why France was unwilling and unable to undertake any more significant military campaigns after that. People who love France will enjoy his recent "Seven Ages of Paris," an impressionistic look at the French capital at seven key moments in its long history. No one interested in history can fail to enjoy his books. They are a treat.

Horne has quit France temporarily for work on a biography of...Henry Kissenger. It's hard to see how that will be pleasant duty, but if he can take on and explain France and the French, he's got a fighting chance to do the same with Henry the K.

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