Patton: A Genius for War

Patton: A Genius for War

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by Carlo D'Este

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Patton: A Genius for War is a full-fledged portrait of an extraordinary American that reveals the complex and contradictory personality that lay behind the swashbuckling and brash facade. According to Publishers Weekly, the result is "a major biography of a major American military figure."

"This massive work is biography at its very best.


Patton: A Genius for War is a full-fledged portrait of an extraordinary American that reveals the complex and contradictory personality that lay behind the swashbuckling and brash facade. According to Publishers Weekly, the result is "a major biography of a major American military figure."

"This massive work is biography at its very best. Literate and meaty, incisive and balanced, detailed without being pedantic. Mr. D'Este's Patton takes its rightful place as the definitive biography of this American warrior."Calvin L. Christman, Dallas Morning News

"D'Este tells this story well, and gives us a new understanding of this great and troubled man."-The Wall Street Journal

"An instant classic." —Douglas Brinkley, director, Eisenhower Center

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Perhaps the most renowned and controversial American general of the 20th century, George Patton (1885-1945) remains a subject of intense interest. D'Este (Decision in Normandy) provides new information from family archives and other sources about Patton's ancestry, childhood and pre-WWII military career. This includes his student years at West Point, his experience as a tank officer in WWI and various interwar staff assignments. The author emphasizes Patton's lifelong study and preparation for war and his conviction that God not only chose him specifically to lead an army but also stood ready to intervene to assure him battlefield victories. D'Este has much to say about Patton's impulsiveness, impatience and tactlessness, showing how these qualities often got him in trouble with the public as well as with his superiors. The account of Patton's campaigns from North Africa through Sicily, Normandy and the Ardennes enables the reader to understand why the general is regarded as one of the great military leaders. This is a major biography of a major American military figure. Illustrations. (Nov.)
Interviews with the general's family and access to his private and public papers help military historian D'Este reveal the complex and contradictory personality behind the humorless facade (and beyond the hard-edged image created by the 1970 film Patton). In addition to opening up details of Patton's private life (his dyslexia, his fear of dying in battle, and his interest in poetry, for instance), D'Este also analyzes the general's military career, including his success in Sicily and his dramatic rescue of American forces in the Battle of the Bulge. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Harper Perennial
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.64(d)

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Who Was George S. Patton?

Ask virtually any American born after World War II what immediatelycomes to mind when the name "Patton" is mentioned, and chances are they will conjure an image of a large, empty stage dominated by an enormous, oversize American flag. A tall, uniformed figure suddenly strides to its center, a large blue sash trimmed in yellow draped across his chest, an array of medals on his left breast pocket, two ivory-handled pistols strapped to his waist, and a highly polished helmet on his head on which are set the four silver stars of a full general of the U.S. Army. Standing ramrod straight, the general begins to address an unseen audience of soldiers in blunt, often colorful language. On what is clearly the eve of a battle, he explains what he expects of them and how they will survive if they follow his advice. He concludes with the admonition: "The object of war is not to die for your country. It is to make the other poor dumb bastard die for his."

As the scene fades, we begin to lose sight of the fact that the man who has just spoken is an actor named George C. Scott in his most famous role, which in 1970 earned him the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in the film Patton. We have come to think of him as Patton himself. As one writer has accurately observed, the film "turned Patton the legend finally into Patton the folk hero. In the shape of Scott, with his dark scowling face and rasping voice, Patton had now become the essence of America's World War II. Just like the cowboy hero of the Old West, he had stepped into American mythology . . . the symbol of an older, simplistic America,untouched by social change, political doubts, [and] the uncertainties of the seventies and eighties."

Although the architects of this powerful film strove diligently to reveal Patton as he really was, there were the inevitable distortions. Nor was it possible fully to portray his complex character in a film devoted solely to his World War II exploits. Moreover, Patton was based on the bestsellingmemoir of another famous general, Omar N. Bradley, who served as thefilm's chief military adviser. It was ironical that Bradley received aconsiderable sum of money, including a percentage of the gross receipts, for his professional consultation on a film about a comrade-in-arms he despised and never understood.

What inevitably emerges in the film is the portrayal of a brash,swashbuckling, controversial warrior. Yet, as one critic noted, if the film glorified anyone, it was Omar Bradley, not Patton. Thus, for nearly half of the fifty years since his death in 1945, the primary sources of our collective knowledge of Patton are, largely, a popular film and the opinions of a general who detested him but who owed him a giant debt for his support during the final months of World War II. Add to this the fact that the image the real Patton presented to the world was a many-layered facade, and there exists ample justification for the question, Who was George S. Patton?

Although our knowledge of him is incomplete and shrouded in myth, it is indisputable that, for a variety of reasons, Gen. George S. Patton Jr. has earned a place in the pantheon of authentic American heroes. Throughoutour relatively brief history as a nation, Americans have not only come to admire (and sometimes even venerate) men and women who have attained national prominence, but we have developed our own special breed of hero, modeled on the warriors who founded and tamed this nation. The Vietnam War has spawned a present-day revulsion for war as an instrument of national policy. Nevertheless, most Americans remaincaptivated by wars and the men who fight them. Our warrior-heroes range across the spectrum of American history: George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Theodore Roosevelt, and John J. Pershing are among those who come immediately to mind. To this distinguished list can be added the name of George S. Patton.

Yet how little we really know of this man. Was he the tough, humorless, bloodthirsty warrior depicted by George C. Scott, or was he a romantic who would have been far more at home in an earlier age? The life ofPatton is not only that of a uniquely American warrior but, paradoxically,that of a soldier who was very much out of his element in the twentieth century.

Patton was an ancestor worshiper, as we shall see, whose veneration of his forefathers verged on obsession. He saw himself as the modern embodiment of his heroic Confederate antecedents, and because of the enormously successful facade he created, the tender, romantic side of Patton was virtually unknown in his lifetime outside his circle of friends and admirers. The real Patton was an emotional and often humble man who could weep one moment, and seconds later put on his public face andcurse in the most scat-ological of terms.

Virtually unknown, too, was Patton's deeply religious nature. He prayedoften and almost always in private. "On one occasion in Palermo, Sicily,feeling in dire need to re-establish his lines of communication with theAlmighty, he went into the great Cathedral. There he knelt in prayer for asolid hour with hardly a motion of his body. George Patton was convincedthat God was on his side," and that there was indeed a god of Battles who would protect him.5 On another occasion his wife, Beatrice, found him kneeling in prayer before a polo match. "Afterward she asked what he'd been praying for. 'For help in the polo game,' he replied. 'Were you praying for a win?' she inquired. 'Hell no,' he said, 'I was praying to do my best.'"

Patton's detractors, and there are many (among them historian PaulFussell, who has characterized him as one of World War II's "masters of chickenshit" for his strict dress code in the Third Army), believe he was little more than a headline grabber, out to enhance his own reputation by expending the lives of his men in an obsessive quest for personal glory.Others simply loathed him for his harsh methods, his unbending personality,his arrogance, his profanity, and the sheer wrath of his notoriously volatiletemper.

With one major exception near the end of World War II, this perception is part of the myth of Patton as a passionate believer in providence and a man whose ambition was fueled by the convictions that "It is my destiny tolead the biggest army ever assembled under one flag," and "God isn't going to let me be killed before I do."The reality is that Patton accepted the inevitability of death in combat but strove mightily to save the lives of hismen. While it is true that Patton loved war, it was only in the pragmaticsense that he considered conflict an inevitable part of man's nature. He detested the death and devastation it wrought. However, if there werewars to be fought, he believed they ought to be conducted by the bestqualified men, such as himself.

What made Patton so remarkable was his willingness to take risks and to make crucial life-and-death decisions no one else would dare. For all his military accomplishments, George C. Scott was right when he asserted thatwhat made Patton unique was his individualism, his understanding that"You live and you die alone—he knew it and he lived it. . . . But foremost about Patton, I believe this man was an individual in the deepest sense of the word."

Patton was an authentic and flamboyant military genius whose entire life was spent in preparation for a fleeting opportunity to become one of the great captains of history. No soldier in the annals of the U.S. Army ever worked more diligently to prepare himself for high command than did Patton. However, it was not only his astonishing breadth of professional reading and writing that separated Patton from his peers, but that intangible, instinctive sense of what must be done in the heat and chaos of battle: in short, that special genius for war that has been granted to only a select few, such as Robert E. Lee and German Field Marshal ErwinRommel. Who but Patton would have tramped the back roads ofNormandy in 1913 with a Michelin map to study the terrain because hebelieved he would someday fight a major battle there?

Patton's great success on the battlefield did not come about by chance but rather from a lifetime of study and preparation. He was an authenticintellectual whose study of war, history, and the profession of arms was extraordinary. His memory was prodigious, as was his intellect. Patton not only believed in the Scriptures but could quote them at length. For hours on end, he could recite not only verses from the Bible, but from his great love, poetry. His favorites were Homer's Iliad and Kipling's verse. Heread voraciously and not only learned from what he read but managed toremember virtually all of it. As a young child, his nephew recalls sitting engrossed while Patton recited from memory lines from such diversesources as Shakespeare, the Bible, Macaulay, and Kipling'sBarrack-Room Ballads.

Meet the Author

Carlo D'Este, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a distinguished military historian, is the author of the acclaimed biographies Patton: A Genius for War and Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life, among other books on World War II. He lives in Massachusetts.

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Patton: A Genius for War 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Wingman More than 1 year ago
This book while not the best on the Legend Patton was very informative on who Patton really was. The biggest downfall of this book was that Omar Bradley provided insight. Little do most people know Bradley was not a big fan of Patton thus his opinion was biased. If you want to know about the man this is a must read.
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Azpooldude More than 1 year ago
Most everyone has seen the movie, "Patton", starring George C. Scott, portraying the infamous US General. But, if one wants to get the full story of this great man and what was going on in his head, Carlos D'Este's, Patton-A Genius for War is a must read. This 900 plus page book, covers the early Patton family history in the 1700's, their part in the Civil War and a full history of George Patton from birth to his death in 1945-with everything in between. This American icon was predestined to greatness from his early childhood, and he more than anyone, knew it. A true believer in God, Patton not only was at the right place at the right time, but worked hard to achieve greatness, and escaped death many times during two world wars. D' Estes takes us from his early days where the dyslexic Patton had troubles in school and thus, had to settle for the Virginia Military Academy instead of the coveted West Point. He later would get his appointment and start to shine at an early age as the Cadet Adjutant. With the help of his his wife Beatrice, Patton would make early strides as a junior officer in many of his first assignments. His involvement in the Punitive Expedition, make an early name for himself serving under General Pershing, as he vigorously fought against the Mexican revolutionist in an early triumph. Later Patton would become a student of the sword and horsemanship and quickly became an expert in both. Little is know about his greatness in sports, where he competed in the Olympic games in Sweden in 1912. Patton was also a student of military history and studied it quite thoroughly, something that would help him in the later years during the heat of battle. A pioneer of the tank corps, Patton showed his early greatness in World War One, again under General Pershing, and rose quickly in rank and notoriety. We learn about his life between the wars and how he was preparing for the next war, that he knew would come soon. When it did, Patton showed the world how to fight like nobody else. From his early arrival in Morocco during Operation Torch, across North Africa and Sicily, his impact during the Normandy Invasion, France, the Battle of the Bulge and finally into Germany, we learn how Patton thought and acted during times of trouble and turmoil. We are given a very detailed account of the politics and bickering's between the generals, his hidden and most deep thoughts on them and other war issues, and how he molded his armies to fight against all odds. Also important is the Patton "slap" incident and how it almost destroyed his career. But, unlike most others, Patton knew that he had a larger role to play in the war, and it was his destiny to fulfill it. A strong believer in reincarnation, Patton believed he was a warrior in past lives and was on a mission in this one, to complete his destiny of being a great soldier. How true it was. This may seem far fetched to some, but it is documented that he would know about places and things, mainly at battlefields, that he had never visited before. Many World War Two books give much mention to him, but this is the book to read if one wants to learn more. I believe that he is one of the more important key players and interesting personalities of the Second World War, thus I decided to buy the book. At first I was a little apprehensive about reading such a thick book, but it was a fast read. Robert Glasker
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book provides a detailed look at what made George S. Patton Jr the general he was. A must read for students of World War II.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Don't let the size of this volume intimidate you, this biography is readable and moves quickly. An OUTSTANDING and BALANCED work on one of America's greatest generals. This book should be read by those aspiring for leadership and those in leadership positions. A great book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
while he has some points that do spark some controversy,his approach to it all isnt very strong and can be easily explained. the reasons why the accounts between Patton and his aunt are known might be because other relatives were there with patton and his aunt. and if that is your only reason why you thought the book was a dissapointment then i suggest you red read it and then figure if it isnt great. D'Este's book is the best representation of the real Patton, not because it is the most indepth, but it goes intot he thinking of patton's mind, uses different viewpoints and even uses the written accounts of other patton biographers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books i have ever read on military history, which i have been reading since i was 7. This book tells both the good and bad sides of Patton which is what made him the person and general he was. By the end of the book you will feel as if you know Patton.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was first exposed to Patton by my father when I was 12 years old.He just told mom 'I'm taking the kids to a movie '. Since then I have had an interest in General George S. Patton Jr. I found this book very enlighting and told me about the other side of the famous General.Why he was the way he was.What made this man one of if not the greatest(fighting) general the USA had in WW II. From birth to death this book sheds more about the man as a person and tells us more about the Patton we saw in the movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very easy book to read. It flows along rather well. D'Este attempts to present all sides of a complex person, but I really question if this book is attempting to present fact or fiction. For example, D'Este gives the reader conversations between Patton and his Aunt as if you are right there. A very captivating tool, but where did this come from? Is there some record, oral or written, that D'Este had access too? There is a chapter dedicated to Patton's alleged belief in reincarnation. Grossly misquoting Billy Graham, of all people, to lend support to this allegeation. Only detractors of Patton such as Fargo and Bradley have fostered this allegation. For example, Bradley's book 'A soldier's story' has the exact word for word sentence in it that D'Este uses to refer to Patton's belief in reincarnation. You will also recognize it from the movie 'Patton': Gen Alexander states,'George you would make a great marshall for Napolean'. Patton replies, 'I did....' I enjoyed 'A Bitter Victory' by D'Este, but I would leave this one on the shelf. There are other more factual books on Patton well worth reading.