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Vimy [Paperback]

Pierre Berton
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 9 2001
One chill Easter dawn in 1917, a blizzard blowing in their faces, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps in France went over the top of a muddy scarp knows as Vimy Ridge. Within hours, they held in their grasp what had eluded both British and French armies in over two years of fighting: they had seized the best-defended German bastion on the Western Front.

How could an army of civilians from a nation with no military tradition secure the first enduring victory in thirty-two months of warfare with only 10,000 casualties, when the French had lost 150,000 men in their unsuccessful attempt? Pierre Berton's haunting and lucid narrative shows how, unfettered by military rules, civilians used daring and common sense to overcome obstacles that had eluded the professionals.

Drawing on unpublished personal accounts and interviews, Berton brings home what it was like for the young men, some no more than sixteen years old, who clawed their way up the sodden, shell-torn slopes in a struggle they innocently believed would make war obsolete. He tells of the soldiers who endured horrific conditions to secure this great victory, painting a vivid picture of trench warfare. In his account of this great battle, Pierre Berton brilliantly illuminated the moment of tragedy and greatness that marked Canada's emergence as a nation.

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Vimy + Marching As to War: Canada's Turbulent Years, 1899-1953
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Pierre Berton's Vimy is a riveting and very accessible study of the World War I victory that gave Canadians their first real taste of nationhood. But even though it's a work that contains a considerable amount of patriotic fervour, Vimy does not spare any of the nightmarish details of trench warfare. The barrage that signalled the first moments of the battle for Vimy Ridge, a muddy stretch of the front in the north of France, began exactly at 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917. In the hours that followed, the meticulously well-trained Canadian Corps would complete the first British victory in 32 months. This was the ridge where the French had sustained 150,000 casualties between 1914 and 1916; Canadian casualties numbered 10,000 through five months. No one expected this from the Canadians. By all rights, a Canadian Corps should never have existed. These four divisions of young men from across the country were not dispersed into British units only because Sam Hughes, Ottawa's hotheaded minister of militia and an infamous bully, refused to have it any other way. The other major factor that transformed the young Canadians into a cohesive force was the presence of two unusually innovative and sensible military leaders, Lieutenant-General Julian Byng and Major General Arthur Currie. Berton states that their "refusal to conform to outworn rules" meant that the Canadians learned from past mistakes on the front, unlike their haughty superiors, who failed to understand the nature of the first modern war and went on needlessly sacrificing soldiers whom they regarded as social inferiors. Instead, the Canadian leaders were in the thick of it and cared about the welfare of every man.

Berton's forte as a historian and writer is his ability to balance narrative details with big-picture events. Thus are the strategies of generals juxtaposed with anecdotes by and about the fighting men. Witness William Pecover, a Manitoba schoolteacher who, like many young Canadian men, signed up for war because he couldn't resist the lure of adventure--only to realize that his fantasy had nothing to do with trenchfoot, exhaustion, and German snipers. Of the day of the battle he wrote that "the conquered area through which we passed seemed strangely quiet. Here death reigned, and the agony of pain." Concise and well organized, considering the daunting complexity of the battle, Berton's book celebrates the achievement of the Canadians at Vimy without forgetting the appalling human toll. --Jason Anderson


"Among the most important and vital accounts of war that we have…it is inexcusable not to read it."
—Timothy Findley

"…Vimy is Berton at his best and that's the best there is."
—Peter C. Newman

"A book to make us proud, to make us week."
—June Callwood

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Almost every man who trudged up the slopes of Vimy Ridge on that gloomy Easter Monday in April 1917 had been a civilian when the war broke out, and this included four of the five Canadian-born generals who helped to plan the attack. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Canada's coming of age. April 9 2002
It just so happens that I've finished reading this book today, exactly 85 years after the very battle it describes. The Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9th, 1917.
On that chilly morning the inexperienced Canadian Corps (including one British brigade) were expected to accomplish what the British and French had failed to do in two years: namely, to dislodge the Germans from their impenetrable stronghold of Vimy Ridge on the Douai Plains of France. And they were expected to achieve that victory with fifty thousand fewer men then the French had LOST in their own frustrated assaults.
They did it.
And this book is their story.
Pierre Berton's approach is unique, and makes for a breathtaking read. In the Author's Note he says "My purpose... has been to tell not just what happened but also WHAT IT WAS LIKE. I have tried to look at the Vimy experience from the point of view of the man in the mud as well as from that of the senior planners."
He has achieved his goal... one gets the sense that the author ran through the trenches and across "No Man's Land" himself with a videocamera on that thunderous morning. Not only do we see the root and stem of every tactical achievement and blunder, we hear, see and smell, and FEEL what took place as well, in as much as it is possible. The research is extensive and meticulous, as can be seen in the Acknowledgements and Source List at the end of the book.
It just so happens that I live within sight of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, here in the capital city of Canada. High up in that Tower the single word "Vimy" is carved. For me, reading this book shifts a tremendous load of significance onto that single word.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads Like a Great Novel Nov. 5 2003
Vimy is just one of several books written by the quintessential Canadian historian Pierre Berton. Along with these books, his columns, television series, and his permanent panellist status on Front Page Challenge have earned him a place in the Order of Canada, the Governor-General's award, several literary awards, and has made many Canadians interested in their country's history.
Now this isn't the first piece I've read by Mr. Berton. I've also thoroughly enjoyed many of his others, including The Invasion of Canada, Flames Across the Border, and Marching to War. It is however, my favourite one to date.
Vimy tells the stories of a number of the Canadian participants in the Great War. It follows them as they prepare for, then engage in, and come out victorious from the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a battle that has become a national symbol of pride for Canada.
After reading this book, it is easy to understand why Canada is so proud of its accomplishment during the First World War. A young nation, with little military experience and somewhat unruly soldiers, came in with fresh ideas and accomplished what the British, and the French, countries with centuries of military knowledge, could not.
This book reads more like a good novel than like a historical fact-sheet. At times it's hard to follow because of the number of people involved in the different stories, but otherwise, it's a literary masterpiece. The graphic imagery of the trenches and the battlefields paint a very vivid picture in one's imagination, and the feelings emoted by the characters become very real to the reader throughout the book.
This is a true testament to the resolve of the Canadian people, but it is also an eye-opening account of the horrors of war. It is important for Canadian to know what role we played on the world stage in the World War 1, and this is the perfect book to read to understand that.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A true tribute Nov. 10 2005
I hate to admit, but this is actually the first Pierre Berton work I have ever read. And what a read.
"Vimy" is a book all Canadians, whether or not they are interested in military history, should include in their personal libraries.
Mr. Berton does not bog the reader down with typical military details, such as military weapon statistics and so forth. There are some included, to help the reader understand the power of weapons and their devastating effects, and it is explained in such a way my twelve year old nephew could understand it.
What this book does hold are accounts of men, really boys, and their experiences at Vimy; their heartbreaks, their fears, their history.
It is important to note, and Mr. Berton makes a point of indicating so, the Canadian army, before Vimy, was no more than a bunch of boys who got together to "join in the fun"...before they realized the true horrors of war.
A definite must read, and to make all Canadians proud of our young heritage.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book about the Great war and Canada! Sept. 26 2003
I have to give this book at very high 5 stars. Berton writes about the genesis of the Canadian military in great detail. I must admit to not knowing the rolling barrage and the trench raids were of Canadian origin. After the superb set up, the battle itself shows the infusion of all of these preparations in thier victory at Vimy. The story bring you to the GHQ's and the foot soldier level.. a Must Book!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A deeply moving read of humanity at its worst. June 27 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author engrossed my attention ,fired my imagination, and placed me in the midst of senseless death and mayhem. I couldn't be more satisfied .
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific read for all and a must read for any Canadian
This is the first Pierre Burton book I have read (just ordered a second one) and would recommend that you start reading from the back. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Rob Mills
5.0 out of 5 stars was for friend he injoyed it
love the book great read depit what really happen in world war 1
and how even unfolded in that type of battle.
Published 12 months ago by Troy Feltmate
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
We are going to visit Vimy for the first time in a little over a month from now. I read the book in 1 day. Found it a moving account of what happened and why.
Published 17 months ago by Elizabeth Duncan
5.0 out of 5 stars Lest We Forget
This is not a blow-by-blow account of a First World War battle. What it is is a tale of how a young country, little more than a colony at the time, won a victory that was as much a... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Daffy Bibliophile
3.0 out of 5 stars Focus too narrow
The author's crisp journalistic style slants a bit too much towards the breathless style of a war correspondent here. Read more
Published 23 months ago by sedgewick
5.0 out of 5 stars Berton's Best
Superbly written, painstakingly researched, and comprehensively detailed, this compelling account has all the makings of a great novel. Read more
Published on July 3 2012 by freeps
5.0 out of 5 stars The Forging of a Nation
VIMY by Pierre Berton combines a pivotal moment in the history of our country with a chronicle of the lives and the events surrounding it. Read more
Published on June 3 2012 by Arjole
5.0 out of 5 stars The Birth of a Nation
The Battle of Vimy Ridge wasn't just a major victory for Canadians, it was a cornerstone in the building of a nation. Read more
Published on March 30 2011 by Michael Evans
3.0 out of 5 stars Vimy: a flawed but readable account of a defining moment in Canada's...
Of the numerous popular histories that Pierre Berton wrote, Vimy is is one of his more popular and enduring works. Read more
Published on June 5 2006 by K Scheffler
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