Vimy Paperback – Oct 9 2001
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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."
"…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."
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
That said, Berton's book is essentially an eyewitness-account, and he skillfully recounts what survivors remembered of the events. He paints a formidable picture of the Canadian Corps, the long build up and the drudgery, the appalling conditions, the bungling, the triumphs and the cameraderie. In that sense the author succeeded in his aim to show 'what it was like' at Vimy Ridge. I only wished he would have woven it into a bigger tapestry and with a bit less 'glorification', because for all his enthusiasm about this epic Canadian engagement, even he ponders at the end whether it was all worth it and whether this really was the defining moment for Canada coming of age, as historical narratives of the time would have it.
This book is fantastic because he really frames the battle appropriately. He contrasts how it can be but a paragraph in a British history book and a defining moment for the Canadian psyche.
He looks back at the culture in Canada going into the war and has a number of colourful anecdotes and personal remarks about the upper brass. He described both political and cultural contributions in a concise manner, such that you are immediately able to understand interpersonal dynamics. He also describes the battle itself extremely well and makes sure to overlay personal narratives of various soldiers rather than run through it mechanically.
I thought this was a wonderful book to read and couldn't put it down. The only caution would be that I read it on vacation and constantly annoyed my girlfriend with 'woa, listen to this..'. So maybe best to read it alone?
Great book, funny to see some three star ratings from the Jerries!Ha
Most recent customer reviews
Husband loved this book. He is a real history buff and enjoyed this book and how it fit into other books he had read of the same era.Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
Legendary author Pierre Berton writes another classic tome on Canada’s history. No other author has brought the chronicles of Canada to life as he has. Read morePublished 16 months ago by MS
Fantastic research, wonderful human stories, educational and moving at the same time. Pierre Berton at his best. A must read for every Canadian.Published 16 months ago by Rick McKelvie
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 .Published on June 27 2014 by paul mulhern
love the book great read depit what really happen in world war 1
and how even unfolded in that type of battle.
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 on April 6 2013 by Elizabeth Duncan
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 morePublished on Nov. 23 2012 by Daffy Bibliophile
Superbly written, painstakingly researched, and comprehensively detailed, this compelling account has all the makings of a great novel. Read morePublished on July 3 2012 by freeps
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 morePublished on June 3 2012 by Arjole