War As I Knew It is a memoir of World War II written by George S. Patton, one of the primary field commanders for the Allied forces in Europe during the war. Yet, this isn't strictly a book about war. It's much more a book of the widely varied experiences that the man had throughout the four year stretch (1942-1945) that the book covers, going from combat to formal dinners to meeting with world leaders and so on. If you go into this book expecting nothing but notes on the war itself, you're bound to have some disappointment, but if you instead go in expecting a wide variety of comments about the war years, then this book is a real delight. The book is available as a trade paperback from Mariner Books (ISBN: 0395735297) and a mass market paperback from Bantam Books (ISBN: 0553259911); both editions number roughly 450 pages. The book was first published in 1947.
The book is divided neatly into three sections, with the first two making up roughly eighty percent of the book. The first section details the years 1942 and 1943, where Patton mostly focused on north Africa. The second, and largest, section focuses on the years 1944 and 1945, the time in which Patton played a major role in the retaking of Europe from Germany. The third is much different than the other two; it is an overview of the lessons his military life has taught him and includes a lot of general reflections on life and the military.
The first part of the book covers his experiences in northern Africa and Sicily in 1942 and 1943. Besides the military aspects he describes how he learned to know the local cultures. His intelligent descriptions of and obvious care for many of the various cultures he met in north Africa (and the Sicilian culture, as well) hints strongly at a well-rounded man beneath the surface of the "guts and glory" demeanor we all came to know from the film Patton. The first eighty pages sets the tone for the book, as they are almost evenly divided between the north Africa campaign against Rommel and a discussion of the cultures of the area.
The second and biggest part of the book deals with the operations conducted by his Third Army from France to Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. He relates in detail his views on fellow generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Montgomery, which I found to be the most interesting portion of the book as a whole. How did their personalities and egos coexist? The section also details Germany's war tactics during the European land war, especially concerning the Battle of the Bulge, which Patton elaborates on in great detail. This section does a great job of alternating between material directly related to the war and material indirectly related, shifting from descriptions of formal dinners with the other generals to discussions of battles and tactical positions. A very nice variety keeps this section, like the first, flowing along.
The third part is a personal view of tactics, the military in general, and his career. This section is much different than the previous two, and seems as though it could be the core of a book on its own. This almost comes across as something of a brief, modernized version of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, in that although he may be discussing the military, many of his points are applicable to everyday life. Although the other sections made for interesting historical reading, this section is the real winner in the book; Patton takes a lifetime of experiences and compresses them down to roughly a hundred pages of what he has really learned. It is truly insightful reading.
This book provides a unique historical insight into the second world war from a perspective that few people ever get to view a war from: the very top. It provides an interesting look at the war itself, as well as a peek into the culture of life as a top general in the military and a strong look at many of the cultures affected by the war. The conclusion is like a delicious cherry on top, tying together the underlying lessons of Patton's life. If you enjoyed this book, other books of high quality on much the same topic include A Soldier's Story by Omar Bradley, The Patton Papers 1885-1940 and The Patton Papers 1941-1945 by George S. Patton, and Crusade in Europe by Dwight D. Eisenhower. All of these books fill out the perspective given by Patton's work here, adding more details to a fresh perspective on World War II.