" There is no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad generals."
This universal truth is misquoted by Ricks at the start of the work as attributable to Napoleon. It is of course a quotation of Ludendorff's, who was referring to officers and not generals. In truth, I believe it was quoted by someone else before Ludendorff, but it certainly wasn't Napoleon. This exercise of poetic license apart, the essence of the work remains true to that famous German general's actual quotation that the British army during World War I, were "...lions led by donkeys."
Despite this intentional error I enjoyed the book immensely. So much so, I promptly ordered Ricks other recent works.
The quintessence of the book is that General George C. Marshall was the exemplar of generalship for the modern age. Ricks then compares 20 or so well known generals with this gold standard.
Thomas Ricks is a journalist parexcellence, and his book is written with the verve and immediacy that one would expect from a Pulitzer winning journalist. The writing is brave, and pulls no punches and reflects experience of the sharp end of military adventures. I felt that he could have been tougher on some of his subjects however. He let Mark Clark off pretty lightly, and could have been more though with Gen Eisenhower. He didn't give Field Marshall Montgomery credit for anything. There is good evidence to support the theory that if Eisenhower had kept Montgomery as commander land forces in the ETO, the war would have been over before snow and men fell in the Ardennes. But then the book was written for an American audience. Ricks is hardest on the most recent generals, those who are still alive and commanded in conflicts of which Ricks had personal experience. There may be a link here.
This is an intelligent and profoundly researched work of great significance. With compelling examples, it rethinks the concept of generalship.
I thoroughly recommend this book - and I am halfway through my second reading.