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We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance
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We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  3,556 ratings  ·  388 reviews
Here is one of the finest, most exciting escape narratives to emerge from the challenges and miseries of World War II.
Paperback, 231 pages
Published August 1st 1999 by The Lyons Press (first published November 18th 1954)
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Are you depressed? Are you sick of people? Have you just read a book that has put you in the dumps? Then you must read We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance. I am sure you will like it. It works like a tonic. People are not all creeps! People do help others. This book is non-fiction, it is true and I dare you to read this book and not feel happy at the end. G-o-o-d book!

It is about events that occurred in Norway during the German occupation of WW2. The story begins in March 1943. He
I was not even aware the Nazis had occupied Norway in WWII (that far north??). This book tells the true story of a group of expatriate Norwegian commandos who sailed in a fishing boat from northern England to arctic Norway, with the aim of organizing and supplying the Norwegian resistance. They were betrayed soon after arrival; the Nazis ambushed them and only one man, Jan Baalsrud, survived (though wounded) and escaped. The book tells the story of his flight across Norway to exile in Sweden. Ba ...more
Anything with endurance in the title gets my attention, especially when it's a tale of survival. Add that to the fact that I was planning a winter trip to Norway, and this was the perfect winter read.

The tale begins 1943, in Nazi-occupied Norway, with a group of young men of the Norwegian resistance planning a mission to attack of German air base. The mission comes to a bad end, and three of the resistance fighters are killed, leaving the central character, Jan Baalsrud, injured and fleeing the
Erik Graff
Nov 14, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Norwegians
Recommended to Erik by: Fin Graff
Shelves: history
Throughout childhood books along the lines of "Norway and the Norwegians" were recommended to me by parents, grandparents, collateral relatives and friends of the family. This was particularly the case when I was in Norway itself, visiting Mom's parents.

Fin Graff, Mom's dad, had been born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When his dad, Dr. Harald Graff, committed suicide by shoving a amputation blade into his heart, his mother, Olga, lacking the means to support her three children, sent Fin and his sist
Sarah (Warning: Potentially Off-Topic)
We Die Alone is the story of a Norwegian named Jan Baalsrud who, along with a team of Norwegian commandos trained by the British, sailed in a disguised fishing boat from the Shetland Islands to Norway in a mission to sabotage German forces during World War II. Unfortunately, things go horribly awry, and Baalsrud, the only surviving member of his team, is forced to make a desperate escape through Arctic terrain crawling with German soldiers. In a series of horrific experiences that reads like a c ...more
A.L. Sowards
I loved this book.

It’s about Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian. He begins WWII as a courier between Stockholm and Oslo, gets caught by the Swedes, imprisoned, and then manages to make his way to England and join a group of other Norwegians being trained to return to their country and fight the Nazis. That’s where the book begins, with Jan and the other men on his mission approaching the Norwegian coast. Their plan is to hide their sabotage gear, train local groups to resist the Nazis, and then attack a
Kristine Bagnara
Sep 16, 2007 Kristine Bagnara rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: travelers to Norway, WWII buffs
Shelves: adventure
Loving world travel, the experience is always enhanced by good airplane reading that helps me learn more about the destination. Named after my Norweigan great-grandmother, I know the source of my stoicism -- yet this book taught me so much more about Norway during WWII and how herioc individuals fought and resisted occupation while the allied leaders deployed troops elsewhere. A fictional account of endurance like this would not be believed. This book -- and these people -- are worth reading and ...more
Paul Donahue
"If Jan had stopped to think, everything would have seemed hopeless. He was alone, in uniform, on a small bare island, hunted by about fifty Germans. He left a deep track as he waded through the snow which anyone could follow. He was wet through and had one bare foot, which was wounded, and it was freezing hard. The island was separated from the mainland by two sounds, each several miles wide and patrolled by the enemy, and all his money and papers had been blown up in the boat."

That is the firs
Dec 31, 2012 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Erik Graff and Bettie
The movie takes place during World War II and depicts the true story of Jan Baalsruds amazing escape from the German army from the coast of Northern Norway and across the border to the neutral country Sweden. Jan Baalsrud is on a sabotage mission from England to Norway together with 11 other soldiers in the winter of 1943 in a fishing boat when they are attacked by a German patrolboat. Jan Baalsrud is the only one who manages to escape and sets off towards Sweden through the enormous amounts of ...more
Jun 26, 2007 Roberta rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who like war stories
This story was amazing! It was recommended by my friend Martha as a book club selection and because I'm not that into non-fiction, much less war stories, I was kind of hesitant to read it. I'm glad she recommended it and I'm glad I read it - I've recommended or talked about this book so much since then!

This guy's story is so unbelievable that if it were fiction, or a Hollywood movie, you'd turn it off b/c it would seems like total bullshit. But he went through some impossible odds in the snowy w
If this weren’t a true story, no one would buy it as fiction. The book opens in the spring of 1943, as Norway is suffering under Nazi occupation. Four ex-pat Norwegian commandos are heading to the coast with the intent of recruiting and training saboteurs – their ultimate goal is a German airbase, as the Allies desperately need a sea route to Russia. The mission is compromised, and young Jan Baalsrud is left on a tiny, snowy island in the Arctic Circle, drenched, shot, bleeding, unarmed, with on ...more
Suzanne Krueger
An extraordinary story of courage,determination and survival. Taking place in Norway during WWII, not the usual locale. Learned so much about life in Norway, the rugged land, the people, the culture.
Written in a very straightforward manner. An easy read...I couldn't put it down.
Ben Garrison
I couldn't put this down. This is the true story of Jan Baalsrud who, in 1943, escaped the Nazis in the far northern reaches of Norway. Jan was the sole survivor of a group of Norwegian patriots trained in England to return to their homeland with explosives to destabilize the Nazi strongholds and recruit other Norwegians to fight to regain their country. Their boat was sunk by Germans. They had to swim to shore. Many of his comrades were killed. Those who survived were captured, tortured and exe ...more
Just finished listening to this on a long drive home from vacation. Wow. There were several points where I had to pause my iPod and simply marvel at this story. Some of the things that Jan Baalsrud experienced are completely beyond belief. In fact the author knew this, which is why he opened the book stating that it is a true book, that he visited most of the locations with Jan, and that the supporting characters collaborated the story.

But what made this story really ring true for me, and what I
One of the best escape stories of World War-II, period. I couldn't suspend my disbelief at the resilience shown by Jan Baalsrud in each and every adversity. If this book was a work of fiction, no reader would have accepted that a guy could go through such torments and survive. But as they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

And as it happens, this is an amazing true story of survival in which the guy not merely beats but scoffs-off all the worse hardships imaginable in the Arctic tundra of
Aug 16, 2009 Dolly rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: WWII history buffs
This is a remarkable story! It's devastating, inspiring, and almost unbelievable. Jan's sheer strength of spirit and survival instinct, not to mention his ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures is beyond comprehension. And the lengths to which people went to save his life, despite the danger to themselves and their families was truly heartwarming. I never knew about the extent of the Nazi occupation in Germany, so this was a good history lesson for me as well. Amazing!

I read this book wh
Getting ready for Hurtigruten cruise of Norway's north coast by finding out about its strategic importance during WWII. We Die Alone is an as-told-to memoir of Jan Balsrud, a Norwegian trained as an agent provocateur in England who sails from Shetland to Norway's northern coast with his 12-man contingent. Jan like the guerrillas in VietNam was easily able to outwit his German pursuers, and though his trek to freedom had no direct military effect, it did mobilize like-minded Norwegians to acts of ...more
Mar 13, 2010 Lynne rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people willing to stick it out through murderously dull prose
Amazing story, badly written. Howarth takes what should be a fascinating account of a man's survival and manages to make it almost unbearable to read because of the book's lack of organization and sloppy sentence structure. I admit that I was also only able to read it a bit at a time because Jan's story is so painful to read. I rated the book only three stars because the story deserved better treatment than Howarth gave it. If you liked books like Slavomir Rawicz's The Long Walk you'll want to f ...more
Well researched history of a little known survival story from World War II. Tells the story of Jan Balruud and his race to survive against the pursuit of the Germans and the harsh arctic environment of occupied Norway. He had an incredible will to survive. It's also a story of selfless sacrifice of the many that participated in the attempts to save him. You know you're on the very edge of survival when doing surgery on yourself becomes a viable course of action.
Jul 09, 2008 Devowasright rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: owen
Shelves: history, world-war-2
i can't believe i forgot about this book!
one of the most vivid and heroic personal histories from the Second World War.
A Norwegian special forces agent, trained in Britain, is inserted behind the German lines in Norway, and the strangest group of coincidence and random chance lead to the teams discovery, and his attempt to escape back to friendly or at least neutral lines...
you will never, ever think you are tough after reading this. Ever.
This story really is incredible. The fact that this man made it out alive is unbelievable. The only complaint I have is that there seemed to be an absurd amount of typos in the book. Was it just me?
Jason Reeser
Wow. This book was fantastic. A true story that really grabs you and holds on till the end. I do not say this lightly. The ordeal this man went through is almost impossible to believe.
The narrative here has a "stiff upper lip" quality common (one supposes) to both the British and Norwegian national characters, but midway through the book I forgave David Howarth his dry tone and realized that he was smart to tell Jan Baalsrud's incredible story in just that way.

What Jan survived would have killed most people, yet there are equally harrowing accounts of survival against long odds from other veterans of World War Two. What sets this book apart is that it shows not just Jan's am
Elliotte Bagg
A nice quick read, and a great story of the lone survivor of a betrayed sabotage mission against the Nazis during WW2 and his escape from being hunted, most of which is thanks to the brave civilians he encounters on his way who risked their lives and the lives of their families to shelter him and help him escape in some very extreme ways.

It falls just short because it doesn't seem as thorough as it should be in some places, and in others it plays catch up with the timeline, where it feels oddly
This book can be summed up in one word: AMAZING!

This a story of survival and determination. I loved it!

It is unreal that a man could have survived all that he does. I knew he survived when I started the book and yet I was still on the edge of my seat the entire time! If the introduction didn't explain that Jan lived to tell his story I probably would have never put this book down!

This is probably going in my top ten favorite books of all time!

Highly recommend this book! Clean!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joel Arnold
A very riveting book. I knew basically nothing about WW II in Scandinavia or even about life in Norway before reading this. One of the strong points of the book was definitely how it introduced you to the life of the average Norwegian and presented a picture of daily life there. It was also a story of incredible bravery against nearly impossible odds. The biggest negative was that it stopped abruptly right as the hero was trying to escape. I felt like someone had ripped out three chapters right ...more
Rob Kitchin
In March 1943 a fishing boat sailed into Norwegian waters high above the Arctic Circle near to Tromso. On board were 8 crew, 4 Norwegian commandos and several tonnes of supplies and arms. The mission was to land the commandos and the cargo, make contact with local resistance leaders and to train them, and to attack a German airbase used to patrol the north Atlantic and the northern passage to arctic Russian ports. They find their original landing site patrolled by German craft so head to a new i ...more
I heard about this book in a NYT op-ed piece by David Brooks, of all people. He wrote it in the context of how amazing the Norwegians are on skis in the winter Olympics. I think he needed to make a deadline, so he summarized a book he read once. Kind of lame, but still, it pointed me to an amazing story.

Toward the end of WWII, Jan Baalsrud was one of a group of Norwegian commandos who trained in Scotland and traveled to the northern coast of Norway with the intention of working with the local po
In my opinion this was a book that was written both by the wrong author and perhaps too soon. The writing was C- and better writing would have greatly enhanced the story. Additionally, Howarth either did almost no research on how the Germans were persuing Jan or the material was not yet available. The Nazi's were very methodical and kept records on everything and everyone. As a result there should have been lots of information in the book about their reaction to the escape and subsequent pursuit ...more
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Review 4 34 Aug 30, 2012 12:32PM  
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David Armine Howarth was a British historian and author. After graduating from Cambridge University, he was a radio war correspondent for BBC at the start of the Second World War. Howarth joined the Navy after the fall of France. He became involved in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and ultimately in the Shetland Bus, an SOE operation manned by Norwegians running a clandestine route between ...more
More about David Howarth...
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“...But he had great faith in the idea that if you are ready to give up everything to the solution of any problem, you will always find an answer.” 1 likes
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