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The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  470 ratings  ·  81 reviews
“Powerful and often startling…The Deserters offers a provokingly fresh angle on this most studied of conflicts.” -- The Boston Globe

A groundbreaking history of ordinary soldiers struggling on the front lines, The Deserters offers a completely new perspective on the Second World War. Charles Glass—renowned journalist and author of the critically acclaimed Americans in P
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published June 13th 2013 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published March 28th 2013)
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Aug 18, 2013 rated it liked it
I've always heard World War II vets referred to as gung ho dedicated soldiers. This look at WWII shatters some of those myths not just about the men who fought this war but about all soldiers in all wars. PTSD, Soldiers Heart, Shell Shock are all terms used to designate the damage killing and the fear of being killed does to people. This is what is at the heart of Glass's book, human beings who understandably abhor bloodshed. It's assumed that if a woman can get pregnant and give birth she'll na ...more
Jill Mackin
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, ww2, war, history
Didn't really live up to the title. More like stories about deserters designed to make you feel sorry for them. The last thing I felt was sympathy for them. Just not quite all that for me.
I could have sworn William S. Burroughs was dead, but, evidently, the publishing industry has revived him, pumped him up with electricity and narcotics, and somewhere along the line decided that they loved his cut-up technique, hired him as their master editor, and let him have at every historical book being published today, because here he is again playing pick-up sticks with a narrative and reassembling it all into a random order. At first it looks OK because it's printed all sharp on clean wh ...more
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
There is a quote in this book that is worth thinking about: "Each man, no matter how strong mentally and physically, has his limits beyond which the strongest will cannot drive him." That's from "Psychology for the Fighting Man," quoted in this book.
This story is about "the hidden side of World War II," the side that was not shown in the movies or comics or many books. It's about the 150,000 British and American soldiers who deserted their posts in WWII, almost all in the so-called ETO ( Europ
Nov 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-war-2
Much has been written about the deserters of the First World War, the lack of understanding of shell shock, the executions at dawn and the campaigns for posthumous recognition and pardons; but far far less has been written about the deserters of the Second World War. Perhaps because we think of the trenches of Flanders as a particularly unique and horrifying form of warfare, the life of the fighting man in World War Two is somehow seen, in comparison, as 'not as bad'. As if war was ever somethin ...more
Randall Smith
Apr 16, 2015 rated it liked it
The Greatest Generation? Well, not exactly. Before reading this book, I was not aware that 150,000 American and British soldiers deserted in the European Theater. Or that 38,000 American officers and men were court-martialed for seeking to avoid hazardous duty by dishonorable means. From 1944 to 1946, Allied deserters ran the black market economies of Naples, Rome and Paris. They plundered Allied supply convoys at gunpoint, deprived Patton of gasoline on his drive to Germany, and left their comr ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Well, this was one of those books for me where 3 stars seems too low but 4 stars is too high. I found the title to be somewhat misleading - it was one of those books I just grabbed off the library shelf on the way out the door without knowing anything about it other than what was on the front cover. Anyway, I was expecting much more of a macro-level examination of the subject, perhaps some analysis of whether there were any distinctions to be made in terms of desertions among the armies of the a ...more
Tom Johnson
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
excellent journalism. Important subject that has been neglected. WWII, the "Good War". 50,000,000 Dead; "good war" is an oxymoron. At the end of the book, Glass makes the statement, "to write of desertion by the "greatest generation" was a taboo." Of course, it's not that simple. Until you walk in a man's combat boots, best not to judge.

The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II – Charles Glass / published 2013 / 318 pages of text plus 44 pages of notes

From the Introduction: 150,000 troops
Feb 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: ww2-on-land
I found this book difficult to read till about half way through when it got a bit better. The book is very interesting and shines light on the issue of desertion in World War 2 on the Western Allied side, but it is not my kinda book, glad it's finished so I can start a new book.

Also the writers inclusion of the one story of Al Whitehead is of no use at all as the writer himself shows doubt as to whether the stories told by Whitehead is true and brings a kind of a fiction side to the book.

And eve
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military-history
A look at the reality of what it cost to win the Second World War. This book uses the stories of three soldiers, one British and two American, who ran afoul of the system's treatment of those soldiers who deserted as a reaction to "battle fatigue" (PTSD). Along the way you will learn about the incompetence of the medical evaluation of these men and the cruelty of the military justice system. If you wish to have a well informed, well rounded understanding of WWII, then I can't urge you strongly e ...more
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Professional burnout is such a common phenomenon these days in the contemporary workplace that undue chastisement for anyone afflicted with it would most likely be abhorred as being indicative of a sign of lack of empathy and true leadership in those who head up the organizations concerned. Why, then, should the enlisted during wartime, who are subjected to the constant psychological and physical battery of ongoing bombardment of the senses, be expected to endure life-threatening dangers with no ...more
Oct 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, military
Since it is easy to glorify and embellish combat it is always useful to get a balanced perspective and hear the other side. The side that often is silent, untold and full of deep seated anguish and pain. Charles Glass does a decent job following the lives of three average G.I.'s who were classified as "deserters' and explorers their stories as well as the larger story of all the many hundreds of thousands of deserters during WW II. Desertion is usually something most people would see in black an ...more
Chris Pramas
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a terrific book on topic rarely covered in WW2 histories. It uses the stories of three men--two American and one British--as a lens to examine desertion and a host of related topics: battle fatigue, military justice, battlefield psychology, and leadership. It also highlights how truly terrible the American system was for combat infantrymen and their replacements. Basically, the Americans put the burden of the fighting on a relatively small number of divisions. Whereas other counties (and ...more
Dec 24, 2013 rated it liked it
I thought that this book would have been a more broad series of tales and exploits of dozens of deserters from all of the armies involved in the war. However, this book followed just a few soldiers from the time they entered the army until their deaths many decades after the war. It was still a pretty good read and I learned quite a bit about desertion in the war. I was astounded by the sheer number of soldiers who deserted and how many of them resorted to pilfering allied supplies and selling t ...more
Michele Weiner
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was perfect preparation for the return of Bowe Bergdahl. It explained what happened to make men desert their units and how the US government handled these men. Only one man was executed in WWII for desertion, and he should not have been. In the process of explaining things from the point of view of the deserter, the reader gets a good picture of the mistakes made in strategy that used up its men instead of attempting to give them some rest to recover from the hyper alert status of acti ...more
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
A must read for anyone interested in the history of W W 2 in Europe. This book brings out things that are overlooked and neglected in other W W 2 books. " Fascinating and absorbing . . . Glass writes with great fluency and verve and evident scholarship and has unearthed facts and figures that illuminate and perturb.
Fredrick Danysh
Aug 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, world-war-ii
During World War II the USA and Britain had over 15,000 deserters between them. The US rarely executed theirs with Private Eddie Kovacs being the exception. The author tells the stories of the deserters using three soldiers as case studies telling of their lives and military careers. An usually unstied area of the war.
Regis Dean
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Every man has a breaking point. This was a well written look at a few specific characters that reached theirs. Literally picked up the book because I recognized the name of the author. Met him in a bar in Georgetown over 30 years ago.
Miles Watson
Jul 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a flawed but deeply fascinating look at a totally neglected and even taboo subject -- Allied soldiers who deserted their colors World War Two. Author Charles Glass plunges into this unfamiliar territory with a great deal of gusto from the very first page, and delivers a book which is informative and highly readable, but also structured in such a way that, at the end, we feel as if we've barely scratched the surface of a massive subject.

Glass examines the phenomenon of desertion through t
Luke Johnson
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Lacking in focus, The Deserters isn't so much an overall history of men who abandoned their posts for a variety of reasons during WWII, instead it's the tales of just a few men all of which fought in the Mediterranean and Europe theaters. It does cover soldiers from both the US and UK but so much is irrelevant, so much may be highly exaggerated tales retold as fact that the book being taken as any kind of scholarly achievement is laughable.

What is the author trying to say? Is Glass trying to ma
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book starts off with a quote from Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier in WW2.
From there on, all the chapters (33, epilogue included) start with a quote from the 1943 edition of 'Psychology for the Fighting Man' (Penguin Books). I actually looked it up, and the 1943 paperback edition has 456 pages. 15 quotes come from the pages 334 to 355. That must have been one hell of a fascinating chapter...
As for Audie Muprhy's quote, I started reading his book 'To hell and back' but I gav
Ryan Fohl
Jun 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Mostly focuses on three “typical” deserters. A Scottish boxing poet, a young Jew who joins the resistance, and a southerner who joins the criminal underworld. Although I appreciate personal accounts from the war, this is too detailed, the court marshal transcripts are a slog. I also wish the scope was broadened more often. It is an overlooked and interesting aspect of the “good war” that I think more people should know. Some Important lessons I learned: Why MPs are so necessary. How quickly dese ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Len Knighton
Apr 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
It is impossible for one who has never seen combat to fully understand the pressures and traumas of battle or of war. We are quick to chastise and berate those who “crack” under fire. Many of us applauded General Patton (or George C. Scott portraying him) for slapping a stricken soldier.
Thousands of soldiers deserted their armed comrades, sometimes suffering visible wounds, others carrying invisible wounds that never healed.
Charles Glass tells the tales of three of these deserters. In some cas
Anthony Bracciante
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book details a subject that has largely been ignored, that of deserters during the second world war. It focuses on 3 individuals in depth as well as the topic in general. The reasons each man deserted are examined and the root cause in each case was combat fatigue. The author posits how the infantry were used up and never rotated out of combat until they reached the point of exhaustion and uselessness.
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed the book The Deserters by Charles Glass because it was intriguing. It explained a lot of question I had about how were the men of a different race discriminated against in the army. It went through many of the crucial points of the war like Blitzkrieg and D-Day. I rate this book 5 stars if you like reading about American history.
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a well-researched study of why soldiers in World War II chose to desert despite the harsh punishments they faced if caught and convicted. This book gives another viewpoint on the too often romanticized version of the last "Good War" seen in film and television shows. It is a call for a more compassionate and effective treatment of mental battle casualties.
Tod B. Souza
Bought this book because of the description. However I feel the author drifts from the actual stories of his subject with a lot of data that was useless. The book is OK and does keep you engrossed for short periods then you turn the page To find out he dropped that particular part of the story to go back to another or start another could’ve been edited better
Feb 23, 2019 rated it liked it
This book starts out strong with some compelling general statistics and anecdotes about deserters during WWII, but then it fizzles out in long, aimless stories about different men who ended up deserting at various times during the war.
Pat Carson
Aug 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017-non-fiction
Another piece of the puzzle that is World War 2.
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Charles Glass is an author, journalist and broadcaster, who specializes in the Middle East. He made headlines when taken hostage for 62 days in Lebanon by Shi’a militants in 1987, while writing a book during his time as ABC’s News chief Middle East correspondent. He writes regularly for the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, the London Review of Books and The Spectator. He is the author of Syria ...more

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“the sense of being dehumanised, reduced to little more than an extension of your equipment and weaponry, the constant feeling of being used as an object, manipulated by blind, invisible hands, controlled by a force that was either malignant or stupid, the sense of being exhausted in a metaphorical and quite often literal darkness, of being exhausted, frightened, sick, sometimes so weary that you slept while on your feet like a horse. And ignorance, stupefying, brutalising ignorance.” 0 likes
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