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The Liberator
Cover of The Liberator
The Liberator
One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau
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The untold story of the bloodiest and most dramatic march to victory of the Second World War

Written with Alex Kershaw's trademark narrative drive and vivid immediacy, The Liberator traces the remarkable battlefield journey of maverick U.S. Army officer Felix Sparks through the Allied liberation of Europe—from the first landing in Italy to the final death throes of the Third Reich.
Over five hundred bloody days, Sparks and his infantry unit battled from the beaches of Sicily through the mountains of Italy and France, ultimately enduring bitter and desperate winter combat against the die-hard SS on the Fatherland's borders. Having miraculously survived the long, bloody march across Europe, Sparks was selected to lead a final charge to Bavaria, where he and his men experienced some of the most intense street fighting suffered by Americans in World War II.
And when he finally arrived at the gates of Dachau, Sparks confronted scenes that robbed the mind of reason—and put his humanity to the ultimate test.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The untold story of the bloodiest and most dramatic march to victory of the Second World War

Written with Alex Kershaw's trademark narrative drive and vivid immediacy, The Liberator traces the remarkable battlefield journey of maverick U.S. Army officer Felix Sparks through the Allied liberation of Europe—from the first landing in Italy to the final death throes of the Third Reich.
Over five hundred bloody days, Sparks and his infantry unit battled from the beaches of Sicily through the mountains of Italy and France, ultimately enduring bitter and desperate winter combat against the die-hard SS on the Fatherland's borders. Having miraculously survived the long, bloody march across Europe, Sparks was selected to lead a final charge to Bavaria, where he and his men experienced some of the most intense street fighting suffered by Americans in World War II.
And when he finally arrived at the gates of Dachau, Sparks confronted scenes that robbed the mind of reason—and put his humanity to the ultimate test.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    The West

    Miami, Arizona, 1931

    Felix Sparks woke early. It was getting light outside. He pulled on his jacket, grabbed his shotgun, and headed out into the dusty canyon, past miners' shacks and mountains of tailings from the nearby mine, and into the red-rocked canyons, eyes darting here and there as he checked his traplines. The Tonto forest and mountains surrounding his home were full of bounty and menace: snapping lizards, tarantulas the size of his fist, and several deadly types of scorpion. It was important to tread carefully, avoiding porcupines beneath the Ponderosa pines and always being alert for the raised hackles of the diamondback rattler and the quick slither of the sidewinder snake, with its cream and light brown blotches.

    Each morning, he checked his traplines and hunted game, hoping to bag with just one shot a quail or a cottontailed rabbit or a Sonora dove. He couldn't afford to waste a single cartridge. As the sun started to warm the cold, still air in the base of canyons, he returned to the small frame house he shared with his younger brother, Earl, and three sisters, Ladelle, Frances, and Margaret. His mother, Martha, of English descent and raised in Mississippi, and his father, Felix, of Irish and German blood, counted themselves lucky to have running water. They had moved to Arizona a decade before to find work. But now there was none. Every animal their eldest son brought home was needed to feed the family.

    The economic panic and failure that followed the October 1929 Wall Street crash had swept like a tsunami across America; more than nine thousand banks had failed, and unemployment had shot up tenfold, from around 1.5 million to 13 million, a quarter of the workforce. There was no stimulus spending, nothing done to stop the catastrophe enveloping the nation like one of the dust storms that buried entire towns in Oklahoma.

    By 1931, the copper mines in Miami had closed down and a terrible silence had descended on the town that stood three thousand feet in the lee of Mount Webster. The rumble of machines far below, the distant growl made by their grinding and lifting, was gone. Over Christmas, at age fourteen, Sparks hiked far into the mountains with his father and Earl, laid traps and hunted for two full weeks, then skinned and dried pelts. They also fished for perch. But none of it was enough.

    When he was just sixteen, Sparks's mother and father sent him to live with his uncle Laurence in Glendale, Arizona. There were too many mouths to feed. It hurt to see the anguish and guilt in his father's eyes as they said good-bye. In Glendale, he had to pay his way by doing chores, milking cows and working in his uncle's store on Saturdays.

    When he returned to Miami a year later, in 1934, a government program had been set up, part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, to provide people with basic food requirements. Families in Miami were able to at least eat, even if there was no work. Once a week, he went down to the train depot in town and drew free groceries, staples such as flour, beans, and lard, salt pork, so many pounds per person, per family. Nothing was wasted. His mother was a resourceful woman, cooking salt pork gravy and biscuits for breakfast, feeding her five children as best she could, making them clothes on an old sewing machine, and cutting their hair.

    When he wasn't hunting or studying, he became a regular visitor to the public library in Miami. His passion was military history: the Indian Wars, tales of the mighty Cherokee and Custer's Last Stand, and the heroics at the Alamo, where his great-grandfather, Stephen Franklin Sparks, had fought. He hoped someday to go to college and become a...

About the Author-
  • Alex Kershaw is the New York Times bestselling author of several books on World War II, including The Bedford Boys and The Longest Winter. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from September 17, 2012
    In his latest WWII narrative, Kershaw (The Longest Winter) examines the war through the experiences of Felix Sparks, an American law student–turned–soldier who saw action in some of the bloodiest campaigns of 1943–1945. Sparks was initially assigned as a second lieutenant with the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division (the so-called “Thunderbirds”) and
    ended his service as a “world-weary” lieutenant colonel. Kershaw follows Sparks and the 157th as they land at Sicily, help liberate Rome, push on through France, and are among the first American troops to enter Germany.
    “No force in history is thought to have freed so many people and marched so
    far to do so,” Kershaw proclaims. But the darkest moment comes when the
    soldiers liberate the concentration camp at Dachau, which pushes many of them to the breaking point. While Kershaw’s prose can be purplish, he is a captivating narrator, hammering home the
    chaos and carnage of war, sparing no
    sensory detail to paint a cohesive picture. Kershaw’s portrayal of his subject (based on interviews with Sparks, who died in 2007, and other survivors)
    makes for a riveting, almost epic tale
    of a larger-than-life, underappreciated figure. 16 pages of b&w photos, and photos throughout, 13 maps. Agent:
    Jim Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Management.

  • Kirkus

    October 1, 2012
    Well-researched, sprawling account of unforgiving combat in World War II, told with pulpy immediacy. Kershaw (The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II, 2010, etc.) crafts a dramatic historical narrative from lesser-known aspects of the European campaign by simultaneously focusing on the larger sweep of events and the experiences of one officer, Felix Sparks, whom the author interviewed prior to Sparks' death in 2007. Sparks joined the Army as a way out of the Depression and was a lieutenant in the 45th "Thunderbird" Division of the National Guard when war broke out; the intensity of his combat experience was indicated by his rank of colonel at the war's end. Sparks and his unit had a grueling wartime record: a year and a half of nearly constant combat, starting with the 1943 invasion of Sicily. Fortunately, Sparks "loved being a rifle company commander"; as the war intensified, he was seen as an officer with the rare combination of combat experience and esprit de corps. Yet multiple calamities befell Sparks and his unit, including the loss of his entire command during Anzio. Later, Sparks faced elite SS troops in harsh winter combat and was among the first American officers to liberate a concentration camp. Kershaw emphasizes the lethal, grinding absurdity of the European theater, which ultimately drove ordinary Americans like Sparks toward feats of bravery and endurance. Although the gruff dialogue and broad canvas of supporting characters can give the book the dramatized feel of a miniseries, it is an appealing addition to the literature of World War II. This engrossing wartime narrative offers a fresh look at the European campaign and an intimate sense of the war's toll on individual participants.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    June 15, 2012

    Actually, that's 511 days of war. Kershaw, well known for his books on World War II, e.g., The Bedford Boys, The Longest Winter, here writes about a standout officer named Felix Sparks and the men he led across Europe, from Sicily to Dachau, fighting every inch of the way.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Wall Street Journal

    "Exceptional....The Liberator balances evocative prose with attention to detail and is a worthy addition to vibrant classics of small-unit history like Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers....From the desert of Arizona to the moral crypt of Dachau, Mr. Kershaw's book bears witness to the hell that America's innocents came through, and the humanity they struggled to keep in their hearts."

  • Washington Post "A revealing portrait of a man who led by example and suffered a deep emotional wound with the loss of each soldier under his command....The Liberator is a worthwhile and fast-paced examination of a dedicated officer navigating -- and somehow surviving -- World War II."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune "Kershaw's writing is seamless. He incorporates information from a vast array of sources, but it works -- you get a sense of the different voices coming into the story....A gripping read."
  • The Daily Beast "A history of the American war experience in miniature, from the hard-charging enthusiasm of the initial landings to the clear-eyed horror of the liberation of the concentration camps....An uncynical, patriotic look at our finest hour."
  • Time.com "Kershaw has ensured that individuals and entire battles that might have been lost to history, or overshadowed by more 'important' people and events, have their own place in the vast, protean tale of World War II....Where Kershaw succeeds, and where The Liberator is at its most riveting and satisfying, is in its delineation of Felix Sparks as a good man that other men would follow into Hell -- and in its unblinking, matter-of-fact description, in battle after battle, of just how gruesome, terrifying and dehumanizing that Hell could be."
  • World War II "Kershaw's accounts of the battles Sparks survived are clear and grisly and gripping."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) "[Kershaw] is a captivating narrator, hammering home the chaos and carnage of war, sparing no sensory detail to paint a cohesive picture. [His] portrayal of his subject (based on interviews with Sparks, who died in 2007, and other survivors) makes for a riveting, almost epic tale of a larger-than-life, underappreciated figure."
  • Kirkus Reviews "This engrossing wartime narrative offers a fresh look at the European campaign and an intimate sense of the war's toll on individual participants."
  • Booklist "Inspiring....A gripping and superbly told account of men in war."
  • Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire "Alex Kershaw's gripping account of one man's wartime experiences has both the intimacy of a diary and the epic reach of a military history. The Liberator reminds us of the complexity and moral ambiguity of the Second World War."
  • Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London "A searing, brilliantly told story of the heroism and horror of war, Alex Kershaw's The Liberator is a book that's impossible to put down. A must read for anyone who loved Band of Brothers."
  • Ron Powers, co-author of Flags of Our Fathers "Alex Kershaw, long acclaimed for his terse, lightning-fast narratives of true wartime action and heroism, reaches his full maturity with this sweeping saga of a legendary infantry unit and the leader who spurred it to glory."
  • Patrick K. O'Donnell, combat historian and author of D "A literary tour de force. Kershaw brilliantly captures the pathos and untold perspective of WWII through the eyes of one of its most courageous, unsung officers -- a great leader, who always put his men first. The Liberator is a compelling, cinematic story of the highest order."
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The Liberator
One World War II Soldier's 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau
Alex Kershaw
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