When the Sea Came Alive

When the Sea Came Alive by Garrett Graff

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for When the Sea Came Alive:

D-Day in their own words.

Quick synopsis:

On oral history of D-Day from various records of the people who lived it.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Nearly 133,000 Allied troops landed on D-Day.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

By June 30th, over 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies were landed at Normandy.

My Take on When the Sea Came Alive:

One thing I hear very often when history comes up is that there are too many World War II books coming out. I have always found this curious as the most important war in history which entangled most of the globe is going to produce stories for a very long time. Admittedly, there are plenty of books which just crib off of better works and those should rightfully be criticized. Then there are books like Garrett Graff’s When the Sea Came Alive and show a different way to take on the material.

I am having a very tough time rating this one. On the one hand, Graff has done a tremendous amount of work to turn this into a readable book with an understandable narrative. He takes excerpts from real people involved in D-Day from the generals to the lowest of privates. They are all sequenced to tell the story of D-Day through different perspectives. I want to give the book 5 stars merely for the difficulty level of making the story make sense.

On the other hand, oral histories can often run into the problem this book illustrates. Some of these quotations are only a line long. Some are longer but rarely more than a quarter of a page. This goes on for nearly all 500 pages with only Graff’s short explanations of greater actions in the war.

I couldn’t help but wondering who the audience for this is. If you are well-read in World War II, the first 200 pages of D-Day planning are not necessary. If you don’t know World War II, you need way more than is provided by these short quotations.

That said, once you start getting those first-person accounts of the D-Day landings, the book becomes intoxicating. The point-of-view of the Germans on the defensive are a wonderful touch. However, I would read a great citation and then think, “No, don’t move on, give me more of this.”

In the end, I think it is only fair to give this book four out of five stars. The work done by Graff is phenomenal. Hearing the voices of men who were there on D-Day is powerful. However, I must warn readers that oral histories are not for everyone, and your mileage may vary.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by the publisher.)


Worth the read if a little disjointed at times. Buy it here!

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