Friday, October 26, 2018

The Grand Escape

Bascomb, Neal. The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century
September 25th 2018 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

World War I was a harrowing war, but is not covered as frequently as World War II. This is a shame, since there are so many facets of the war that have not been covered. For instance, I had forgotten that the Hague Conventions laid out very clear and extensive rules about how prisoners of war should be treated. During WWI, the Germans violated these on multiple occasions. The Grand Escape tells how prisoners at Holzminden were so mistreated that the planned an almost impossible escape.

In prose that has all of the compelling interest of a fictionalized tale but with plentiful period photographs to reinforce the reality of the horror, Bascomb follows soldiers as they are fighting and then captured, eventually ending up in the notorious prison camp. Following the individual's backstories, as well as their experiences in the camp, brings a very personal immediacy to the escape. Of course, any true follower of war tales will appreciate the maps and copies of notes as the prisoners plan and eventually execute their plans.

Bascomb (who also wrote The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi and other adult titles) knows how to tell a tale that keeps the reaer on the edge of the seat. I got so caught up in the details of the story that I frequently forgot this was nonfiction, and then stopped to check the chapter notes to reassure myself that I was not reading a novel!

While there are shelves and shelves of riveting historical nonfiction about WWII, such as McCormick's McCormick, Patricia. The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely HeroFreedman's We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler, Hoose's The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club and O'Reilly' s Hitler's Last Days: The Death of the Nazi Regime and the World's Most Notorious Dictator, there is relatively little about WWI. Freedman's  The War to End All Wars: World War I is excellent, but more of an overview than an in-depth dissection of a particular facet. I would love to see more on this military conflict and encourage my readers who like this sort of literature to broaden their scope a tiny bit!


  1. Thanks once again! This is another book you've told me about that I'll HAVE to check out! I've known WWII escape stories (back in my boyhood day every guy watched The Great Escape with Steve McQueen over and over) but I've never heard any WWI escape stories. Until now! BTW, have you read Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood from the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series? Best book to ever explain the complicated international situation that led to WWI.

  2. Excellent review. I was one of the round one judges for the JH/SH nonfiction and it was unanimous...the whole committee wanted this book on the short list. in the beginning I kept thinking it was WWII because I'd heard of the Great Escape (movie starring Steve McQueen) so I had the wrong picture in my head for the longest time. Ha!