Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Turning the Tide by Ed Offley

Author: Ed Offley
Narrator: James Adams
Publisher/Format: High Bridge Company; Audio, Unabridged; 17.25 hours
Year of publication:  2011
Subject: WWII - Battle of the Atlantic
Setting: North Atlantic Ocean
Genre: Naval History
Source:  Publisher review copy furnished through Early Review program at

I actually received this book last July - just before the Independence Day holiday. It took quite a while to finish it. As I review this, I need to separate the format from the content. As you know, I normally LOVE audio books, and was delighted to receive the audio from the Early Review program.

BUT...................this is a book that has to be read in hard copy to be fully appreciated. The narrator, James Adams does a yeoman job of getting through this tome but it simply is not a book well suited to audio. There are hundreds of alpha-numeric designations and numerical descriptors that do not lend themselves to oral recitation. For example, at the beginning of chapter 6, pg. 107 of the print copy, we see:
Three weeks earlier, U-653 had damaged the 9,382-ton Dutch Madoera, a straggler from westbound Convoy ON166, and just four days before it had dispatched the drifting 7,176-ton American freighter Thomas Hooker, which had been abandoned by its crew after suffering major structural failures during the previous week.
Try reading this aloud (Pay close attention to every syllable and you'll get an idea of how cumbersome this is to the ear):
Three weeks earlier, U -six-five-three had just damaged the nine thousand three hundred eighty two ton .....a straggler from westbound Convoy O- N-one-six-six, and just fours days .....the drifting seven thousand one hundred seventy six ton......yada yada yada.  
There are literally three to ten such sentences on every one of the 392 pages of the print edition.  Trying to follow the story from the audio was painful....there was simply no way one could track who was doing what to whom without resorting to pencil and paper.  After the first of 13 discs, I gave up and went hunting for the book.  I finally located the one copy in the State of Maine system, and had it sent from a community college library to mine here on the coast.

I then was able to listen to the audio, but had the book at hand to supplement the story with all the enlightening illustrations, maps, charts, glossaries, Convoy lists, etc. It's a wonderful wonderful history of one of the most important battles of World War II, and the audio simply does not do it justice.  Our ears and brains just don't register that kind of data without having to stop and make mental notes.  Audio books should tell a story in a continuous flow so that the listener/ear-reader can follow along seamlessly.  Listening to this was like driving along a turnpike that had speed bumps every 1/2 mile.  You never get up to speed, and you're constantly off on the shoulder to check the map and make sure you know where you are.

Enough about the audio.  The book itself, as I mentioned above, is incredibly well-researched, coherently written, elegantly edited (I didn't see a misspelled word or dangling participle anyplace!), has ample supplemental material enhancing the text, and should stand as one of the best naval history books of World War II.  While the author has a limited scope (the time frame is quite short: the first six months of 1943), he gives us both the Allied and German perspectives on what was happening, who was involved, what lessons were learned, and how it impacted the rest of the war.  It was fascinating, and surprisingly easy to follow in print.  Our eyes and brains seem to have been conditioned to grasp "Convoy ON166" as a single reading bullet vice the seven syllables we had to absorb in the audio.  The charts, maps and pictures added so much- giving us faces to go with names, outlines to go with ship shapes, and places to imagine.

I'm thinking alot today about my father who served in the Merchant Marine during WWII, my father-in-law who marched with Patton through Sicily and Italy (and who probably depended heavily on these convoys being able to get across the Atlantic), my several uncles who served in various branches and those of my generation who served during subsequent wartimes.  Preserving and telling their stories is one of the best ways we can honor them.  I'm so glad I was able to finish this book (it takes a long time) in time to feature it for Veteran's Day today.

We will probably end up buying the print edition of this one for our personal library.  It's a tremendous reference book if you have any interest in this battle at all.  Offley certainly has given us the definitive work on the subject.  I just wish that James Adams' wonderful narrating voice hadn't been so wasted. I'm giving this one 4 1/2 stars as a print book, 1 1/2 as an audio.


  1. Even though I'm a history lover and enjoy books about WW II, I'm not sure I would be as happy with this one as you are. I think it's your combined Navy history at work.

    My father wanted to join the Merchant Marine, but Mom had a hissy fit because I was a baby. It was one of his major regrets in life that he didn't join, although sometimes I suspected that he didn't want to join as much as she thought he did.

  2. I agree that audio has it's limits.
    For some of us even more than for others.

  3. Paper books are the real thing and the best, but audios are great for long car trips, if the writing is smooth, that is. This one, i agree, would be hard to listen to.


Welcome, thanks for stopping by. Now that you've heard our two cents, perhaps you have a few pennies to throw into the discussion. Due to a bunch more anonymous spam getting through, I've had to disallow anonymous comments. I try to respond to all comments posing a question, but may not always get to you right away.