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Thursday, December 13, 2012

“March or Die: France and the Foreign Legion”, by Tony Geraghty

416 pages, Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN-13: 978-0006365372

March or Die: France and the Foreign Legion is a must-read for any casual or studious reader of military history. While France's army and ability to defend itself is often the subject of jokes, there is no joking about the die-hard and resolute history of its Foreign Legion. Aside from French officers and French NCOs, the bulk of the Legion's ranks, especially in the mid to late 19th Century onwards, consisted of Germans, Swiss, Austrians, Italian, Brits, Americans, and other foreigners. From the classic last stands of Cameroon and Diên Biên Phu, to the occupation of Algeria and Morocco, the gallantry and hardship of the Legion is spelled out in all its glory. The Legionnaires were not French by blood, but gave their blood for France in a myriad of exotic and dangerous foreign and colonial settings. In WWI, the Legion was the only arm of the French military that did not mutiny. In reciprocity, France often ignored its mercenaries or gave the Legion less than their due, in typical French fashion.

A very good read, packed full of information and well-organized. Gives much more insight on the French political theater and how it affected the Legion, then I had expected. It was a niece touch, as it takes the book into the “why” instead of just reciting the plain history of the Legion. The writing does lack a bit of passion, and also seems too clinical in its descriptions of the various high points of the Legion. It is also guilty for giving the who, when, where, and why, but does not provide enough details. Very good index, bibliography, and some plain maps in the back of the book for further research if you are interested. This book is an excellent read, and makes a good companion to other books on 19th Century colonial wars, most of which focus on Britain.

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