After the publication of my review of his excellent book Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights (Caliber), Martin Dugard kindly accepted to answer some questions for this blog. I feel privileged for the interview with an excellent and engaging author, who is also the coauthor of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series.
Here is the content of our exchange.
Mr. Dugard, where did the idea of writing Taking Paris originate from?
The book actually started as Taking Rome but as the research expanded it became obvious that the story of Rome worked more nicely as a small section in the larger context of the 1940 fall of Paris and 1944 liberation.
On page 28 of the book, you refer to Charles de Gaulle’s indifference to danger. Do you believe this is an essential ingredient of efficient and inspiring leadership, mostly at war?
It’s definitely a factor. Patton had it. Rommel had it. Napoleon had it.
De Gaulle was deeply ungrateful. He was a snob of the worst kind […].
On page 282, you write that “De Gaulle’s rise to power would never have been possible without the British prime minister.” Do you feel that enough credit is given to Winston Churchill about it? Another author – it might have been Andrew Roberts – evoked De Gaulle’s ungratefulness. Would you agree with that?
De Gaulle was deeply ungrateful. He was a snob of the worst kind and begrudged the control Churchill and his cabinet had over the French. Yet he had no choice but to take their assistance.
On page 97, we can read that “Churchill has harbored a romantic fascination with the Boer fighting force known as “commandos.”” In your opinion, how instrumental were these men in the Allied victory?
Hard to measure. Theirs was not a traditional battlefield. Their ability to harass the enemy and force them to divert men and material away from the larger war effort definitely played an enormous role.
One of the most interesting and insightful aspect of your book is that you brilliantly bring the different personalities who played a significant role to life. If you were given the possibility of having lunch with one of the characters depicted in Taking Paris, which one would it be and why?
Churchill. He was a brilliant man and amazing conversationalist. Rebecca Hall would have been interesting, though I think she would have been guarded. De Gaulle would most likely have ignored me.
Zelensky’s complete faith in the Ukrainian people and devotion to his country in the face of evil is just as inspiring as De Gaulle.
In my review of the book, I have drawn a parallel between Charles de Gaulle and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. What do you think of Zelensky’s leadership and how does it compare to the warlords you presented in the book?
I agree with your comparison. Zelensky’s complete faith in the Ukrainian people and devotion to his country in the face of evil is just as inspiring as De Gaulle.
I’m sorry if this one is a bit indiscreet, but would you agree to tell us more about your writing habits? Are you a night writer, do you have any specific rituals when you are at your writing table?
Not indiscreet at all. I am very much a morning writer. The day starts with coffee and the newspaper. Some mornings, I edit yesterday’s writing so I can incorporate it into the text. I tend to write from 8 a.m. until a little after noon. The daily goal is 1,000 words, but I sometime write more if I’m on a roll – and less if I’m stuck.
I assume you must have read quite a lot about military history. Who are your favorite authors and why?
I must admit that I don’t read much history when I’m not researching a book. I love learning as much as I can about a topic – and love the deep dive of researching more and more about history. But when it comes to reading for pleasure, I prefer John le Carré, James Salter, Amor Towles, and on. I also read a lot of thrillers as a reminder to keep the pacing fast and streamline descriptions.
I loved the anecdotes you evoke regarding the number of bottles of champagne Winston Churchill drank during his lifetime or the famous – and potentially tragic – travel in the airplane. Would there be a few stories that could not make their way in the books because of space issues that you might agree to share with my readers?
There are so many with Churchill. This is one of those scenarios where its best to let the reader dig into Churchill and find them on their own. I would highly suggest a trip to the Churchill War Rooms in London.
It is well-known that General George S. Patton was not fond of Soviets / Russians. He did not trust them. Considering the Cold War, which started in the ashes of WW2, and the current situation after the invasion of Ukraine decided by the Kremlin, do you think the Americans should have acted differently with Stalin at the end of the war (I know Churchill would have)?
I actually touch on that with Taking Berlin, due in stores on November 1. I offer the definitive take on Patton, Churchill, and the Iron Curtain.
How instrumental was the work of the “Basement Conspirators” [the group of US Army officers who secretly planned the use of armored columns before Pearl Harbor] in the American way of war in WW2?
Totally changed how America waged war. The use of armor in conjunction with aerial ground support was a dramatic shift from conventional military thinking.
We are naturally talking a lot about de Gaulle, but what are your impressions of General Koenig, the victor of Bir Hakeim?
I’m a big fan. He was also at the liberation of Paris and became a close confidante of De Gaulle.
If you were asked to write a book on one of the characters you referred to in Taking Paris, who would it be and why?
I never get tired of Patton, Rommel, and Churchill, but I would love to spend more time in the desert at Bir Hakeim.
Our current situation with Russia feels very much like Europe in 1939.
In the book, you have painted the picture of the Allies leadership at war. What are the differences and similarities with today’s decision-makers and how does it impact the fate of the world?
We’re not at war right now. The decision-making process is different for the need to be more diplomatically inclined. Having said that, our current situation with Russia feels very much like Europe in 1939.
More generally, what are your impressions of the developments in the war in Ukraine and do you think the US administration should have acted differently since February 24?
I am a big fan of President Biden’s use of diplomacy, restraint, sanctions, and our NATO allies. Putin is clearly trying to ignite a larger conflict.
Do you have another book project on your writing table and, if so, would you be at liberty of telling us more about it?
Taking Berlin will be in stores on November 1. The story picks up where Taking Paris leaves off, bringing the reader from the liberation of Paris to the end of World War II.
Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Dugard. I’m looking forward to visiting my bookstore on November 1st to get my copy of your upcoming book!