Picks and Pans Review: Dresden

updated 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Frederick Taylor

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The WW II firebombing of the German city of Dresden by British and American air forces in 1945 has become a symbol for the unjust cruelty of war. Thanks to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and many other retellings, the popular image of Dresden evolved into that of a wholly innocent city deliberately destroyed for revenge. It is this misconception that historian Taylor sets out to dismantle in his comprehensive study of the bombing and its context. And dismantle it he does. Taylor meticulously documents both the Nazi party's entrenchment in Dresden and the precision manufacturing there, two factors that would have made it an Allied target even if the city's strategic position as a transportation hub to the eastern front did not already guarantee it. While honestly enumerating the appalling damages visited upon Dresden, Taylor also explains, with the same honesty, the circumstances that he argues made the attack justifiable—at least, according to the brutal calculus of war. Passionately written and deeply affecting, Dresden is a bracing rebuke to the myths and propaganda that have been painted over the memory of this tragedy.


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