Book Review: Killing Patton

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious GeneralKilling Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General

by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing Patton (Henry Holt and Company 2014) unsurprisingly recounts the death of General George S. Patton Jr., the most famous General on all three sides of WWII. It is the fourth in the ‘Killing’ series, covering the assassination/murders of President Lincoln, President Kennedy, and Jesus –all best sellers.

When I read the first in this list–Killing Lincoln–I didn’t know as much as I should have about the assassination of America’s sixteenth President. I skipped Kennedy and Jesus for the same reason I read Lincoln.

Patton, though–I didn’t even know there was a mystery.

Like the Titanic movie, the basic story is no surprise. Superhero flawed warrior fights off his personal demons to perform miracles and turn the tide of war. Good thrillers all include those elements. It was the allusion to a long-hidden mystery where I had no idea one existed that made me buy the book. Written in typical O’Reilly-Dugard fashion, it is cogent, well-researched, heavily-evidenced, and non-conspiratorial, with the type of countdown of Patton’s days the authors used in Killing Lincoln. The internet is full of pithy Patton quotes, but I’ll add a few more:

“We shall attack and attack until we are exhausted, and then we shall attack again.”

“I had all my staffs… in for a conference. As usual on the verge of an attack, they were full of doubt. I seemed always to be the ray of sunshine, and by God, I always am. We can and will win, God helping.”

“Faith and patience be damned! You have just got to make up Your mind whose side You are on. You must come to my assistance so that I may dispatch the entire German Army as a birthday present to your Prince of Peace.” [Gen. Patton prays to God]

“Have taken Trier with two divisions.” [a message sent by Patton to Allied headquarters after received an order from them to bypass Trier because ‘it will take four divisions to capture it’]

And the courage of American soldiers:

“Any man can break. But the advancing Americans know they don’t have that luxury. Just like the Roman legions who once fought off the Germanic hordes on this same stretch of land, they hold the fate of Europe in their hands.” [referring to the Battle of Bastogne]

“They’ve got us surrounded. The poor bastards.” [referring to the Battle of Bastogne]

No, the story is no surprise, but I was surprised how much I didn’t know about the details:

  • I didn’t know President Roosevelt was as sick as he was. Polio was just the tip of his personal iceberg.
  • I didn’t know Hitler was as sick as he was–physically, that is.
  • I didn’t know Patton believed in reincarnation:

Patton is convinced that he was a soldier and a great general in his many past lives. He once stood shoulder to shoulder with Alexander the Great and Napoleon. He crossed the Alps on an elephant [as Hannibal]… … Though he had never visited [Langres France], Patton gave [his French liaison officer] a tour of the Roman ruins, including the amphitheater, parade ground, and various temples dedicated to a deity. He also drove straight to the spot where Caesar had once camped…

  • I didn’t know Churchill came up with the term ‘iron curtain’.
  • I didn’t know how much Patton hated the Russians.
  • I didn’t know Stalin ordered Patton’s death (though the book doesn’t allege Patton was killed by the Soviets, merely posits this as one possibility).

That’s a lot I didn’t know considered how much I’ve read about WWII.

Before closing: Some in the media (the Washington Post quoting MSNBC and Media Matters) panned the book’s claim that Patton was killed by the Soviets, repeating the official finding that Patton died from complications of the car accident that paralyzed him. Truly, I didn’t get that from the book–that conclusion, that Patton was killed by the Soviets. In fact, O’Reilly-Dugard offered many scenarios, one being that there was no murder at all, that his death resulted from what the government called a ‘fender bender’

Have you read this book–or any in the series? What do you think?

More biographies:

American Sniper

Galloping Ghost

No Easy Day

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics.

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20 thoughts on “Book Review: Killing Patton

  1. Pingback: Technology Killing Books | Technology Documents

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  3. Certainly the book delved into personalities, physical and mental conditions of many of our heroes or leaders. Enjoyed the book but found some of the historical horrors disturbing.


    • History isn’t always pretty. It’s hard to see the truth, but I’d rather that than the alternative. So often, it’s difficult to know what to believe and as a reader, I have to ‘trust’ an author. That comes only with time and experience.


    • As a character sketch, Patton is authentic American warrior. Many others are of the same mold, though not as effective. I think there may be something there to his feeling that he’d been in historic battles before.


    • Patton seemed to be That Man who was built for battle. They’re great in a war, but not so much during peace. I wonder how he felt about dying (because he had time to think about it, lying in the hospital bed, paralyzed).


  4. My father was a fan of Patton. As a result, I read a good bit about him. What I learned would make me less inclined to read yet another Patton book–particularly one that adds layers to the legend. Patton was a flawed man. He was audacious in military leadership and that worked to the Allied advantage. He was also wildly cruel, dangerously Machiavellian, self-absorbed and vilely anti-semitic. Maybe his own men did kill him. Good review, though.


  5. this is a great book and novel to read and enjoy! The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have written a lively, provocative account of the death of General George S. Patton and the important events in the final year of the Allied victory in Europe, which Patton’s brilliant generalship of the American Third Army did so much to secure.


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