A gripping work of narrative nonfiction recounting the history of the Dresden Bombing, one of the most devastating attacks of World War II.
On February 13th, 1945 at 10:03 PM, British bombers began one of the most devastating attacks of WWII: the bombing of Dresden. The first contingent killed people and destroyed buildings, roads, and other structures. The second rained down fire, turning the streets into a blast furnace, the shelters into ovens, and whipping up a molten hurricane in which the citizens of Dresden were burned, baked, or suffocated to death.
Early the next day, American bombers finished off what was left. Sinclair McKay’s The Fire and the Darkness is a pulse-pounding work of history that looks at the life of the city in the days before the attack, tracks each moment of the bombing, and considers the long period of reconstruction and recovery. The Fire and the Darkness is powered by McKay’s reconstruction of this unthinkable terror from the points of view of the ordinary civilians: Margot Hille, an apprentice brewery worker; Gisela Reichelt, a ten-year-old schoolgirl; boys conscripted into the Hitler Youth; choristers of the Kreuzkirche choir; artists, shop assistants, and classical musicians, as well as the Nazi officials stationed there.
What happened that night in Dresden was calculated annihilation in a war that was almost over. Sinclair McKay’s brilliant work takes a complex, human, view of this terrible night and its aftermath in a gripping book that will be remembered long after the last page is turned.
Historian McKay (The Secret Lives of Codebreakers) portrays Dresden before, during, and immediately after its February 1945 destruction by Allied bombers in this vivid and exhaustive narrative. McKay profiles Dresden residents, including Viktor Kemperer, a philology professor and Jewish convert to Christianity, and 15-year-old Winfried Bielss, a member of the Hitler Youth, and sketches the city's favored status among British and American socialites, which locals hoped would keep them safe from attack. On the night of February 13, however, nearly 800 Royal Air Force bombers took off from England for Dresden; their objective, according to McKay, was to "create an atmosphere of panic" among the population, which included thousands of refugees fleeing the Red Army's advance into northern Germany. The planes carried 4,000-pound "Blockbuster" bombs and incendiary devices intended to spark fires in the wreckage. Drawing from memoirs, letters, and diaries, McKay describes people huddling in cellars, many of which collapsed or became suffocating from heat, smoke, and lack of oxygen, and emerging to find burning corpses, melting roads, and an estimated mile-high conflagration in the city center. An estimated 25,000 people died in three waves of Allied attacks over two days. McKay's extensive research and animated prose capture the terror and tragedy of the bombing. Readers won't soon forget this devastating account.