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Prisoners of the Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis' Fortress Prison (Random House Large Print) Paperback – Large Print, October 4, 2022
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In this gripping narrative, Ben Macintyre tackles one of the most famous prison stories in history and makes it utterly his own. During World War II, the German army used the towering Colditz Castle to hold the most defiant Allied prisoners. For four years, these prisoners of the castle tested its walls and its guards with ingenious escape attempts that would become legend.
But as Macintyre shows, the story of Colditz was about much more than escape. Its population represented a society in miniature, full of heroes and traitors, class conflicts and secret alliances, and the full range of human joy and despair. In Macintyre’s telling, Colditz’s most famous names—like the indomitable Pat Reid—share glory with lesser known but equally remarkable characters like Indian doctor Birendranath Mazumdar whose ill treatment, hunger strike, and eventual escape read like fiction; Florimond Duke, America’s oldest paratrooper and least successful secret agent; and Christopher Clayton Hutton, the brilliant inventor employed by British intelligence to manufacture covert escape aids for POWs.
Prisoners of the Castle traces the war’s arc from within Colditz’s stone walls, where the stakes rose as Hitler’s war machine faltered and the men feared that liberation would not come soon enough to spare them a grisly fate at the hands of the Nazis. Bringing together the wartime intrigue of his acclaimed Operation Mincemeat and keen psychological portraits of his bestselling true-life spy stories, Macintyre has breathed new life into one of the greatest war stories ever told.
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“In retelling the story of Colditz, [Macintyre] makes it his own. [An] entertaining yet objectiveand often-moving account.”—Wall Street Journal
“Macintyre details the famous escapes, but, just as importantly, gives a vivid picture of everyday life in what became Germany’s most elite prison. Set aside a few hours for this book, since once you start reading, you will not stop until the last page.”—AirMail
“Riveting . . . This is another engrossing tale of WWII intrigue from a master of the genre.”—Publishers Weekly
“A mixture of derring-do and a vivid, warts-and-all portrayal of the iconic castle.”—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Ben Macintyre
“John le Carré’s nonfiction counterpart.”—The New York Times
“Macintyre has a knack for finding the most fascinating story lines in history.”—David Grann
“One of the most gifted espionage writers around.”—Annie Jacobsen
“Macintyre is a supremely gifted storyteller. . . . His books are absurdly entertaining.”—The Boston Globe
About the Author
- Publisher : Random House Large Print; Large type / Large print edition (October 4, 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 576 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0593632079
- ISBN-13 : 978-0593632079
- Item Weight : 1.13 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.08 x 0.98 x 9.21 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #85,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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When we read spy novels and memoirs or watch James Bond films we often find the tales of incredible escapes, intricate devices, and raw courage almost unbelievable. Prisoners of the Castle has plenty of such tales that make anything Ian Fleming wrote seem tame in contrast. As you read, you'll be overawed by the determination and character displayed by men like Airey Neave, Douglas Bader, Birendranath Mazumbar, Florimond Duke, and Michael Sinclair, among many others. You'll be just as impressed with many of the German officers like Reinhold Eggers, as well as with the multitude of others from outside Colditz who assisted the captives there, such as Irma Wernicke, Lee Carson, and Jane Walker.
I'm always glad to see a new Ben Macintyre book on sale. He always tells fascinating stories that are meticulously documented, filled with amazing anecdotes and incredible feats. Prisoners of the Castle is one of his best works, ranking alongside Operation Mincemeat, Agent Zigzag, and Double Cross. Buy it, but make sure you have plenty of reading time available, because you will not want to put Prisoners of the Castle down.
Let’s just say that of all the most interesting characters in the prison, David Stirling, founder of the SAS, and Douglas Bader, the legless air ace, are not even the most fascinating! In my opinion, that would be Micky Burn. A commando, poet, dramatist, novelist (he actually wrote a novel during his captivity), and former Nazi supporter turned communist supporter. Before the war, he met Hitler, who gave him a signed copy of “Mein Kampf”! Oh, and he was bisexual, at a time when homosexuality was, literally, a crime in Britain. He deserves a book all to himself.
The final chapter, which summarizes the later lives of all the characters, is especially poignant.
Now, let’s hope that the BBC and HBO will get together and turn this into a miniseries.
daring escapes, attempts to escapes, the loneliness and their efforts to combat the loneliness. The "cast" of legendary figures are presented in narrative form. I highly recommend this outstanding read.
Colditz Castle was a Renaissance castle that in the early days of the war with German advancement into Europe so swift and sudden, found themselves with a lot of enemy combatants to keep track of. Originally the castle was for all Allied troops, French, Polish, English and others, before becoming strictly a prision for English officers in 1943. This is where the troublesome prisoners went, the constant escapees, or the high valued prisoners, nephews and cousins of kings, ministers and the like. To the British with their history of public schools and class status the prison soon was a reflection of their society, aides for the officers, clubs based on society standing, book discussions, religion classes, discrimination for Jewish and Indian officers, and yes constant attempts to escape. The escape stories are fascinating as are the stories of espionage that prisoners would pass on in letters, or that they would receive in Red Cross Package.
Being a book by Ben Macintyre the tale is well- written, well- told and well- sourced. I look forward to anything that he writes for he has gift of telling a story and explaining things so well the reader never feels lost or confused. The book is told chronologically which gives the book a good flow, with what is going on the the world, along with what is happening to the prisoners, mingling well. I had no idea about all the work that went into getting equipment and supplies to prisoners for escape or for spying on the enemy. The escapes are so well sketched a book or a miniseries could be developed just from that. An interesting story of men in difficult situation who rose to the occasion, failed in every way or were destroyed by the enormity of it all.
For readers of World War II stories, well it is Ben Macintyre, but still a different look at the war, and the price of capture on those who longed to fight or die for the cause, but instead found themselves in a cage. For all the stories of escapes or gliders that were built in the prison, it is the personal stories that really make this book. From the weight of not escaping after numerous attempts, being discriminated against for their heritage from his own side, even a few men who turned traitor, this book is filled with personal stories that gives a real sense to what happened to these men. Recommended for historians, and readers who enjoy well- written nonficton.
Top reviews from other countries
But, and there's always a but, it merely skims the surface, skates over the inner courtyard cobblestones. He leads us in, gives us a glimpse and then draws us back. Names are omitted that are identified elsewhere; like the majority of the tunnels under the place, leads are opened that end up nowhere or just simply dead-ended. Excellent points are made yet are left undeveloped. I want to know more. He says that the mood of the prisoners unaccountably shifted, from ebullience and purposefulness to immense sadness and lethargy. But there is no exploration of what that was like: how did it manifest; how did it feel; what did people do? There is what it was, but not the lived experience of what it was. There should be more given the amount of material available now, including taped archives, official archives, private papers, published and unpublished memoirs and reminiscences.
Whilst accessible and readable, I found the authorial tone bland and unengaging. The story of the lived experience of prisoners and guards is powerful stuff, but it needs to be told well to make that power tangible and moving for the reader. I want to laugh, shed a tear, be amazed and appalled as well as informed. Information was conveyed. That is all.
I'm glad this book is out there, and I hope it leads to a better book. It's been 20 years since Henry Chancellor's definitive tome, it's time for a fresh and similarly comprehensive examination, one that explores the nooks and crannies that made up the lives of those who served there, that dives deep into the tunnels of their experiences and clambers over the rooftops of insight and perception: a book that delivers on the intentions of this one. If this book was an escape attempt, it made it out of the castle, but was captured after a few days out.
Macintyre's book is supposedly an atttempt to uncover a different side of the story to that told by Reid, but it really doesn't succeed. Anyone who has read Reid's books will recognise the vast majority of the material here - indeed, anyone who has read Reid's books will wonder at the absence of a lot of relevant material. For all the author's implied criticism of Reid, he is clearly hugely influenced by his books, to the extent of re-using Reid's comparison between Wagner's Götterdamerung and the last days of the war in the castle.
The new material unearthed by Macintyre is very tangential to the story - he talks in almost obsessive detail about the one Indian inmate, even though in reality he spent very little of the war actually in Colditz. In an attempt to represent other minority groups, a female American war reporter is also given a prominence she really does not deserve. The attempt to reveal some scandal in terms of homosexuality within the castle walls was already dealt with by Reid in his third book, but nonetheless, Macintyre goes on at length about one bisexual prisoner. In reality, Macintyre seems desperate to demonstrate that the story of Colditz is not just about straight, white males, but the sheer paucity of counter-examples he finds just emphasises that it really *was* mostly straight, white males - which is hardly surprising. He has really got very little new material here, certainly not that is actually relevant to the Colditz story; the non-straight, non-white, non-male characters (one of each) are basically irrelevant to the actual events, and none are deserving of the emphasis which he places on them. You really do get the feeling that a shoe-horn is being used to impose contemporary mores on a completely different time, and it really doesn't succeed.
If you have already read Reid's books, Macintyre's really isn't worth your time. And if you haven't read Reid's books, I'd strongly recommend them in favour of this one.
He has put a huge amount of research into the story of this famous prison, and the end result is a fascinating, totally readable, story.
The legends associated with Colditz are put into a factual context, but at the same time there is no question of the narrative becoming stodgy.
The characters of some of the more famous prisoners are revealed, in some cases in a highly unflattering way. This is especially so of Douglas Bader, the fighter pilot, who was shown to be a very unpleasant character.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and can recommend it to everyone, - especially those who enjoy reading Ben McIntyre.