So much has been written about George S. Patton America's colorful, and arguably most successful modern general, that one is tempted to wonder what else is there is left to say? Michael Keane's book "Patton: Blood, Guts, and Prayer" offers a new, religiously-oriented portrait of the renowned warrior who was better know for profanity and self-promotion than he was for prayer.
Patton was a wealthy, literate "devout Christian" who nonetheless believed in reincarnation and famously identified with "remembered" battlefield incidents as far back as Rome's sacking of Carthage, and drew martial and spiritual inspiration from battle sites and the earliest recorded histories of men at arms.
Perhaps the most interesting portion of the book is the detailed genealogical research that traces Patton's Southern maternal and paternal ancestors who had been senior commanders, including generals and colonels, most of whom, it seems, died in battle, in virtually every major American conflict since the French and Indian Wars in the mid 1750s. Patton's military lineage seems to surpass that of any other general in American history including Douglas MacArthur, whose own father, Arthur, won the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, and who, like his son, rose to rank of general.
Keane focuses on Patton's allegedly mystical ties to his faith, his ancestry and his personal commitment to courage as an essential leadership tool for a military commander.
However, assertions that Patton should have died or been paralyzed by a bullet wound he suffered in World War I, but miraculously survived, seem a stretch.
According to this account, Patton made time for his faith daily — attending church every Sunday, even during the height of World War II combat. In addition to spiritual guidance, he prayed for "fighting weather" or gasoline to continue his armored assault and race across France toward the Rhine River following his historic breakout from the Normandy beachhead after D-Day in 1944.
While Patton clearly drew inspiration from any and all sources, and inspired others by his personal courage and bold leadership, the book's assertion that prayer was a cornerstone to his military success seems discounted by Patton himself.
In his May 1945 General Order 9 in which he thanks his victorious Third Army for killing or wounding "at least 500,000" enemy troops and comments on "the fortitude, audacity and valor, of his men who have inscribed their deeds into the annals of history, the Almighty receives nary a mention.
For serious students of 20th-century U.S. military non-fiction, the book is a bit of a recitation of well-known Patton lore and although a pleasant, quick read, it does not rise to the level of classics like the works of Carlo D'Este or of Patton's own grandson Benjamin Patton.