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For obvious reasons, tales of Second World War daring sit prominently in the public consciousness at the present. The beaches, the Few, the Blitz spirit: they’re used almost daily to stake out the political landscape. As Britain’s sense of national identity feels increasingly attenuated, there is more “patriotic” writing around. Authors such as Damien Lewis make a good career by recasting history in a very modern guise: populist, calculated, and treading a somewhat perilous line between fiction and the facts they claim to portray. (One of the most cynical moments comes in the author’s note to his SAS Ghost Patrol when he ties himself in knots trying to justify the marketing-friendly “SAS” in the title when the book is really about the “Special Interrogation Group” or SIG.) Into that same marketplace lands Max Hasting’s newest book, though its ambitions are very different and extremely welcome.