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Field Marshal Montgomery ranks as one of the legendary leaders of the 20th century. This account is of a withdrawn, stubborn, difficult man who remained both highly characteristic of Imperial Britain and yet utterly revolutionary in his criticism of that world. Hamilton argues that it was Montgomery's homosexuality that is the key to understanding his genius - a genius that was to contribute so much to the defeat of Hitler and what was first shown to the world in the Battle of El Alamein.
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There may be worse titles for a biography of Lord Montgomery of Alamein than The Full Monty, but none readily come to mind. At best it suggests a few laughs that most certainly aren't to be found, and at worst a staggering insensitivity when the book's central thesis is Montgomery's confused and complex sexuality. Nigel Hamilton has already written an acclaimed three-volume biography of Monty, published in the 1980s, which reclaimed the honour and reputation of the British soldier that had been savaged by earlier generations of American historians, and now asks his readers to wade through 800 pages of what is only the first of two planned volumes of his reassessment. Inevitably, a great deal of the material is much the same--Hamilton is a scrupulous archivist--and the only critical difference is that this time round Monty's homosexuality takes central stage. Monty's sexuality wasn't exactly a secret among World War II historians when Hamilton began his research in the early 1980s, and he makes some special pleading for his reasons for having omitted it first time round. He was too young a biographer to enter "these dark waters", his father would have been aghast; homosexuality in the military wasn't tolerated in the 1980s: all these facts conspired the young Hamilton to largely conceal an important part of his subject's personality. There have been several biographies of Monty that have been published after Hamilton's magnum opus, all of which have openly dealt with his sexuality, so why, apart from an understandable desire--as Monty's official biographer--to put the record straight, would Hamilton want to rake over an old story? The answer appears to be that Hamilton is such a Montyphile that, having come to terms with his hero being outed, he wants to annexe his sexuality to his own ends. So rather than seeing Monty's homosexuality as just another facet of his personality, Hamilton seeks to make a virtue of it by claiming it was this that made him such a brilliant and charismatic general. Hamilton suggests that being gay was what made Monty so empathetic with his troops, which in turn inspired their loyalty; this is both specious and deluded sexual stereotyping. Is it not possible that Monty's success owes more to an astute military mind? Inevitably, perhaps Hamilton's fondness for his subject also blinds him to some unpalatable truths. Monty's attraction for young boys is explained away as an "affectionate and platonic" bond motivated by the highest sensibilities. This, at the very least, is a highly suspect argument. Whether there was physical intimacy or not--and the jury is out--using his power and influence on impressionable young men and boys in such a way verges on the abusive. Hamilton has already proved himself a distinguished historian; as a psychotherapist he's distinctly amateur. The Full Monty that emerges here is anything but.--John CraceAbout the Author:
Nigel Hamilton is the author of the three-volume official life of Monty (which won the Whitbread Prize and the Templer Medal) and the bestselling JFK: Reckless Youth. He is currently working on The Full Monty: The Impact of Fame 1942-1976 and a biography of Bill Clinton.
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