Rating: 1 out of 5
Having a cursory overview of world history, most people could probably make a decent guess at who Mr Fiennes would be bringing up in this list: Immortals, Spartans, Praetorians, the Varangian Guard, the Knights Templar, and SAS to name a few. Overall, this made for a dull and uninspired selection of reviewed elite troops, most of which the author did his best to tie into English history, to which lacklustre research and continuous self-aggrandizement can be added as two negatives of this work.
With regards the research, there wasn’t much here that one can’t find with a few basic online searches. What’s worse, it felt that any research the author had done, was solely for the purpose of placing either himself or someone from his family into a similar situation—because he actually wanted to describe that. In that way, the German take-over of Soviet oil fields and British paratrooper training were all turned into another adventure in the life of Ranulph Fiennes along with his forefather who fought in the Crusades and others who did their best in the Civil War. This absolutely constant self-worship become old very fast.
Meanwhile, the selection of units that the author described wasn’t only centred on Western Europe, but specifically England. Of the 25 chapters, six were of British units, two more linked to Britain (and, naturally, to Mr Fiennes’ family), another four of nations who fought against Britain (and, of course, who were defeated despite their special training), plus another two who should have been British but were accidentally American. In addition, five chapters lay down the “base” of Western civilization, including a very bad retelling of Thermopylae though the reader at least gets the idea that Mr Fiennes was sorry to eradicate the part of the Spartan allies through some of the mentions he made.
This left for very few other people and units to be described: the Janissaries, Mamluks, Assassins, Ninjas, and the Landsknechten. One might have thought that the French Foreign Legion could deserve a mention? Or the Swiss Guard? What about Frederick’s Grenadiers? Polish Hussars? Boer commandos? Tirolian jaegers? Persian zamburaks? The Sikh? It is probably the exclusion of the last and their stand at Saragarhi which hurt me most: Mr Fiennes doesn’t even represent British history properly!
In simple terms: once was enough, and it was enough to put me off Mr Fiennes for good. I’ve read this so you don’t have to.