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NONFICTION : THE OXFORD BOOK OF MILITARY ANECDOTES, edited by Max Hastings (Oxford University: $17.95).

March 30, 1986|PAUL DEAN

You can bet your combat boots that any army that ever marched on its stomach also relaxed before the warm glow of wonderful yarns. And who better to gather such accounts, from the deeply chivalrous to great chestnuts, than British military historian-journalist-author Max Hastings. Here's a 384-page memoir omnibus that begins with the Old Testament and ends with the New Testimony of Hastings' dispatches from the Falklands.

Thankfully, the anthology is more Ernie Pyle than S.L.A. Marshall. It presents no challenge to any study of military engagement by William Howard Russell, and in the words of its editor is designed to "divert and entertain by exploring the margins of experience." Free from the superficialities of barrack room humor, delivered from the tedium of old sweats' tales, Hastings' diversion and exploration are flawless whether they be a small chapter or simple five liner. Such as this reminisce of Lord Chalfont: "Montgomery's allegedly austere personal habits gave rise to a number of disobliging comments and anecdotes. His appalled reaction to the clouds of cigar smoke with which Churchill had filled his tent in the desert was the subject of much amusement, as was Churchill's reply to a questioner in the House of Commons who complained that Montgomery had invited Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma, the defeated German general, to dinner in his desert caravan. 'Poor Von Thoma,' said Churchill gravely. 'I, too, have dined with Montgomery.' "

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