In the first pages of Ben Macintyre’s riveting new history, you learn that the idea for a revolutionary fighting force — a commando unit that became the prototype for special forces around the world — was conceived not in the heat of battle but from the acute boredom of a sickbed.
Specifically, the sickbed of one David Stirling. A less likely war hero would be difficult to imagine. In college, Stirling misbehaved on a lavish scale. “If he ever opened a book,” Macintyre writes, “the event was not recorded.” Nor did Stirling show promise as a young officer: “He lacked the most basic military discipline, could not march straight, and was so lazy his comrades had nicknamed him ‘the Giant Sloth.’ ”