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When the Sea Came Alive

An Oral History of D-Day

LIST PRICE $32.50

About The Book

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “Absolutely gripping.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post • “A masterpiece of oral history…stirring, surprising, grim, joyous, moving, and always riveting.” —Evan Thomas • “Gripping and propulsive...Readers will be spellbound.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Plane in the Sky and Pulitzer Prize finalist for Watergate comes the most up-to-date and complete account of D-Day—the largest seaborne invasion in history and the moment that secured the Allied victory in World War II.


June 6, 1944—known to us all as D-Day—is one of history’s greatest and most unbelievable military triumphs. Though the full campaign lasted a little over two months, the surprise sunrise landing of more than 150,000 Allied troops on the beaches of occupied northern France is one of the most consequential days of the 20th century. It was the moment that turned the tide for the Allied forces and ultimately led to the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II, freeing Europe from the clutches of fascism and tragedy. In the decades since, countless stories of bravery, brotherhood, and sacrifice have made up and sustained our collective memory. Now, Pulitzer Prize finalist Garrett M. Graff, historian and author of The Only Plane in the Sky and Watergate, brings them all together in a one-of-a-kind oral history that explores this seminal event in vivid, heart-pounding detail.

The story begins in the opening months of the 1940s, as the Germany army tightens its grip around eastern and western Europe, seizing control of entire nations on the ground and bombarding others into submission by air. The United States, who has resolved to remain neutral, is forced to enter the conflict after an unexpected attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. For the second time in fifty years, the world is at war, with the stakes higher than they’ve ever been before.

Then, in 1943, as morale and resources start to wane, Allied leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill meet in Casablanca to discuss a new plan for victory: a coordinated invasion of occupied France, led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Failure, it is understood, is not an option. Over the next eighteen months, under the codename OVERLORD and a deep veil of secrecy, the large-scale action is organized, mobilizing soldiers across Europe by land, sea, and sky. And when the day comes, it is unlike anything the world has ever seen.

These moments and more are seen in real time, through the eyes of those who experienced them: the children and citizens whose towns are suddenly populated by troops training on the coast of England; the COSSAC planners bent over maps and meteorological reports, making sure that every scenario is planned through; the airmen and paratroopers glancing out the sides of their planes, ready to jump into occupied territory and fight; the intelligence operatives seeding disinformation with the enemy so that they don’t catch on to the Allied plan; the army correspondents and journalists taken along for the ride, unaware that they will have a front seat to history; the generals and leaders upon whom the weight of their mission rests; and the young men, with no idea of what awaits them, boarding landing craft bound for Normandy, ready to lay down their lives for a cause greater than themselves.

A visceral, page-turning drama, When the Sea Came Alive is the most comprehensive account of D-Day that we have yet to see, and an unforgettable, fitting tribute to the men and women of the Greatest Generation.

About The Author

(c) Elman Studio

Garrett M. Graff has spent nearly two decades covering politics, technology, and national security. The former editor of Politico and contributor to Wired and CNN, he’s written for publications from Esquire to Rolling Stone to The New York Times, and today serves as the director of the cyber initiative at the Aspen Institute. Graff is the author of multiple books, including the FBI history The Threat MatrixRaven Rock (about the government’s Cold War Doomsday plans), When the Sea Came Alive (an oral history of D-Day), and the New York Times bestsellers The Only Plane in the Sky and Watergate, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster (June 4, 2024)
  • Length: 608 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668027813

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Raves and Reviews

"Garrett Graff is a treasure: a historian rather like Erik Larson with a vast curiosity. He's written some of the very best books out there on UFOs, Watergate, and 9/11 (The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is brilliant--and not for the faint of heart.) Now he has turned his attention to D-Day, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and again he has added so much to what we know and what happened that day (and in the months leading up to it). Using the words of the men and women who were there--some famous, most not--he has crafted a moment by moment and beach by beach narrative that is riveting. As the nephew of a member of the 101st Airborne, Easy Company, it was deeply moving to learn more specifically what my uncle experienced. But, the fact is, you don't need a personal connection to someone who was there to have 'all the feels.' This is the sort of book that is smart, inspiring, and powerful--and adds so much to our knowledge of what that day was like and its historic importance forever."

Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author

“Absolutely gripping. . . . Graff, who was a Pulitzer finalist last year for Watergate, has collected thousands of short statements from soldiers, nurses, pilots, children, neighbors, sailors, politicians, volunteers, photographers, reporters and so many more and then woven them together to create a contemporaneous narrative of the Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. . . . Given the political situation in the United States today, when some of our leaders are so complacent, even enthusiastic, about the resurgence of fascism, the power of this story feels spiked with foreboding. . . . Never before have I approached Memorial Day in a state of such somber awe.”

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Garrett Graff is a treasure: a historian rather like Erik Larson with a vast curiosity. He's written some of the very best books out there on UFOs, Watergate, and 9/11 (The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is brilliant—and not for the faint of heart.) Now he has turned his attention to D-Day, the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and again he has added so much to what we know and what happened that day (and in the months leading up to it). Using the words of the men and women who were there—some famous, most not—he has crafted a moment by moment and beach by beach narrative that is riveting. As the nephew of a member of the 101st Airborne, Easy Company, it was deeply moving to learn more specifically what my uncle experienced. But, the fact is, you don't need a personal connection to someone who was there to have 'all the feels.' This is the sort of book that is smart, inspiring, and powerful—and adds so much to our knowledge of what that day was like and its historic importance forever.”

Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Lioness and The Flight Attendant

“From books by historian Stephen Ambrose to films like Steven Spielberg’s 'Saving Private Ryan,' there’s ample works chronicling the June 6, 1944, landing during World War II that ultimately led to the downfall of Nazi Germany. But in When The Sea Came Alive: An Oral History of D-Day, Graff weaves together hundreds of eyewitness accounts to create a history that stands alongside those works, expanding readers’ understanding of D-Day and offering a new, complete portrait in time for the 80th anniversary commemorations. . . The book excels in highlighting the experiences of Black soldiers who landed on D-Day beaches and women who were part of the story, such as correspondent Martha Gellhorn. . . . [A] testimony to the value in preserving memories from grand historical events, demonstrating how much can be unearthed from even the most familiar stories.”

Associated Press

“With well over 200 volumes written about this most important day in World War II, it’s difficult to imagine any book breaking new ground. Yet Mr. Graff manages to bring a completely different perspective. . . . Drawing from numerous memoirs, published histories, and thousands of oral histories from all the involved countries, especially the extensive archive at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the author captures the perspectives of generals and civilians and the numerous ordinary soldiers and sailors that fought on that momentous day. . . . This is the real distinction of this book—it presents D-Day history not as some sweeping battle narrative, but as the thousands of individuals stories that collectively decided the course of the battle that day.”

New York Journal of Books

“Gripping and propulsive. . . . A panoramic view of an astonishingly intricate plan coming to fruition, undertaken by men and women with a clear sense of its momentousness. Readers will be spellbound.”

Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

“The author of The Only Plane in the Sky has a knack for finding fresh ways to consider exhaustively rehashed historical episodes. . . . The oral-history template lends the tale a striking immediacy, and he excavates stories from a wide swath of people from both sides of the war whose testimonies recall immense bravery and utter devastation while reminding readers of the capriciousness of victory, not to mention survival. As one U.S. Navy veteran put it: 'Call it luck, divine providence, call it what you please, but here I am.'”

The Washington Post, "Seven Historical Books to Read This Summer"

“From the wonderfully evocative title to the last mournful memory, this is one of the greatest war stories ever told. Through the words of the people who made D-Day happen or bore the brunt, Garrett Graff has crafted a masterpiece of oral history. When the Sea Came Alive is stirring, surprising, grim, joyous, moving and always riveting.”

Evan Thomas

"Graff’s collection of 700 participants’ stories provides a compelling window into the kind of military maneuvers few living Americans can remember. . . . Reading about survivors’ experiences in their own words proves a solemn practice.”

Los Angeles Times

“A sprawling history of D-Day from the point of view of participants on both sides. . . . [and] a timely reminder of the cost of war, as well as the bravery of those who stormed the beaches all those decades ago.”

Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Watergate by Garrett M. Graff:

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History

“Do we need still another Watergate book? The answer turns out to be yes — this one: Garrett M. Graff’s Watergate: A New History. It is a remarkably rich narrative with compelling characters, who range from criminal and flawed to tragic and heroic. As someone who played a small role in the drama while I was editing many of The Washington Post’s Watergate stories, I found that Graff convincingly populates and re-creates an extraordinary time in the history of the country and this city. ... fast-paced ... filled with apt sketches of its many characters, major and minor, from all the president’s men, and some of their spouses, to journalists, investigators, lawyers and members of Congress. It vividly re-creates all the key events, from Nixon’s overreaction to the revelation of the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War in June 1971 to his resignation in August 1974.... engaging, informative and thought-provoking, more than earning its place on bookshelves alongside the old histories.” —Len Downie, Jr., The Washington Post

“Dazzling. . . A lively writer, Graff explores the dramatic scope of the Watergate saga through its participants — politicians, investigators, journalists, whistle-blowers and, at center stage, Nixon himself.” —Douglas Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review

“Award-winning author Graff aims to give readers the full scope of Watergate — a much bigger, more bizarre story than even remembered — telling the full story from start to finish in this ambitious book.” —New York Post

“A definitive, exhaustive account of the scandal. . . a fascinating, horrifying examination of the Nixon presidency up close—enough to scare the record straight.” —AirMail

“A meticulously researched, expansive history of the Watergate scandal from start to finish, from the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the reverberations that echo through present day.” —Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY“

Praise for The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M. Graff:

A riveting step-by-step account of the day . . . The technique of letting the witnesses tell the story does a remarkable job of bringing to life the horrific day in a way that a writer’s narrative would have a hard time matching. . . . It makes for a gripping read—and a reminder of the country at its best while under attack.” —Will Lester, Associated Press

“Graff has woven a powerful, graphic narrative of how September 11 played out everywhere from the International Space Station to the inside of the collapsing World Trade Center towers. . . . I repeatedly cried. I could feel my pulse elevate. I often had to put it down after a dozen pages. But I think that’s the point of the book. September 11 was terrible and confusing, and the more time passes, sometimes the harder that is to remember. No matter how much we try to describe those feelings to children who didn’t live through them, something will be lost in the translation and telling. This book captures the emotions and unspooling horror of the day. It will be a good text to hand to a curious teenager when he one day asks: What was September 11 really like?” —Scott Detrow, NPR

“Over 64 fine-sliced chapters, Mr. Graff . . . gives us ‘the stories of those who lived through and experienced 9/11—where they were, what they remember, and how their lives changed.’ The result is remarkable, and Mr. Graff’s curation of these accounts—drawn from hundreds of his own interviews and from the reporting of other journalists and historians—is a priceless civic gift. . . . The book is refreshingly free from editorializing, ideology and ululation. It gives us instead poignant, often distressing, vignettes and impressions of the day and its aftermath. On page after page, a reader will encounter words that startle, or make him angry, or heartbroken, or queasy.” —Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal

“Remarkable . . . Incredibly evocative and compelling . . . Allows you to experience this fateful day in an intimately visceral fashion, starting with the ordinary (the sky was gorgeously blue) and progressing to confusion, fear, numbness, and grief. . . . By letting those who were present tell stories in their own words, Graff has created a remarkably effective and deeply moving history. Be careful if you read this book in public—at some point you may encounter a story or detail that will bring back memories that overwhelm you.” —Lucinda Robb, The Washington Post

“Intense . . . Dramatic . . . Graff’s project beautifully achieves its chief goal—educating people too young or born too late to remember what the day of September 11, 2001, felt like. But it also restores a form [oral history] to its rightful place as necessity.” —Ginia Bellafante, New York Times Book Review

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