Voices of the Foreign Legion: The History of the World's Most Famous Fighting Corps by Adrian Gilbert Skyhorse, HK$200 Forget Beau Geste. The 1926 silent film based on the P.C. Wren novel about the Foreign Legion presents a romantic mirage. In reality, as historian Adrian Gilbert shows, life in the legion is hellish. A soldier quoted in Gilbert's portrait of the unique French force recounts how, after a 72-hour mountain march, the men faced a kit inspection. That meant sorting their gear, fighting for space in the washrooms, then ironing everything - 'only to fail the repeat inspection and have to go through the whole soul-destroying cycle again'. 'It was total insanity,' the Legionnaire says. 'We hadn't a hope of making any of the kit-inspection deadlines. But that was precisely the point. We were being asked to do the impossible - and the training cadre wanted to see how we reacted to pressure, exhaustion, mayhem, futility and maybe even despair.' No wonder recruiting sergeants are wary about any aspirant from a comfortable background. Staying power is imperative because captured deserters take a beating that borders on torture. Some documented punishment episodes make such ugly reading that they border on pornographic. But Gilbert is only telling it like it is. Voices of the Foreign Legion charts the international volunteer unit's march from its 1831 foundation. Designed to protect French interests abroad, it spearheaded 19th-century French colonialism in North Africa, later battling in Indochina, Europe, Vietnam and Algeria. Despite, or because of, many recruits' criminal past, the legion gained mystique fuelled by its elitism and exoticism. The men paraded across the 288 pages explain why they embraced a future defined by danger and hardship. Still, the legion is human. Its troops can be beaten.