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The Battle For History: Re-fighting World War II Paperback – January 30, 1996

3.9 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Consider this book a means to an end: much of it is actually a bibliographic essay in which the distinguished military historian John Keegan points to what he considers the most important books on the Second World War. Anybody interested in the conflict will want to consult Keegan's list as they add to their personal libraries. Keegan also lays out the war's historiography, pointing out how much still is not known about what happened, especially on Europe's eastern front. He makes the surprising comment that the definitive history of the Second World War has yet been written. To the extent that no single person has expertise in the dozen or so languages necessary to grasp all of the essential literature on the subject--or the many years it would take to master this material--he may have a point. But has he forgotten his own one-volume book, The Second World War? In any event, this isn't the first, second, or third book on the Second World War that you will want to buy. But as your collection grows, you will find this one indispensable.

From Publishers Weekly

While there are some astute observations about the nature of historical writing here, The Battle for History is essentially a lengthy bibliography. In sections discussing general histories and biographies as well as books on campaigns, military intelligence and technology, and occupation and resistance, Keegan, a premier military historian, evaluates the books he has found most helpful and notes where work has yet to be done, as, for example, in the inner workings of the Japanese high command, Stalin as a war leader and the German-Polish war in 1939. He also looks at the evolving perspective (much aided by hindsight) on issues such as whether Britain should have sued for peace after the fall of France and whether blanket bombing was effective. Keegan never claims to be complete, and he is not-such perennial favorites as Harrison Salisbury's Nine Hundred Days, William Manchester's The Last Lion and Goodbye, Darkness aren't here, nor is Keegan's own important The Second World War. Some readers will find his choices quirky, for while he doesn't mention Joachim Fests's worthy Hitler, he does give credit to insights in David Irving's Hitler's War (prefaced by ample warning about Irving's own far right tendencies). There are also resources along the lines of Hitler's 74 war directives, or Fuhrerweisungen, which general readers won't locate easily. Ultimately, this will be of most help to amateurs of WWII who want to contextualize and expand their knowledge.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (January 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767435
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Keegan's books include The Iraq War, Intelligence in War, The First World War, The Battle for History, The Face of Battle, War and Our World, The Masks of Command, Fields of Battle, and A History of Warfare. He is the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph (London). He lives in Wiltshire, England.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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In a manner that will surprise few of his faithful readers, historian and writer John Keegan turns what one would expect to be a dry bibliographic survey of what this noted scholar believes to be the seminal and meaningfully works on the subject of World War Two into a fascinating and sometimes provocative survey into the subject of not only that most fateful of conflicts, but also of war itself. As has recently been proven through the edifying work of other authors such as Ian Kershaw with his brilliant two volume study of Adolph Hitler (see my reviews) as well as books by Michael Burleigh's "The Third Reich: A New History", Daniel Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners", and Williamson Murray and Allan Millet's "A War To Be Won", the field of investigation is hardly complete.

Indeed, given the fact that the integration of all the relevant information concerning the war remains such a daunting task based on its size, complexity, and the fact that it is found in a plethora of languages and dialects, one has to admire Keegan's admission that his own work as well as that by notable others such as Sir Martin Gilbert, Gerhard Weinberg's mammoth "A World At Arms" (my own personal favorite) do not represent anything close to definitive histories of the Second World War. Instead, he insists with both energy and enthusiasm that such a definitive work is yet to be written. Moreover, as anyone familiar with works ranging from Hugh Trevor-Roper's early masterpiece on Hitler's final days in the Berlin bunker to the recent short overview by Richard Overy (see his wonderful short essay and overview in "The Origins Of The Second World War"), arguments regarding the etiology and progress of that war are hardly settled beyond the point of argument or discussion.
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I admit it...the title is a bit misleading. Consequently, I was surprised by what this book actually is: a bibliographic essay. But what a pleasant and enjoyable surprise it was! I read this book in one day and couldn't wait to begin reading all the books that Mr. Keegan discussed.
Consider this book your road map to future WWII reading. An indispensable road map!
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In this slim, but magnificent, volume, John Keegan sets forth the required reading list for all interested in WWII. It should not construed as a history of WWII in itself: it is not.
Rather Keegan compares and analyzes many of the published histories of WWII and provides a critique of the work, its author and his assessment of the biases or omissions in the works he cites. At that level, "The Battle For History" is invaluable. It is as if your studies of the subject are being guided by one of the most eminent historians of the period.
First published in 1996, even the lapse of 8 years is telling. Hopefully a revision will be forthcoming. For example, Rick Atkinson's recently published - and superb - history of the North African campaign is not mentioned here. It should be.
Jerry
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Enough has been made of the misleading title, so I won't go into that--I assume it's the publisher playing the bimbo. (As opposed to, say, giving the book a competent copyediting and proofreading job.)
This book has all the lineaments of something knocked off during a slow weekend. It's casual, offhand, and rife with errors (e.g., Barbarossa beginning on 22 June 1942). It's also arguably the best checklist of literature on WW II available. Keegan, as might have been surmised, has done the reading, and here he tells you all about it. Even the novel selections (Jones and Waugh) are incisive.

If you were to work your way through the notes of this book (I confess I haven't--not completely; not yet), title by title, you would have, in the end, a master's knowledge of the war and the circumstances surrounding it. So go on--get cracking.
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"The Battle For History" by John Keegan.
Subtitled:"Re-fighting World War II".
Vintage Books, Random House, New York. 1996.

If you have ever taken a course in History, you know what a bibliographic essay is. The professor assigns an obscure episode in the events of some small country and then you have to "research" the events, find credible references and write a literate paper telling all about it. You think that you're done when you hit "Return" on the computer and the paper is complete. Or is it? Nope, the prof wants a bibliographic essay, which is a list of books and articles consulted, and your estimation of the "correctness" or value of each reference. I think that the teachers thought up bibliographic essays so that the student could not plagiarize just one book and submit it as the student's own paper.

So, with this preamble, you can see that I would be apprehensive when I picked up John Keegan's little book, (only 128 pages), which is fundamentally a bibliographic essay on the Second World War. But, this book is a wonderful bibliographic essay. The author jumps right into the heart of the matter in Chapter 1, which is entitled, "Controversy And The Second World War". In this small chapter, Keegan deals with the works of the controversialist, A.J.P. Taylor, as to the origins of the War, then Keegan goes on to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (22 June 1941), and who know what about when and how. Did Stalin really expect Hitler to leave Russia in peace? The next controversy handled was whether or not F.D. Roosevelt knew in advance that the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor. Then, a portion of this chapter deals with the effectiveness of the bombing campaign is alone worth the price of the book. Excellent work on controversies.
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