on June 1, 2010
This is the first one-volume history of World War II that I'd really place in a category of reevaluation by an author who views the war from a comfortable distance in time, but then I'm not expert, not even, really, an amateur aficionado even though I've read a lot about the war, including biographies of the personalities and memoirs by the participants.
Roberts' thesis is that the Allies did not so much win the war as Hitler lost it, in large part by making independent judgments based on intuition and ideology. He was not a military strategist and didn't trust anyone who was. The smarter his generals, the more likely he was to fire them, as he did von Rundstedt and Guderian more than once, or ignore them when he didn't like their advice as he often did von Manstein who was maybe his best strategist.
According to Roberts, Hitler's biggest misjudgment was invading Russia in June of 1941 thereby forcing Germany to fight thereafter on two fronts. He had already made a major error in not pursuing the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) who made the historic evacuation from Dunkirk--which the German army could had prevented had Hitler not called them off. He had not invaded England, having lost the air war of 1940 (The Battle of Britain). He had not beefed up his Navy--especially the submarines which tied up Atlantic shipping until 1943 but thereafter hadn't the wherewith all (submarines mainly) to continue--or his Air Force whose fighter planes were clearly inferior to Britain's. (He didn't halt airplane design or manufacturing but did force a new fighter to be made into a bomber which left him vulnerable in Russia.) He left all that hanging and went after the USSR, seeking "lebensraum" for the German people and success where Napoleon had failed.
Hitler's second biggest error according to Roberts was declaring war on the United States in December 1941 in the wake of Pearl Harbor. He was not under treaty obligations to Japan to do so and probably would not have felt bound by the treaty had he been so. But declaring war allowed Roosevelt to marshal the enormous (comparatively speaking) resources of the US (war materiel, oil, manufacturing capability) to aid the Western Allies as had not been possible before due to widespread isolationist feeling in the US. Roosevelt had maneuvered some deals already to aid Britain and the Allies, but had no trouble putting the might of the industrial US behind the Allies once Hitler had declared war.
Another major error was Hitler's campaign to rid the continent of Europe of its Jews. Here was a clear case of ideology trumping strategy. Laying aside all moral issues, Hitler tied up resources and wasted valuable personnel, loyal citizens who could have been badly needed soldiers and workers. Roberts tackles the Holocaust head on in this book, and not only in practical terms.
In fact, Roberts doesn't skirt moral issues at all in this book, though he finds that some of the conventional moral outrage in the years following 1945 has been misplaced, namely the dropping of the atomic bomb which undoubtedly saved many Allied lives and shorted by war by years. He also questions the condemnation of the fire bombing of Dresden, pointing out legitimate ways in which the city was a military target and asserting that more recent estimates of the number of casualties suggest far fewer were killed than, for instance, Vonnegut assumed in Slaughterhouse Five.
One of the more interesting moral issues he raises is that of the policy of saturation bombing which resulted in far more destruction of German cities than the the Germans inflicted on London or Antwerp. He found little disagreement with the policy at the time, either in the military or among allied populations. Roberts believes that it was only mass destruction of German cities and complete disruption of civil life that ultimately erased the Prussian military tradition which led Germany to start major wars twice in half a century and replaced it with a profoundly non-military-oriented society which hesitates even to participate in NATO missions today.
Generally too Andrews reassesses the ongoing debate on the effectiveness of bombing generally and decides that the post-war analysis which found the bombing relatively ineffective to be somewhat short-sighted.
Another major thread in this book is the role of the USSR. The book is full of the kind of statistics that can only be accumulated and analyzed objectively long after the war, but the statistics show what everyone now recognizes but rarely talks about in this world war, that the major destruction and death occurred in Russia. I have not read Beevor's Stalingrad (which has been on my list for awhile) but I was impressed by Roberts' coverage of the decisive battles of Stalingrad and Kursk in 1943. In assessing major errors of decision makers, Roberts, like most others, judges Stalin's major error to have been trusting Hitler, pointing out that Stalin otherwise never trusted anyone.
An interesting point that Roberts makes throughout this book is that of the cooperation among the Allies which, painful as it was in many ways, was a key to their success. Not only did the Axis not have that kind of cooperation, there was not even the free expression of ideas among the German decision makers since Hitler made all decisions and always punished his generals when they made independent decisions. "Strategic Retreat" was just not in his vocabulary. His closest generals, Keitel and Jodl, were among the least effective thinkers and strategists. Interestingly as tenuous as was the negotiations among Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, Roberts found that Stalin listened to his generals and oversaw far more productive cooperation with his advisors than did Hitler.
But speaking of alliances, Roberts writes extensively on British and American cooperation--and the seething egos which often underlay cooperative decisions. There were a bunch of egos among the Allies: effective strategists like Montgomery and Paton who usually had to be forced to share and who competed rigorously with each other and generals like Mark Clark who were also self-aggrandizing but less effective. Roberts acknowledges MacArthur as another ego, but actually says relatively little about him. I wasn't entirely happy with his treatment of Stillwell--or indeed of the whole China situation. In the Far East, Andrews focuses mostly on General William Slim, about whom I knew little, seeing him as one of the underappreciated heroes of the war.
I recommend this book whole-heartedly as a one-volume history of WWII which reassesses the war from a distance in time not achieved by those who actually participated or grew up in its wake revering "The Greatest Generation". It is told from a British perspective and as such possibly minimizes the war in the Pacific some, but he brings to the fore the strategic "Germany first" decision which the US and Britain agreed upon. Of course that was made possible also by Hitler's strategic mistake in declaring war on the US in 1941.
This is THE best single volume history of World War II that I have ever read. The author sets out to demonstrate how Hitler lost his own war and believe me it is FASCINATING. He uses transcripts from taped conversations between Hitler and his generals, Nuremburg testimony, quotes from soldiers, sailors, admirals and designers of bombs as well as succinct descriptions of battles (and what went wrong). The war in the Pacific is not ignored by any means - but the main subject of the book is Hitler's lost cause.
I found myself doing the same thing I do with a good novel, "Just one more chapter and THEN I'll go to bed..." It was well-written, engaging, hard-hitting and even had some humorous moments, such as little known quotes from General Patton.
You will read about the politics, the strategies, the disasters and the in-fighting. And you will read the stark statistics and the individual stories of human kindness and courage and endurance amidst the horrors of unbelievable cruelty.
This is not a comfortable read. It is not for those with weak stomachs or those who refuse to believe that evil exists in this world. Highly recommended. Suitable for mature teens and up.
on November 23, 2009
This is history at its best. Roberts comes to the job of reviewing World War II with a great perspective on the major decision-makers in the early days of the war, Churchill, Roosevelt, Marshall and Alan Brooke, in his earlier book, Masters and Commanders. These great leaders faded in importance as Hitler made his single most fateful decision, to attack the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. This ultimately cost Russia more than half of all the fatalities in the war, more than 25 million human souls, but it bled the German armies of their vital strength. Apart from minor victories, the German army never again won a major battle. Roberts has a sweeping command of facts, many of which were new to me. In addition, his opinions are well argued and easy to follow. This is a wonderful book, so well thought through and so well written.
on November 13, 2011
Although my comments on "The Storm of War" will be mostly critical, I must note that I am familiar with the author's previous books, have heard a number of interviews with Mr. Roberts, and firmly believe he possesses the intellect, diligence, writing skill and flair of a first-rate historian. The field of modern history is much richer for historians of his quality and I am grateful for his contributions. The proof lies in the corpus of his work.
This book is a Euro-centric history of the war by design and I notice that many of the other reviewers overlooked that point. However, while "The Storm of War" is a good and interesting read it is quite marginal on its major promise: to analyze the decision points and alternate courses of the war (p.11). On this goal the relevant sections run the gamut from mostly casual to almost superficial. I will elaborate my point by describing a few of the more tendentious passages in the book, how Mr. Roberts dealt with them, and how he might have made them better.
"If, on coming to power in 1933, Hitler had developed long-range heavy bombers, built more fighters than he did and trained the Wehrmacht for amphibious operations; if he had not dissipated his naval forces by invading Norway; and if had attacked much earlier to give himself months of better weather in the Channel, then the always risky Sealion would have stood far greater chance of success. If he had landed large numbers of well-supplied paratroopers on the major British airfields of southern England during the opening stages of the battle of Britain, though such an operation would undoubtedly have been risky, it might have paid off." (page 91)
Superficially these assertions are true and one could not reasonably disagree: "Sealion would have stood far greater chance of success..." and paratroop landings "...might have paid off." But upon more analysis, one realizes how casually flippant they are. Consider the opportunity costs for Germany to develop a long-range heavy bomber force.
The Germans rearmed during the 1930s by systematically managing their economy and husbanding foreign exchange in order to buy the critical raw materials they themselves did not possess. Rearmament proceeded apace and by the latter half of the 1930s there was an arms race among the major powers. Under such conditions allocating, for example, more steel, copper, or fuel to one branch of the German military meant that some other branch would have less - there was typically never enough to satisfy the demands of each. Should the Luftwaffe build a heavy bomber force, it would have meant building less of other types of aircraft. Heavy bombers were a very cost-intensive proposition, approximately equivalent to that of 3-4 fighters. So if the war started in September 1939 and Germany did have a heavy bomber force, but considerably fewer fighters, could they have successfully fought the Battle of France in 1940 where the Luftwaffe fighter arm fought for and ultimately dominated the airspace? That is highly unlikely. But let us assume that more resources were provided to the pre-war Luftwaffe so that it might build up a heavy bomber forces and a large fighter force. That would come at what cost to the other services, for they must then have less than what they did - less artillery, less munitions, fewer tanks, fewer vehicles, or fewer naval vessels.
It is necessary to consider the opportunity costs of the choices made during German rearmament. Of course, the Germans could have siphoned off resources directed toward civilian consumption, yet here too they balanced political and military considerations. There was no easy answer because there was never enough to satisfy all demands: civilian versus military, Luftwaffe versus Wehrmacht versus Kriegsmarine!
When these considerations are laid out, then asserting that had the Wehrmacht been trained for amphibious operations, beyond river crossings, an invasion would have been less risky, is true but fanciful. Is Mr. Roberts proposing that Germany should have had the foresight to build a fleet of landing craft and then trained the Wehrmacht for amphibious operations!?! No, that is nonsense. Again consider the opportunity costs, and the unlikely scenario that Germany found itself in June of 1940: they had defeated their enemies on the continent yet England would not be "reasonable" and agree to a negotiated peace.
The author references the Germans "dissipating" their naval forces by invading Norway. True, the successful German invasion of Norway in April 1940 cost the Germans a number of destroyers and vessels of other types. However, the concurrent British plan was to invade Norway and interdict Swedish iron ore exports to Germany -- an idea quite good in conception but poor in execution. Should the Germans have allowed this and the establishment of enemy air bases in Norway and perhaps an even more effective naval blockade of Germany? Of course not! But Britain was willing fight to the last Norwegian, Dutchman, Belgian and Frenchman to defeat Germany. So a widening of the war to Norway was something the Germans, excepting Doenitz, reluctantly came to accept in early 1940. And though the German naval campaign for Norway was relatively costly for the Germans in terms of sunk and damaged ships, the size and quality of the Royal Navy in the numbers, types, training and equipment in 1940 outclassed and outnumbered the Kriegsmarine in every respect. The German losses in Norway, though relatively considerable for them, meant that they had even fewer critical naval forces to deploy for any ill-fated cross-Channel invasion, but still the losses were insignificant in the overall development and outcome of the war.
In this context to say that Operation Sealion, the proposed German invasion of Britain in 1940, would have been less risky had the Germans more naval forces is facetious. Even without the losses in Norway the Kriegsmarine was dwarfed by size of the Royal Navy stationed just in home waters, with reserves available in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Consider that in September 1939 the Royal Navy had 15 battleships and 5 planned, 7 carriers and 6 under construction, 66 cruisers and 23 new ones started, 184 destroyers of all types, and even 60 submarines with 9 more under construction. The Kriegsmarine was a small fraction of the size of the Royal Navy and even in submarines the British had fifty percent more than the Germans. And no German ship-building program could ever challenge the naval assets of British even if war had not started in 1939!!
Paratroop landings on the airfields of southern England likewise do not hold up very well to examination. I am sure the Germans could have initially dropped a considerable number of paratroopers had they been determined to do so, yet their resupply and reinforcement is where this proposition breaks down. With the Royal Army, Navy and Air Force deploying and engaging with all their energies to contest any such invasion, such drops would have ultimately been a waste of men and materiel.
In a soon to follow section the author deals with the decision point(s) surrounding Dunkirk (pp. 59-68). Here the analysis of alternatives is more balanced and reasonable. The Wehrmacht and panzers briefly held back while the Luftwaffe tried to dominate the air space over this evacuation route. I agree with the author's assertion that a decisive German victory at Dunkirk (capture of the bulk of the B.E.F and a failed evacuation) would have provided the means to a possible political solution, i.e., a negotiated peace between Great Britain and Germany. In fact, in the week before "The Miracle at Dunkirk" the British War Cabinent did discuss such a prospect, as the author acknowledges.
In Chapter 11 - The Wave of Air and Sea: 1939-1945, I find similar problems. Here the author points out that if Hitler had listened to U-boat proponents and built up the submarine fleet, starting "no later than 1937," and had Germany started the war with 300 U-boats instead of the 43 they had, then this could have had a decisive impact early in the war. I agree, but again consider the required opportunity cost, which Roberts fails to do, and the needed prescience for Germany to have pursued that alternative in 1937. To follow this line of thought, perhaps instead of devoting resources to building an aircraft carrier -- whose construction was halted in Sept 1939 -- and battleships such as the Bismarck and Tirpitz -- Germany instead builds several dozens more U-boats during 1938-39. Yes, this offers intriguing possibilities. But, then again, prevailing thought in all countries placed undue emphasis on the importance and potential impact of capital ships. Their vulnerability from the air was a lesson yet to be fully and properly appreciated by all the combatant countries. So Germany's lack of prescience is less of a factor than evaluating the opportunity costs of such alternatives. But this sort of consideration is precisely how Roberts fails to take his analysis beyond the initial, first-level.
The reader of this review begins to appreciate why I find many of these casual counter-factual scenarios so tendentious: they are insufficiently developed or thought out. In fact, much better ones could have been employed, and I will discuss those as I revise my review. Aside from events in 1940, the underlying facts of the situation are that Germany was unprepared and ill-equipped to fight a long war, a fact the British certainly understood and appreciated in September 1939!!!
I have finally slogged my way to the "Conclusion: Why Did the Axis Lose the Second World War?" It's an enjoyable thirty-one pages of historical alternatives and analysis amply foreshadowed by sections in earlier chapters. On his principal points here and earlier I am in agreement with the author. What the author does not quite baldly state I will: the Ultra decrypts of German communications during much of the war were decisive in precluding significant German success after 1940, perhaps most notably in the Battle of the Atlantic. The decisive defeat of the German U-boats in 1943 allowed the massive Allied build-up of men and materiel in England in preparation for the Normandy invasion in 1944.
But, assuming the Germans had better communications security, could they have established a more effective "Festung Europa" from attack in the west. I answer "yes," though I am unsure where the author stands. They could have accomplished this by expanding and modernizing the Luftwaffe after the Battle of Britain. A 10,000 fighter force with improved models, which Hitler ordered in early December 1941 -- at least a year later than he should have -- could have initially blunted the Allied air offensive had such a force been in place by 1943. Thus 1944 might have seen titanic air battles over occupied Europe and, more importantly, it would have put numerous other factors in play. But opportunity costs, poor strategic planning and indecisiveness doomed this aspiration and path to the future.
But then what of the War on the Eastern Front? Roberts correctly identifies this, too, as a fatal mistake. Either go all-out for Moscow and succeed in 1941, or not attack at all in 1941. That Japan should have attacked the Soviet Union in 1941 and tied down Russia's Siberian divisions, later redeployed to the Moscow front, is an intriguing alternative. However, resource poor Japan critically needed oil after August 1941, and thus their "Southern Strategy" made the most sense for them.
The author's proposed alternative Mediterranean strategy for the Germans did offer some tantalizing alternatives. Yes, by all means, capture Malta. But dislocating the British from Egypt and destroying the British Mediterranean fleet would still have presented a daunting challenge. Had the Germans avoided a war with the Soviets in 1941 and redeployed their forces and focus to the Mediterranean then this opens up some interesting possibilities, as the author observes, but without sufficient supporting analysis.
So I must conclude that the author took the simple, easy and ultimately superficial way to fulfill his promise to re-analyze the critical decision points and alternate courses of the war. Still it was a stimulating and informative book and one I would recommend to all those interested in the war.
The book's preface acknowledges a debt to an impressive list of Britain's finest minds on the Second World War, and some additional, less recognizable, names of those who were readers of various chapters. I wish more of the former had done the latter in order to flesh out those passages that I found to be deficient.
on June 19, 2011
I have been a history buff for most of my life. Strange as it may sound for a doctor (neurologist), history is my most favorite subject. I had never heard of Dr. Andrew Roberts before, now I know what I had been missing. His recent book is a tour de force. His basic argument about the monumental mistakes by Hitler and his Nazis that led to the German defeat in WW II are not new to those persons interested in WW II history; however, his analysis is superbly trenchant. This is a must read for anyone interested in WW II history. Yesterday Saturday the 18th of June, I saw Henry Kissinger on C-SPAN II saying that he was currently reading this book. Kissinger who in a previous life, was a Harvard history professor before devolving into an unreconstructed, profoundly cynical, terribly insecure political hack, must have found something interesting in this brilliant book. Perhaps only a European, in this case an Englishman, could have written such a book about WW II.
T. Bah Tanwi, IV, MD
I had my doubts when picking up Andrew Roberts' new one-volume history of the Second World War. How, in the space of a few hundred pages, could he present not only the history of a war that lasted over 2,000 days, but offer anything new by way of analysis?
It is possible. Mr. Roberts has performed the feat and done so brilliantly.
The War in Europe is given place of honor here. It is not that the war against Japan is ignored, but it is almost as if the author went the route of Roosevelt's and Churchill's "Germany first" strategy. Perhaps a book devoted to Japan's roll in the war will follow; it would be most welcome.
Mr. Roberts is able to provide a concise overview of the war without getting bogged down in minutiae, making it an excellent introduction to the war. But as well as reciting the facts, he excels at his analysis of the strategies and events he discusses, offering new takes on prevailing wisdom. And he does so convincingly. Particularly enjoyable are the small bits of detail he occasionally provides about the fate of this or that participant. My only regret here is that when mentioning Alan Turing's suicide he does not make mention of Alan Turing's chemical castration.
The book is blessed with a nice collection of maps at the very beginning. I would have preferred that beyond simple geography that the campaign movements had been illustrated, but any map is better than no map. Even a map marked only with cities provides a valuable reference point. I have seen books provide less.
The author's take on the rivalry between Montgomery and Patton is fair. He is highly critical of the behavior of both men. Refreshingly, he also takes issue with the vanity and self-promotion of General Mark Clark in Italy, and more surprisingly, evidence of the same where General Omar Bradley is concerned. One would never guess that Bradley could be so petty if basing their opinions only on the film "Patton." Clearly, none of these men were perfect. The discussion of Mark Clark was particularly welcome after the white-washing he receives in Jeff Shaara's "The Rising Tide."
Roberts also comes down in favor of the efficacy of the strategic bombing offensive against Germany, demonstrating that German production did suffer, that the bombing offensive drew Luftwaffe strength away from the Eastern Front when it was needed most, and that civilian casualties were probably far less than often advertised in cases like Dresden, which he presents as a genuine military target.
I think the author's most compelling moment is his treatment of Nazi war crimes. He advances a compelling (irrefutable, I would say) argument that demonstrates that the "simple old soldier" routine of the German Wehrmacht and it's commanders is a false one. The generals knew all about the Nazi atrocities. Not only that, but it was not the SS that is to be blamed for them all; the Wehrmacht performed its share.
In fact, there were atrocities enough on all sides. Roberts discusses the mass rape of German women, as well as the rape of Russian women POWs when they were "liberated" frOM German captivity, as well as the murder of Stalin's own people by the NKVD. He spends less time on Western atrocities, mentioning them only at the end of the book, which I found troubling as I was reading through the accounts of the battles, since German atrocities were mentioned in a more chronological fashion, as they occurred. But Roberts takes us through the entire "Crusade in Europe" without any mention of rape or the murder or mistreatment of German POWs.
Finally, the discussion of Ultra was interesting though I think it should have been mentioned more in the context of Montgomery's victory at El Alamein. It does gent a brief mention at the end of the battle's discussion, almost as an afterthought, and he offers no defense of Montgomery's slow pursuit of Rommel across Libya when he knew perfectly well that Panzerarmee Afrika was defeated and incapable of offensive action.
My only other real complaint is that he makes no mention of the breakdown in German cooperation at the Battle of Kasserine Pass and Rommel's efforts to break through to the allied supply dumps.
All in all it is a brilliant accomplishment and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Second World War, no matter how much you think you know about it (and I thought I knew quite a bit).
Being an armchair historian, I have read a fair percentage of the published material on WWII and the history of the 20th century. As such, I am always leery of one-volume efforts that promise to cover the whole war-in general, they usually just rehash well-known history and cover no new ground. I am far more likely to read histories of specific events or limited subjects.
This book was a pleasant surprise. While it takes the reader through all the usual history of WWII, it is full of details that are not commonly included in other manuscripts. I found many little details in this book that were added, almost in passing, that were absolutely marvelous for kicking off an afternoon's worth of historical thought experiments. Generally, when a book seems to have lots of details that are not commonly known, it is either very well or very poorly researched. The Storm of War seems to be very well researched. Most "uncommon facts" have a credible reference attached to them.
As an example, the book retells the story of Dunkirk. The bravery of the British army and "navy" in getting the troops evacuated from a shrinking beachhead after the fall of France. It relays the oft-told tale of the Germans missing a prime opportunity to wipe out or capture a large chunk of the Allied armed forces in Europe. However it added one little detail that I had never read before-upon arriving in England, French soldiers were disarmed, including sidearms.
There was no mention of why-could have been overzealous security folks, the need for weapons to be redistributed to the home forces, or just good security. It could also have been a genuine fear on behalf of the British as to the political reliability of the French troops. In any case, one can imagine the humiliation of armed troops, after living through the lightning defeat of France and the forced evacuation, being disarmed by an "ally". Perhaps this action explains some of the animosity shown by France to Britain throughout the post-war years.
That is only one example, but the book if full of great little details like that. Did you know that Dachau was built by a Swiss construction company?
So I very much enjoyed the book. Roberts has a habit of adding in personal opinion during the narrative, which can be either annoying or an enhancement, depending on the reader's personal tastes. The book is organized by theaters and significant actions, meaning it can get a bit choppy and disconnected with regard to what is happening in the world as a whole. On the plus side, there is an excellent assortment of maps, located in the front where you can find them, that show nearly all the geographic locations mentioned in the narrative. A great feature!
The book is written in an easy-to-read style, and the narrative flows easily between topics. Some of the descriptions of battlefield atrocities can be a bit graphic, but they are not overly sensationalized.
In short, well worth reading...either as a good overview of WWII, or for the many little thought-provoking details buried within it.
To begin with, I like this author (His "Masters and Commanders" was excellent) and do respect his through research so I was and am rather predisposed to liking the work being reviewed here.
Of course I, like several other reviewers here, at first thought to myself "why on earth do we need yet anther book on World War II?" Well, whether we need one or not, I am not one to pass one of these things up so I jumped right on it. And I must tell you that I am glad I did.
Now I am not a historian by any means; no, I am a reader of history and must tell you that I have read many, many works over the years covering this subject. Some of these works have been overviews, such as this work, but most have been rather battle, campaign or personal specific. I am simply fascinated with history in general and this is one area where the fascination is rather specific.
There are a couple of things to consider before reading this work. First, if you received your copy as I did through the Vine program, then you received an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC). This means that it has not gone through the final review process and yes, there are a few errors in this work but in almost every case I have come across over the years, the final published copy for public consumption will all be corrected. Secondly, this is a British author. As much as we hate to admit it (and this is especially true of academic works) British syntax and sentence structure is a bit different than we find here in America...by American authors. This holds true for ever book I have ever read by our English cousins. If you are trouble by what you feel are errors in grammar and sentence structure, such as run-on sentences, I suggest you pull out your Little, Brown Handbook or your AP Style book...my favorite, and check it before you get your noses bent out of joint.
Also, the author has assumed that the reader is somewhat familiar with the causes of WWII and somewhat familiar with military jargon. This will certainly not be a hindrance to those who are not familiar with such things, but I feel more can be gleaned from the book if some background is known.
While it is true that I did not learn anything new, per se, in this work, it did how ever give me much food for thought and gave me the opportunity of looking at things from a slightly different angle. The author has approached his subject not as to "why or how the Allies won the war," but rather, "Why did the Axis Powers loose the war?"
I will tell you right now that the majority of the book addresses the war in Europe, both the Eastern Front and the Western, but with a decided emphasis on the Eastern Front. The war in the Pacific, for the most part, is given more or less a nod. It should also be noted that as far as the Allied armies go, emphasis is placed on Europe and less on America. The overview of the Eastern Front, i.e. that between Germany and Russia, is probably the strongest portion of the book.
Yes, there are many, many, many aspects of the war that the author did not cover but I do not feel that this was the purpose of this book, i.e. to be a complete and absolute study of every single bullet fired or bomb dropped. At around 700 pages that would be asking a bit much...don't you think?
This is the kind of book that temps old armchair historians like me to pontificate endlessly as to what I know of the war and it temps many to "show their stuff" and try to out author the author. Boring! I will not put you through that!
We find ourselves in a time when many young people simply cannot distinguish one war from the other and have little sense of history. I run across many student; bright students, that have trouble separating WWI from WWI and indeed, even those two from Korea and Viet Nam! A good survey book such as this can go a long way in helping this situation. One of the strongest parts of this book is the author's use of horrendous death figures (body counts) for both civilian and military.
This is most certainly a worthwhile read. As I said...there is nothing new here but I found it to be quite readable, informative and most certainly well researched. The only point I came cross where I might be somewhat inclined to disagree with the author is in his justifications for the carpet bombing of cities in Germany...Dresden specifically. I am not at all sure I buy off on his arguments for this, even though I perfectly understand where the author is coming from. But hey, that is an argument that has been going on since England began that practice and it is an argument that will be still going on years from now.
Overall, this is a good read and I do recommend you add it to our reading list.
What intrigued me about this volume was that Andrew Roberts visited much of the ground that this volume covers. As a researcher, I'm particularly impressed by the thoroughness of the annotations and indexing. If you are interested in further reading, just explore the author's bibliography and you've got an excellent start.
The author's basic premise is that we did not so much win the war as Adolph Hitler's megalomania and insecurity lost it for him. He didn't trust people who were smarter than he was. It's not a new idea, but well documented and articulated.
He also covers the debate regarding bombing Japan, which is one we should remember. I was disappointed in the discussion of the Manhattan Project, because that area is a particular interest of mine. Still, the reference section was quite helpful.
The narrative here is very readable for a scholarly work. I think the author's work to travel to many of the locales of the story definitely paid off.
Rebecca Kyle, April 2011
Do we really need another history of the Second World War? Andrew Roberts certainly thinks so, which is why he has written this 700-page account of the conflict. It is a readable, at times even an engrossing narrative, yet the sheer mass of similarly focused books on the war creates the standard by which it must be judged. What does it offer that we have not seen already? To what degree does it improve upon its predecessors?
It is by this criteria that Roberts disappoints. Contrary to the misleading subtitle there is little that is new here, nor is there any sustained effort to examine the tale in a new light. While he does incorporate much of the recent literature about the war, his account is little different from John Keegan's The Second World War or Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint's Total War, works with which Roberts is quite familiar judging from his endnotes. It certainly lacks the comprehensive scope of Gerhard Weinberg's much superior A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, with a highly Euro-centric account that consigns the extensive fighting in the Pacific and Asia to three of the book's eighteen chapters. Roberts can't even be bothered to correct such long-debunked myths as the one about the guns of Singapore being unable to face landward (p. 202), probably because the myths better support his arguments than the reality does.
Because of this, Roberts's book underwhelms. Instead of undertaking the challenge of saying something fresh or adopting a new perspective about the war he has chosen instead to write history of the conflict that recycles a familiar narrative about it. It's clear from the detail-loaded sentences that he has read much of the literature about the war, but he fits it into an account that ultimately tells the reader little that they could not have read elsewhere. Its publication will probably take good advantage of any interest coinciding with the seventieth anniversary of America's entry into the war, but readers seeking anything more than a traditional retelling of the war from a British perspective would be better served turning to a different book.