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Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 1, 2011
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“A new, original, necessary history, in many ways the crowning of a life’s work. A professional war correspondent who has personally witnessed armed conflict in Vietnam, the Falkland Islands and other danger zones, Hastings has a sober, unromantic and realistic view of battle that puts him into a different category from the armchair generals whose gung-ho, schoolboy attitude to war fills the pages of a great majority of military histories. He writes with grace, fluency and authority . . . Inferno is superb.”
—Richard J. Evans, The New York Times Book Review
“If there is a contemporary British historian who is the chronicler of World War II, it would be Max Hastings . . . [Inferno] is a true distillation of everything this historian has learned from a lifetime of scholarship—and more important, of real thought—on what he calls ‘the greatest and most terrible event in human history.’”
—Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle
“Compellingly different . . . a panoramic social history that not only recounts the military action with admirable thoroughness, crispness and energy but also tells the story of the people who suffered in the war, combatants and civilians alike.”
—Edward Kosner, The Wall Street Journal
“A relatively brief review can only begin to indicate the depth, breadth, complexity and pervasive humanity of this extraordinary book. The literature of World War II is, as Hastings notes at the beginning of his bibliography, so vast as almost to defy enumeration or comprehension, but “Inferno” immediately moves to the head of the list. It is in all ways a monumental achievement.”
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Inferno is a magnificent achievement, a one-volume history that should find favor among readers thoroughly immersed in World War II and those approaching the subject for the first time. As the years thin the ranks of those who fought in the war, Hastings’s balanced and elegantly written prose should help ensure that the bloodshed, bravery and brutality of that tragic conflict aren't forgotten.”
—Jerry Harkavy, Associated Press
“Oddly enough, good single-volume histories of the war are relatively rare. By and large, its sheer scope intimidates writers: while there are hundreds of books about individual episode, from the Battle of Britain to D-Day, surprisingly few historians have tried to pull all the threads together. But Hastings, as the author of several splendid volumes on various aspects of the conflict, is the ideal candidate to conquer this historiographical Everest. His book is at once a ‘global portrait,’ emphasizing events in Asia as well as in Europe, and a ‘human story,’ saturated in the details of ordinary people’s experience . . . . Hastings has a terrific grasp of the grand sweep and military strategy of the war, showing how a combination of Russian blood, American industry and German incompetence made the allied victory inevitable. But what makes this book so compelling are the human stories . . . . This is the book he was born to write: a work of staggering scope and erudition, narrated with supreme fluency and insight, it is unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written.”
—Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times
“Though the Second World War has been the subject of immense historical research, Max Hastings here demonstrates how much there is still to know. Using the techniques that served him so well in his earlier books on various aspects of the war, he now offers a fast-moving, highly readable survey of the entire war, in all its phases and on all fronts . . . Above all, this is the story of the war as experienced by ordinary men and women. Hastings draws on eye-witness accounts and anecdotes from soldiers of all armies to show graphically what the war was like for the ordinary people who fought it, and, overwhelmingly, how terrible it was for the combatants. While many of the frontline commanders of each of the belligerent powers come in for some harsh treatment for their ineptitude or bungling, the valour, heroism and, above all, the extraordinary stoicism of their troops amid scarcely imaginable pain, suffering and losses are repeatedly highlighted. This is military history at its most gripping. Of all Max Hastings’s valuable books, this is possibly his best—a veritable tour de force.”
—Ian Kershaw, The Evening Standard
“This book is packed with fascinating and surprising statistics and facts . . . . Hastings has an extraordinary ability to throw a bucket into the ocean of wartime papers, diaries, letters and documents of every kind, and bring up something fascinating and worthwhile every time.”
—Andrew Roberts, Financial Times
“[A] huge, majestic book . . . . The Second World War took place in the skies, the oceans and the lands of five different continents. It encompassed fighting in Arctic blizzards, as well as in jungles and deserts. Any military history must encompass all of this and more. And at the same time it must reconcile the grand strategy of generals and politicians with the more violent experiences of ordinary soldiers . . . Hastings shapes all these stories, almost miraculously, into a coherent narrative. Overlaid upon this tapestry is an analysis of how the war brought out the best and the worst in people, how it could be won only through the use of astonishing brutality and how it changed society forever.”
—Keith Lowe, The Telegraph
“[Hastings’s] nine books on aspects of [World War II] have given him a claim to be our pre-eminent military historian. In All Hell Let Loose he attempts to tell the whole story in a single volume, and succeeds triumphantly, combining fluid narrative with some piercing insights and unsentimental judgments . . . As this enthralling book shows, in the right hands, the study of war – like the study of sacred text – can generate and endless stream of new meanings and insights, illuminating in their turn the wider mysteries of existence.”
—Patrick Bishop, Standpoint
About the Author
Max Hastings is the author of more than twenty books, most recently Winston’s War. He has served as a foreign correspondent and as the editor of Britain’s Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph. He has received numerous British Press awards, including Journalist of the Year in 1982 and Editor of the Year in 1988. He lives outside London.
Top customer reviews
All this is delivered with an elegance of style,Doric in its expression , and a sequencing of events that keeps a keen interest in the reader.away from enthusiastic hyperboles Hastings provides a fair and sober assessment of options ,decisions and their impact on events in a reasonable and reasoned prose without verbosity
It is not an academic work. It is much more,it is a single volume masterpiece of the 2nd WW history to be enjoyed by both academic and layman
If you read only one book about this war this is it.
Many histories written by Amertican historians understandably focus on the role of the American involvement in the war. It is undoubtedly true that the American arms and armies made a significant difference in fighting the war in western Europe and in rapidly overcoming the Japanese threat in Eastern Asia. Nevertheless, America fought a very careful war. it was Russia, fighting the war largely on its home soil, that tipped the balance of the war, slowly draining the German invading forces in a series of brutal and brilliant offensives. Russia lost more than 60 times as many of its forces as did the United States and created a huge and ever-growing front, pushing back the Reich army, that eventually became too difficult for Germany to maintain. Stalin used his armies with little regard for the enormous human price being paid for his battle with Germany.
Hastings keeps his focus on the story of the common soldier and sailor. These are horrifying stories, replete with intense suffering and abject terror. They create a mounting sense of the disorder, brutality and senselessness of the war. Hastings draws from what seems a huge store of letters written from the front, both from the Allied armies and from the army of the Reich. He deals with the most grotesque story of all, the Holocaust, in great detail. Parts of this story are, even today, removed by close to 70 years since the horror, difficult to read.
Hasting's book is full of strong judgments about the quality of the armies and, even more contentiously, the skills of the commanding generals. We are left with a picture of MacArthur in the Far East as being consumed with self-importance and self-promotion, eventually fighting a battle to retake the Philippines that Hastings views as unnecessary. Field Marshall Montgomery is shown as intensely jealous of Eisenhower and, in fact, of the Americans in general. Eisenhower seems to be an average tactician, although superb in his handling of competing jealousies among the Allied armies that entered France in 1944. Nimitz, guiding the gradual naval encirclement of Japan after Pearl Harbor, is shown to be a brilliant strategist. The German armies are remarkable fighting machines, loyal to almost the end to the concept of an expansive Reich-dominated Europe.
The leaders of the Allies are dealt with in brief sketches. Churchill's contribution is limited to his magnificent resistance to the might of the Reich armies and air force in 1940 and 1941. His importance fades, rather sharply, after the American involvement in late-1941. Roosevelt is seen as a skillful political leader, slowly drawing the United States into the conflict. America's enormous industrial capability begins to weigh heavily on the German military in 1943, with increasing force. It is Stalin, however, who receives Hasting's fullest measure of respect. Though he has a "monstrous record as a tyrant, he (created) an extraordinary military machine...and (Russia) was the only nation (to) achieve its full war aims."
For a full history of the military aspects of the war, I would recommend the Penguin History of the Second World War by Calvocoressi, Wint and Pritchard. I have read nothing better than this volume, covering both the war in Europe and the struggle in the Pacific against the Japanese. However, for a full picture of the horror of the war, from ground level, Hasting's book is as good as it gets.
Most recent customer reviews
End of story,so to speak.