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Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 Paperback – October 2, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 348 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Inferno:

"The best one-volume history of the war yet written. . . . It is in all ways a monumental achievement. . . . 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."
The Washington Post

"Balanced and elegantly written prose. . . . 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."
—Associated Press
"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. . . . 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."
The Sunday Times
"A fast-moving, highly readable survey of the entire war, in all its phases and on all fronts . . . . 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. . . . Though the Second World War has been the subject of immense historical research, Max Hastings here demonstrates how much there is still to know. . . . 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."
The Evening Standard

"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."
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.'"
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."
The Wall Street Journal
"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."
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."
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."

About the Author

Max Hastings is the author of more than twenty books. 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.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 2, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307475530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307475534
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (348 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Gelman on November 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
What is the reason that the Second World War is still a magnet for readers, laymen or professional historians? According to Mr. Hastings, this is so because it was the most
disastrous event in the human history. Did you know, for example, that 27000 people perished daily between September 1939 and August 1945?
This book is mainly about the human experience, in what is called the bottom-up approach to history. Although the military theaters are not neglected at all, they appear here and are described through the lens of the common people or the soldiers who took part in the various scenes of this conflict. The main question posed by Mr. Hastings is: what was the Second World War all about? The answer is grim and, in the words of Arthur Schlesinger, it "concerned mainly stupidity, lies, arrogance and pomposity". Take into consideration the fact that 168000 Russian
Civilians were executed during the war because of cowardice or desertion. Many more thousands suffered the same fate without due process.
Hunger was rampant in many parts of the world, especially throughout the British Empire, where one million were to die in Bengal, and many other famines would break out in Kenya or Egypt. Cannibalism cases which happened in Russia are as well described and it is the author's conclusion that the German army lost because its aims were unrealistic and its forces overstretched. One Russian soldier, Stepan Kuznetsov, wrote that in during the Leningrad siege," all out soldiers on the front look like ghouls-emaciated by hunger and cold. They are in rags, filthy and very, very hungry".
The Wermacht's combat performance remained superior to that of the Red Army until the end of the war, in almost every local action the Germans inflicted more casualties than they received.
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Format: Paperback
Do we really need another general history of World War II? In recent years we have seen new studies by Evan Mawdsley, Martin Gilbert and in particular Andrew Roberts excellent populist history "The Storm of War" to name but a few. The years 1939 to 1945 are a very crowded field for historians and yet there is always a warm welcome for an historian of the calibre of Sir Max Hastings, recent chronicler of Churchill as a wartime leader and political commentator. Hastings is a conservative historian but what is interesting about "All hell let loose - the World at War 1939-45" is that employs the approach of producing an history from below drawn from eyewitness accounts of events. Accounts which in turn demonstrate and confirm William Tecumseh Sherman's maxim "that war is all hell" since we see an overwhelming view of very brave participants who are nonetheless generally terrified, demoralized and often beaten into a fossilised torpor. One British solider reflected in a letter to his wife that `I am absolutely fed up with everything. The dirt and filth, the flies - I'm having a hideous time and I wonder why I'm alive'. Another British soldier William Chappell "never ceased to ache for the civilian world from which he had been torn. He missed his home and his friends and bemoaned the loss of his career. His feet hurt, he was `sick of khaki, and all the monotonous, slow, fiddle-de-dee of Army life.' The fatalistic will of Russian soldiers is particularly well described not least the experience of Private Ivanov, of the 70th Army, who wrote despairingly to his family. `I shall never see you again because death, terrible, ruthless and merciless, is going to cut short my young life. Where shall I find strength and courage to live through all this?Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Max Hastings has spent the past 35 years studying in depth the horrors of World War II (1939-1945). Among his bestselling volumes are Armageddon and Retribution. In Inferno the author gets personal. All of the major military campaigns are covered but the real strength of the book lies in the comments included in the text by participants in the war. We hear from Russian housewives, Werhmacht troops; American Marines; Japanese, Indian and Chinese persons. We feel as if we were there amid the horrors of the worst event in the history of humanity. Just consider the following horrible statistics:
a. Every day from 1939-45 over 27,000 men, women and children died as a result of the war.
b. Over 60 million persons lost their lives during the war due to battle, starvation, executions and disease.
c.90% of the over 7 million German soldiers who died in the war did so in the fight against Stalin's Soviet Union empire.
d. Japan and Germany were cruel dictatorships which treated their own people as cruelly as they did their enemies.
The chief mistakes made by Hitler leading to his downfall were:
a. The foolish attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.
b. The failed plan to defeat England in a cross channel invasion which never transpired.
c.The declaration of war against the United States. America had unlimited wealth and might to produce the weapons of war which led to victory over the Axis powers
d. The holocaust killed over 6 million Jews and in addition 3 million Russians were murdered by the Nazi war machine. The slaves of the Nazis could have been better utiilized as workers for the Reich rather than being killed in senseless slaughter.
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