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No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945 Reprint Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0143114093
ISBN-10: 0143114093
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The typical Western view of WWII's European Theater—as a struggle between freedom and fascism that climaxed with the Normandy landings—is harshly critiqued in this scathing reappraisal. Historian Davies (Rising '44: The Battle of Warsaw) argues that British and American campaigns were a sideshow to the titanic conflict between the Wehr-macht and the Red Army on the Eastern Front, where most of the fighting and decisive battles occurred. The war was therefore not a simple victory of good over evil, he contends, but the defeat of one totalitarian state, Nazi Germany, by another, the Soviet Union, whose crimes were just as vast, if less diabolical. Davies's topical approach judiciously surveys the military, economic and political aspects of the war, often from an Eastern European perspective. He observes, for example, that the region that suffered the most civilian deaths was Ukraine, and that the Soviet Union was initially as much an aggressor—against Poland, Finland and the Baltic states—as Germany. (Poland's travails, Davies's professional specialty, are somewhat overemphasized.) Davies cuts against the grain of popular war histories like Stephen Ambrose's accounts of D-Day and the Bulge, but his interpretations rest on solid scholarly work. Photos. (Sept. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It may startle many to learn that no definitive history yet exists of World War II. Yet such is the argument by historian John Keegan in The Battle for History (1996), reiterated here with evidentiary force by historian Davies. A specialist on the European war's German-Soviet component (Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw, 2004), Davies perceives several faults in both professional presentations and popular understandings of the war. Americans and Britons tend to overrate their countries' contribution to victory, remembering Dunkirk and D-Day and forgetting that most combat occurred in the east. More seriously, in Davies' estimation, Western historians and their audience do not sufficiently understand the war aims and murderous record of the Soviet Communist regime. It was as expansionist and unmercifully inhumane as the Nazi tyranny over which it was the principal victor: most know of Auschwitz or the (German) invasion of Poland; far fewer are aware of Vorkuta or the (Soviet) invasion of Poland. A trenchant critique, Davies' book ought to provoke readers and writers of WWII history. Taylor, Gilbert --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143114093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143114093
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #297,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Europe at War" aims to be a revisionist history of the Second World War in Europe. Davies argues that most Western historians tend to overly focus on battles like El Alamein and the D-Day landings while almost ignoring the much larger battles on the Eastern front, which Davies argues was the truly decisive front for the European war. Similarly, there tends to be an appropriate emphasis on the many crimes of the Nazis, but there is no similar assessment of allied crimes, especially by the Soviets. Davies asks why historians disregard the Soviet Gulag system when talking about "concentration camps" or why the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Germany and the USSR is so often described as simply "the German invasion".

Davies aims to provide a broad and balanced view of the war, stepping beyond a simple narrative history of the battles. The book is organized under five main themes, focusing in turn on:
* the military campaigns
* the politics, before, during and after the war
* the experiences of the soldiers
* the experiences of civilians
* the media portrayals of the war

Davies emphasizes that WWII wasn't a simple fight between Good and Evil. There were three players: the Western democracies, the Axis powers, and the Soviets. Davies characterizes both the Nazis and the Soviets as "gangster" powers and Hitler and Stalin as dueling monsters. In an accident of history, the Western democracies became the allies of Stalin, but Davies argues forcefully that this does not mean we should overlook his crimes.

Davies emphasizes the horrific scale of Stalin's repressions before WWII.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perhaps there is no reason to refer in this brief comment to a review of another person (one star). After all, there is nothing wrong with an occasional disappointed reader. I guess it forces us to reexamine our own views and positions. However, one would expect certain fairness towards the author (any author, not just Davies as in this case). It would take too much space to try to correct one reviewer's corrections (or "corrections"), but a few points should be made.
One of the reasons for Norman Davies' book is to bring to our attention things that have been misrepresented, unknown, omitted, etc in our learning about World War. Whether it was a history class, a Hollywood production, or a television show, we have been getting somewhat biased and incomplete picture of the war in Europe and on the Eastern front in particular. It is interesting that the author of that one review tries to `correct' certain points back to the unknown and stereotypical view of the war in Europe. The role of the Bolsheviks expansionism in the early 1920s is minimized and the Soviet devastating policies in the Ukraine are denied. What is strong and valuable about Norman Davies' book is that he doesn't try to balance evils of Stalin's policies by the enormous sacrifice of the Red Army in gaining victory (or vice versa). The point is to understand the complexity of the situation. Yes, the Soviet war effort and casualties were incomparable with anything else (except the Germans, of course), but also that there is no reason to deny that a large part of the casualties were self-inflicted by idiotic policies and by political terror. And yes, there was a famine in Ukraine, the Soviet part of Ukraine, and it was caused by the Soviet policies.
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Format: Hardcover
Towards the end of his book, Norman Davies quotes Chou En-lai's response in the 1950s to a question about the effects of the French Revolution. "It's too early to say." This, in a nutshell, is the central thesis of No Simple Victory. World War II is simply too recent for historians to properly evaluate without being influenced by politics, patriotism, and propaganda. As an example, Davies points out that American scholarship generally focuses on the years 1941-1945 (witness Ken Burns "The War"), ignoring the fact that the conflict had already been raging in Europe and Asia well before that.

More a historiography than a history, No Simple Victory lays out the key problems in WWII scholarship and provides a broad outline of what future historians should be looking at when enough time has passed that all of the issues can be considered more objectively than is currently possible. Davies is not so much concerned with laying out all the exact details of any particular episode or aspect of the war as he is with identifying the areas of research that are crying out for a larger amount of attention. In this respect, reviewers who quibble with some of the details are missing the entire point of the book. Whole books have been written about episodes that take up just one sentence in this book. The goal of this book is to pose the questions, not necessarily to answer them.

Davies wrote this book as an extension of an article entitled "Ten Forms of Selectivity" in which he identified the following sources of the shortcomings in the current scholarship on WWII : political propaganda, personal prejudices, parochial perspectives, stereotypes, statistics, special interest groups, the procedures of professional historians, Victors' History, History of the Defeated, and moral selectivity.
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