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Detailed Overview of WWII. One of Many Great WWII Books,
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This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)
Thanks to recent good World War Two books (such as the masterpiece "Inferno" by Max Hastings) and enduring WWII classics, readers have a wealth of great WWII history books to choose from. The world tore itself apart in flames of war sweeping across planet Earth. 70 million people horrifically died. Beevor's WWII overview of WWII is especially good at filling in important details.
See WWII book list below.
Now Antony Beevor, an accomplished British historian of the Second World War (including "Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege"), has produced a comprehensive narrative of World War II that is one of the best. So much information is packed in each concise paragraph. Some of the stories are astonishing: Unprecedented combat violence across the globe. Cold exterminations. Textbook military tactics and misguided blunders. Rapes. Critical strategic interpretations are sometimes amiss or missing, unfortunately in this book, including the aims of Nazi ideology and USA's emerging influence for a new post-war world of free determination and free trade, as compared to the world before WWII with colonialism and the Versailles Treaty.
Contrasting Beevor's "Second World War" against other great and recent WWII overview books, this book has fewer gaps in details, without the book seeming scattered. For example, "Storm of War" by British historian Andrew Roberts focuses on Hitler and has "must read" interpretations, but the coverage of the Pacific is light. In contrast, Beevor's book has great coverage of Japan's overlooked war in China that killed millions and details other important areas. The bloodbath Eastern Front is covered well in both books. "Inferno" by Max Hastings, also British, tells the overall story of the war brilliantly and adds the individual's experience but omits essential strategic issues, such as the Atlantic Charter. Beevor, in contrast, is more comprehensive. Gerhard Weinberg (A World at Arms) brilliantly covers strategic dimensions, including Hitler and USA, while Beevor's book has better battle coverage but it misses the Nazi story and USA's strategic role, and Beevor's bibliography (at his website) does not include the best books on the strategic dynamics of USA. John Keegan (Second World War) sticks to the major military battles. Martin Gilbert (Second World War) abruptly begins with the invasion of Poland and hardly covers the Pacific.
See book list below. You will want to supplement Beevor's detailed book with other WWII books because some interpretations are debatable or missing. As an example, hundreds of thousands of French civilians packed-up and fled to the southwest away from the coming Germans, jamming the roads, and Beevor declares, "Once again it was the women who bore the brunt of the disaster and who rose to the occasion with self-sacrifice and calm. The men were the ones in tears of despair." Wow, that's a broad statement about a lot of people. As another example, Storm of War details how Hitler made a critical blunder in ordering the German tanks to stop from advancing into Dunkirk because of perceived soft ground and ideological neutrality with Britain, while Beevor just says Hitler stopped because his advancing forces were thin. Read other books (see list below), including books articulating Franklin Roosevelt's post-war influence for collective security to prevent world war 3, USA transitioning from isolationism to superpower, the Atlantic Charter based on FDR's freedom ideals and decline of colonialism, pivoting from Churchill's pecking at the Europe underbelly to the invasion of D-Day urged by US generals, the destruction of the Nazi Third Reich, the establishment of economically strong democracies in Germany and Japan, and post-war economic stability to prevent another Great Depression. (Weinberg: A WORLD AT ARMS; Black: FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT CHAMPION OF FREEDOM; Borgwart: A NEW DEAL FOR THE WORLD; Louis: IMPERIALISM AT BAY; Fenby: ALLIANCE THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW ROOSEVELT, STALIN AND CHURCHILL WON ONE WAR AND BEGAN ANOTHER; O'Connor: DIPLOMACY FOR VICTORY). That was a sharp contrast to the Versailles Treaty and world of colonialism before WWII.
Churchill was furious about the Atlantic Charter because he wanted colonialism but needed U.S. help. Later in 1944, Churchill and Stalin made a secret deal in Moscow called the "Percentages Agreement" or "Naughty Deal" to give USSR primary control of Eastern Europe countries, a sell-out of those countries, and Britain influence in Greece (and not self determination). Churchill told Stalin, "Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper." Stalin replied, "No, you keep it." Beevor discloses that but says nothing about FDR's post-war vision from the start, instead making him look naive at Yalta. Actually, the Yalta agreement called for free elections and proclaimed the freedom of self-determination, using Atlantic Charter language. President Ronald Reagan later said, "We reject any interpretation of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe into spheres of influence. ON THE CONTRARY, we see that agreement as a pledge by the three great powers to restore full independence and to allow free and democratic elections in all countries liberated from the Nazis after World War II." A great book on the cold war by Oxford Scholar and Thatcher adviser Archie Brown is "Rise and Fall of Communism," and another great Cold War Book is "The Cold War: A New History" by John Lewis Gaddis.
Here are my personal top WWII general history picks, other than Beevor's "The Second World War," in no particular order:
1. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 is a masterpiece and the best WWII book I have read. It blends personal stories with the overall story (but misses some strategic aspects, so read a good FDR biography and "A World at Arms.")
2. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II is a masterpiece overall history with unsurpassed coverage of strategic perspectives, especially Nazi aims and USA.
3. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany won the National Book Award and is a phenomenal story of Hitler.
4. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa is a masterpiece savage combat memoir.
5. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan is the best book on the Pacific War and a great read.
6. FDR by Jean Edward Smith won the Francis Parkman Prize and is an excellent biography. Also consider conservative Conrad Black's "Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion Of Freedom," which the Economist called "a masterpiece" and is great at US WWII foreign policy. Consider the Pulitzer Prize-winning "No Ordinary Time" by Doris Kearns Goodwin or the Roosevelt biography by Brands. Consider the Francis Parkman Prize winning "COMMANDER IN CHIEF: FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, HIS LIEUTENANTS, AND THEIR WAR," the best book on USA's war leadership.
7. The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War is an excellent overview of WWII and has must-read interpretations.
8. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford History of the United States) won the Pulitzer Prize.
9. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy won the Pulitzer Prize.
10. The World at War (30th Anniversary Edition), the best DVD documentary on World War Two and an entertainment masterpiece.
British historians Keegan and Gilbert each wrote fine histories also called "The Second World War."
THE ATLANTIC CHARTER, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston S. Churchill (in Roosevelt's handwriting for both and FDR's vision and urging):
"The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.
"First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;
"Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;
"Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;
"Fourth, they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;
"Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security;
"Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;
"Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;
"Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measures which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments."
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 17, 2012, 1:09:11 PM PDT
Stephen Balbach says:
Also recommend this survey of single-volume histories of WWII
Posted on Jun 22, 2012, 5:04:16 AM PDT
Amazon Customer says:
Thank you for adding a listing of other WWII books you find to be superior! Very helpful!
Posted on Aug 28, 2012, 1:56:48 PM PDT
Mark Wilson says:
This is a wonderful review. Thank you for taking the time to suggest other volumes and to provide keen insight into the book in question.
Posted on Dec 30, 2012, 5:25:52 PM PST
David M. Drukker says:
I also recommend "A War to Be Won" by Williamson Murray and Allan Millet
Posted on Apr 24, 2013, 10:22:32 AM PDT
WOW thanks for taking the time to write the comprehensive review and suggested reading list. This is the first time I've ever bookmarked an amazon review.
I recently read Inferno by Max Hastings and found it absolutely riveting. The book really fired my interest in WWII, and history in general. I was wondering if I should read another overview of WWII. Seems like The Second World War, A world at Arms, and the Storm of War would all be excellent choices, in addition to the wealth of books available about certain aspects of the war. Thanks again!
Posted on Jan 16, 2015, 2:20:12 AM PST
I would add, as the most succinct and comprehensive overview of WW2, R.A.C. Parker's "The Second World War: A Short History (Struggle for Survival)". This work could well be read before or after Beevor (or other long histories of WW2) as a comparative preview or review.
Posted on Aug 31, 2015, 6:05:43 AM PDT
Wow! What a review. I made a trip to Europe this summer and after visiting many museums, I realized that I really don't know much about WWII. I want to learn more. Your list of books is exactly what I need to get started. Thank you very much.
Posted on Mar 24, 2017, 2:51:26 AM PDT
Andrew FOz says:
Many books skip a lot of the technology used in WWII.
To this this, I'd recommend the more specialised "Most Secret War" by R.V. Jones
Most Secret War (Penguin World War II Collection)
The great historian, AJP Taylor rated it as the "most fascinating book on WWII that he had read".
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