This is one of many books that I have read about The Second World War over the years. I have read enough books about this period that I almost did not buy this one, but I found Mr Hastings' approach very fresh and very different. Instead of following battles through army and division movements Mr Hastings decided to follow the flow of the war through individual diaries and letters. This approach made the period much more personal for me and taught me, as no other book did, what the war was like for those who had to live through it. I was and have remained impressed by his presentation of the war.
I also appreciated his global prospective. Here I read about the battles in the lesser battlefields of the war - Burma, India, China and so on. Previously I had to read books such as Stillwell And The American Experience In China to find much about what was going on outside of Europe and The Pacific.
Balanced against the positives I feel the need to mention some negatives.
1) Mr Hastings keeps referring to all information gained by breaking the enemy codes as Ultra in spite of the fact that the effort to break and utilize the German codes was known as Ultra and the effort to break and utilize the Japanese codes was known as Magic. Thus Mr Hastings refers to the information that helped the US win the Battle Of Midway as Ultra even though this information came directly from Magic. Similarly all such pacific intercepts are incorrectly referred to as Ultra. Perhaps this is a British term, but it is annoying for anyone who knows the history of the Magic intercepts.
2) There is at least one reference to action taking place in 1952 instead of 1942. I do not have the print version of this book so I am not sure if the print is wrong or the reader just made a mistake. 1952, of course, was 7 years after the end of the war.
3) There is one passage in the spoken book that refers to 40,000 US soldiers lost during a battle when, from the content, it is clear that it was German soldiers who were lost.
There are a couple of other items of this sort. But the book is so well done and the diary and letters so revealing of what was happening, that it was easy to overlook them in rating this book. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this period of time and is not concerned with specific troop movements.
I have been reading about the Second World War for the last 50 years and so did not expect to find anything really new in this book. I bought it thinking that it would be good to have a single volume that covered both the European and Pacific theaters and with the thought that there might be something new and interesting in it. What I found was a book that was very interesting; not so much because of new material, but rather because the book centers on the "whys" of what happened and contained a great deal of "back story" about the time that is missing in other books (examples - the actions in North Africa before the German troops were deployed there, the importance of the spy operations on both sides, the actions in generally neglected threaters of the war such as Burma, the fact that the Germans had broken the British Naval codes and so on) as well as a good overview of the major actions of the war. Add to that the excellent narration by Christian Rodska, including his ability to make his voice sound exactly like many of the political figures of the time, and this is a hard book to top if you want something on World War 2.
There are some inaccuracies -
(a) a rise of 500 feet over a length of 1000 feet does NOT make a 45 degree hill. A simple check of the trig tables shows this to be about 27 degrees,
(b) a quote from Churchill (to his war cabinet) wrongly attributed to Hitler,
(c) a statement, with no supporting evidence, that Churchill invented the story of Lord Halifax almost being offered the premiership. This flies in the face of every other book about the period and thus requires some supporting evidence,
(d) aside from the Philippine Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, very little detail about the Pacific war (with nothing about MacArthur's island hopping campaign). I assume this is because MacArthur's troops were mainly American.
as well as some other issues.
But, aside from these minor issues, this book is very interesting, contains a great deal of information about the war in North Africa, the Soviet Union and Western Europe as well as an interesting section on what could have happened if the German Generals had control over the war in the Soviet Union and Europe. I recommend it to anyone interested in a single volume overview of the Second World War.
I am not the target audience for this book. Evans says, in the preface, that his target are those who know little or nothing of this period and I have been reading about the lead-up to World War II for most of my adult life starting with Shirer's The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich (a book Evans does not think much of).
I had not expected to learn very much new, but found how wrong I was about that. The first 1/3 of the book involves the period from the start of the Bismarck period through the end of World War I and does not involve any of the familiar names (Hitler, Goering, Gobbles, Hess, Himmler, etc). It does give the background that provided the fertile ground that allowed the Nazi movement to find purchase. In doing so the author shows that the Nazi beliefs in anti-Semitism, anti-Marxism, anti-socialism, their disdain for democracy, their belief in pan-Germanism and their desire to find extra living space in the East were not new to German culture or beliefs, but had been around for a long time. And this foundation does much to explain the speed with which the Nazi movement gained ground and grew. The remainder of this volume deals with the Nazis themselves, their allies, their opponents, their climb to power and the individuals involved.
I have only two complaints about this book. The first concerns the author's decision to make no moral judgments about the morality of the Nazi actions. While I understand the desire to create a history that deals with facts rather than emotions, this decision seems to me to often ignore how basically evil the events being described were. The second complaint is with the uninspired reading by Sean Pratt. Most of the reading is monotone and, even more annoying, his reading contains pauses in the middle of sentences which have no contextual meaning and serve only to break-up the logical flow of thought.
But these are minor concerns. I am waiting for Audible to add the next volume of this history.