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.
Occasionally I come across a book that is so good that I don't know if I should keep listening or turn it off for fear of finishing too quickly. This book is one of those.
I think that Nadia May, who narrates this and other Barbara Tuchman books, does a wonderful job. Descriptions and events are clear and largely riveting. I have only 2 complaints. One is that not all of the French is translated into English and the other is that there are no maps. I had to get my John Keegan book on the First World War and look at the maps to understand exactly what was happening. However the first complaint is problably a lack in the original printed form of the book and the second is a drawback of narrated books in general. One would hope that given the new visual capabilities of todays devices the producers would find some way to include maps.
I gave this book 5 stars and think it is worth every one. In my view it is better than either of the other of her books (The Proud Tower and The Distant Mirror) that I have listended to. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the events leading up to the First World War.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I found this book a fascinating exploration of the long history of conflict between East and West, and the way the powers in charge of each sphere (whether Greek, Trojan, Roman, Persian, Christian, Muslim, French, Ottoman, British, or Arabic) have often seen themselves as inheritors of all the earlier struggles. Of course, it should be noted right away that by ???The East???, Pagden generally means the near and middle east, the lands from Asia Minor to the region that's modern Iran -- China, India, and Japan don???t figure into the book at all. In fact, his focus is really more on the development of the West and its experience with the East than the reverse.
It should also be noted that Pagden has a strong bias towards liberal, secular, democratic values, which he feels are the essence of Western culture (he states as much in the forward). Religion, both Christianity and Islam, are portrayed in a dim light, as institutional obstacles to reason, human rights, and progress. Not that I don???t largely agree with this assessment, but some readers might take offense. Still, he seems to be fair-minded about it, giving Muslim societies credit for brief periods of learning and relative tolerance, and indicting the modern West for its more counterproductive forays into the Middle East, which understandably stoked the fires of Muslim distrust and resentment. Indeed, the final chapter warns, convincingly, of continued bloody conflict between an uncompromising pan-Islamic worldview, whose adherents have enjoyed few of the fruits of the West and see little of their value, and countries like the US, whose leaders naively assume that their own democratic attitudes are universally held, and fail to account for a divide with deep historic roots.
However, I don???t want to place too much emphasis on modern politics, which take a back seat to the fact that this is a comprehensive, well-researched history, outlining many episodes over 2,500 years that I was only dimly aware of (e.g. Napoleon???s adventures in Egypt), and pulling them into a readable, continuous narrative. Especially interesting was reading of the ways in which the West???s often-skewed perception of the East as an "other" to strive against has nonetheless shaped its own attitudes towards freedom, tolerance, and science.