this is a very refreshing take on war in general and of course world war two specifically.
however when during the battle of Stalingrad, "the temperature had dropped to twenty degrees Celsius" I think it's missing some minuses.
I made it all the way through the book and learned a great deal I never knew or suspected about World War II so I'm glad I did. Despite the always-fantastic narration by Simon Vance, the book reads more like an encyclopedia or a reference book than a novel or even a historical book. If you are a true WWII buff I would think you would the hardcopy of this book so you can thumb through it and look up the topics that interest you. If you are more of a casual historian (as I am) it can be tough to make it through but it's definitely worthwhile. Note that the author minimizes the U.S.'s role in the war and role in bringing the war to victory. His position is well-substantiated but some Americans might find that viewpoint off-putting or even painful.
Norman Davies has a point and you won't be able to escape it in this book. Stalin was as bad as Hitler. Maybe genocide is worse than just plain old killing but the body counts are similar. Davies isn't denying anything about the holocaust but he wants us to know about the gulags too. And while he is telling you about how bad Stalin is he also wants us to know that the Allies could not have won the war without the USSR.
But why should you read yet another history of WWII? First, the breakup of the USSR led to the release of many documents from the Stalin era. Second, in the U.S. we get a very filtered, even biased view of the war. Third, Simon Vance's energy as the narrator never falters through the 20 hours of narration.
The author says D-Day wasn't among the top 10 battles of the war. The battle of Kursk was the most decisive. He talks about issues that are rarely mentioned: the effect of the war on civilian women, the Warsaw uprising, the impact on children, the terrible price a community paid if one side or the other decided that it would hold the line there.
Is this book for you? Do you know about the Katyn massacre? If not, google it and see if you aren't interested in learning more. Are you someone who reads history with a critical/skeptical eye? Norman Davies is your guy.
I normally deduct one star for a non-fiction book that is not read by the author himself, unless he/she has some really good excuse like being dead. But I found this book from an Audible listing of narrator choices so I can't deduct this time. At least Simon Vance has the same accent as Davies (I'm presuming).
The reason I can't give this a 5 star review is that it is a bit hard to follow as an audible book. This material is not presented in chronological order, more like a loop that goes back again and again for more detail or another viewpoint. Also, this is not just a history book, far from it. It is also a critique of how history is written and that is probably this book's strongest point.
I enjoy books on history, but this one left me checking how much time was left. Having grown up during the cold war, it was interesting to hear the ideas people had of Russia during WWII. Some of the raw figures from the East vs. West were staggering. But most of what was interesting could have been said in about a third of the space. The rest felt like filler and might be better as a reference book. This was like trying to listen to a text book.
This is not a history of the war in Europe. It is a study of multiple facets of WWII. The author attempts to take a very broad overview when looking at causes, factors, and fallout of the war. Very little attention is given to discussing battles.
One major theme is that what you know about the war is heavily biased and incomplete. It is asserted that Russia is greatly undervalued in its contribution to the war, and also overlooked when it comes to atrocities. The author goes out of his way to shed light on the evils of Stalin's regime. The case he makes is compelling.
Now here is what Americans need to understand about our glorious Victory of 1945. The details in this history of the 1940s war are necessary knowledge. Our entire National WW2 Myth needs to be refreshed with some deeper understanding. What do you think when you see FDR and Churchill and Stalin all hanging out together smiling and laughing? What if it was Hitler they were hanging out with in all of those pictures from those big Conferences? Would it make a difference if it was Stalin or Hitler? Why? Did the U.S. fight the right war? Should the U.S. have been involved with any of these people to begin with? Just why the hell did England declare war on Germany again? And then look who they let wind up with Poland when it was all over! Would I be wrong to advocate that the U.S. should have made peace with Germany and team up to bring all of its force to bear on the USSR? Why? Whats the difference? Do body counts matter? - because let me tell you WW2 was no simple victory - was it victory? What did 1945 do to this country? Was the U.S. really the ally of the world's bloodiest mass murderer?
The narration is amazing, because this is an insanely long book that says almost nothing interesting but one finds oneself listening anyway and learning a little trivia along the way.
The premise of this book is that it's busting some big myths of what happened in WWII. But its big thing is that the Germans had a terrible time on the Eastern Front . Who doesn't know that even if all your WWII history is from watching Hogan's Heroes? The other big shocker is that Stalin killed millions of his own citizens. Again, the scale may have been up for debate immediately post-war but even in the 1950s, it was well understood in the West that the Stalinist totalitarian regime was guilty of terrible atrocities.
The little "discoveries" are things like that the Germans had war heroes too, that they weren't all evil coward Nazis.
I understand that the propaganda during the war may have been that all Germans are evil and that Uncle Joe Stalin was our benevolent friend, but I find it hard to believe that the standard history textbooks all repeat this as fact today. Maybe they do, but if so, then that's the story.
I am bothered by the number of mistakes in the book. Whether this is in the book or is from the narrator, I don't know. Couple of examples:
1) when describing frigid Eastern front conditions, the narrator states that temperatures got down to 30 deg C (where's the 'minus'). One time, I'll forgive this but not multiple.
2) After a lengthy discourse about the 1 Sep invasion of Poland, the narrator says that Hitler gave the order on 31 July for the invasion to begin the next day....
I don't like sloppy books, this one is sloppy