I bought this history of the Second World War because I had previously read Mr. Beevor’s book on D-Day and thought it was both well written and thorough and this book is no different. It covers all of World War II including those theaters like Burma and China which are often ignored because they do not seem to have played a central role in the conflict. He logically follows the events of the war in chronological order and this often has chapters switching around the globe to follow what is happening. Some, like me, will need a map to follow events in places where their knowledge of the geography is skimpy.
Mr. Beevor covers events thoroughly with descriptions of the battles often describing attempts to take little known but important hill positions or road junctions. While the descriptions are clear they sometimes seem a little too detailed for those wanting an overview of the battles. The book is full of little vignettes which are often informative enough to clarify the political as well as military events. One example would be Georgy Zhukov’s assumption, when summoned by Stalin in 1938 to take charge of the First Soviet Mongolian Army Group, that he needed to bring his personal belonging because he was probably being sent to the Gulag. No description of the political atmosphere in The Soviet Union could more clearly show the climate of fear and repression than that simple story. Similar little stories, often taken from letters or diary entries, from politicians, soldiers, husbands, wives and others are sprinkled throughout the book and they help to explain the true situation in ways that simple narrative could not.
There is an oddity in this book. Mr. Beevor lists the date of Pearl Harbor as Dec 8. When I first heard this I assumed that perhaps he was talking about the date in Tokyo, but the book specifically states that planes left the carrier at 6:05 on December 8th. An odd thing since everyone knows it was december 7th.
Another thing that I feel should be mentioned is Mr. Beevor’s distain for many of those in either political or military positions of importance. Erwin Rommel, generally thought of as one of the more moral and insightful generals of the German army, is described as careless, unwilling to face facts, ignorant of logistics and unwilling to listen to his superiors (a trait that I always thought was one of his best). General Eisenhower is spoken of as “politically naïve” while current biographies speak of him as a brilliant politician (see Jean Edward Smith’s biography or Evan Thomas’ book “Ike’s Bluff”). Churchill, the man recently voted the greatest figure in UK history, is treated poorly by Mr. Beevor, Franklin Roosevelt is presented as short sighted, the picture of general Stillwell in this book is a very different pricture than that presented in "Stillwell And The American Experience In China", and the list goes on. I am so much not taking issue with Mr. Beevor’s opinions – one of the reasons I buy books like this one is to see and hear differing opinions – as to point them out to the potential reader.
Sean Barrett’s reading of this book is adequate although not inspired. Perhaps inspiration is too much to ask for a narrator who has to read a 39 hour plus book and I should mention that his narration never really gets tiring. I have given this book 4 stars party because of the narration (which is good but not great), partly because this book requires 2 credits but mostly because I personally find much of what Mr. Beevor writes too much at odds with many of the other books I have read on this and related topics. It is, I think, worth reading but if the listener wants to read only one book on World War II I might suggest Inferno by Max Hastings
I read this book in paper format more than 30 years ago, but I had forgotten how good it really is. When I saw it available in audible format I jumped at the chance to listen to a previous good read.
Some of the reviews I have read are very hard on the book, but I believe that the are looking in the wrong place. What makes this book so interesting and unique, at least to me, was the idea that humans could encounter aliens so different that all of our assumptions would be wrong. How do two species interact when one is general and adaptive in nature and the other is differiented. That is at the core of this story; at least for me.
The process of meeting, all of the mistaken assumptions and the final realization as to just how different the species are is, I believe, a very interesting story with, for new readers, an unknown conclusion.
But listeners should know that this story is from 1974 and hence some of the story line is 35 years out of date. I believe that to be the cause of some of the bad reviews. Perhaps those listeners did not know the copyright date and might have been more charitable to the male-centered character of the story.
All in all I think this is a nearly great book with more than adequate reading.
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