Part Two. Alamein To Nagasaki.
The Second World War began in August 1939 on the edge of Manchuria and ended there exactly six years later with the Soviet invasion of northern China. The war in Europe appeared completely divorced from the war in the Pacific and China, and yet events on opposite sides of the world had profound effects. Using the most up-to-date scholarship and research, and writing with clarity and compassion, Beevor assembles the whole picture in a gripping narrative that extends from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific, from the snowbound steppe to the North African Desert, to the Burmese jungle, SS Einsatzgruppen in the borderlands, Gulag prisoners drafted into punishment battalions, and to the unspeakable cruelties of the Sino-Japanese War.
Moral choice forms the basis of all human drama, and no other period in history has presented greater dilemmas both for leaders and ordinary people, nor offered such examples of individual and mass tragedy, the corruption of power politics, ideological hypocrisy, the egomania of commanders, betrayal, perversity, self-sacrifice, unbelievable sadism, and unpredictable kindness. Although filling the broadest canvas on a heroic scale, Beevor's The Second World War never loses sight of the fate of the ordinary soldiers and civilians whose lives were crushed by the titanic forces unleashed in this, the most terrible war in history.
Part Two of Antony Beevor’s magisterial history of the conflict covers the Allied resurgence, opening with the Battle of Alamein.
©2012 Antony Beevor (P)2012 Orion Publishing Group
I have read almost all of Anthony Beevor production, and i have to say that this is the one I have liked the most. The fact that I 'read' it in audio book form this time did not diminish the power of the narrative. The speaker is fluent, knows how to adapt his tone (and his pronunciation) to the story, and makes the many hours of the book pass quickly.
With his trademark mix of the macro events analysis, with the many minute details of the down to earth reality of the war, told in a matter of fact way, Beevor has composed a powerful picture of the unspeakable horrors of the war, and how life became so, so cheap. And at the same time he lets the reader appreciate the consequences of the different leadership styles, and the difficulty to make decisions with imperfect information while balancing conficting forces and interests.
So be aware, this book may leave you a strong impression that will stay with you for a long time.
This is widely held to be the best new history of WWII. Published after the declassification of wartime archives we get a very detailed assessment of the war on all fronts. Beevor is a very highly respected historian and I previously enjoyed his history of the Spanish civil war (although I did not finish it) and I still want to read his definitive history of the siege of Stalingrad.
He tends to fall into his old habits of dwelling on detail. So (and this is not a real extract) he would report on a naval battle: “The Allies lost two warships, three torpedo boats, five destroyers, two mine layers, in total 5,472 lives. The Germans lost eight warships, six torpedo boats, twelve destroyers, four mine layers, in total 10,724 lives.” All very interesting but I think “an overwhelming victory” would have sufficed. He does this throughout the book and it is what caused me to stop reading the Spanish Civil war – he believes that the value of the book will be undermined if he is not exhaustive in his detail, whereas his detail is really just tedious.
When he raises his sights to the big picture and describes the personalities and the global motives of the great generals he is quite brilliant. Ruthlessly unbiased he spares no one, whether Churchill, Roosevelt or any of their generals. He sticks very carefully to a chronology and deals with the war in chunks of time, shuttling between the European theatres of war, the Pacific and China. He critically analyses the motives and manoeuvres of every significant battle and describes the plans, their execution and their consequences with fascinating clarity. This is a technical history, not a human one.
I have read other books about WWII and this one - for the first time – exposed me to the following which I found surprising:
The extent to which Poland suffered – first at the hands of the Germans, then the Russians and finally, as a result of diplomatic betrayal, by the allies. I had no idea just how vicious the Germans were towards them.
How close Roosevelt was to Stalin. Roosevelt hated colonialism and he felt Churchill represented all that was reprehensible in the British dominion over its colonies. Although he did not approve of communism, he thought he could charm the pants off Stalin and turned a blind eye to much of Stalin’s misdeeds, to the detriment of what Churchill was trying to achieve. To the extent that the shape of post-war Europe and the misery suffered by Eastern bloc countries under Russian rule was very much a design endorsed by the USA acting against the better judgement of the UK.
Stalin was unbelievable. It becomes clear that all dictators have a similar pattern of action: start by defining the enemy as “inhuman” and then treat them like animals. When your troops encounter XYZ they will not consider them to be humans so will not hesitate to minister on them the most hideous crimes imaginable. And those targets deemed “inhuman” can change several times during the course of the war depending on your needs. This dehumanisation of other nations is well known, but it was not until I read this book that I understood how inhuman he was towards his own people. There is an instance where he needed to demonstrate Russian resistance against German attackers (I think in Leningrad). In one area there were no Russian soldiers left, all the ammunition was used up, there were no weapons and still he felt he had to resist. So he commanded that anyone able to fight do so. They really had nothing more than their bare hands but they were expected to fight tanks. This was aimed at slowing down German progress and using up their ammunition. Needless to say it was a complete slaughter. He cared nothing for any other life – his own people or those of his enemies. Similarly, when Hitler survived the assassination attempt by Von Stauffenberg he not only butchered the conspirators but killed their families too – more than 5,000 in total.
The extent to which humans illustrated their inhumanity towards their fellow man is simply astonishing. Shooting people seems too simple. There has to be rape, torture, starvation, infection with chemical and biological agents, experiments, cannibalism and systematic slaughter. All these hideous crimes (and many more) are described in detail. And almost no nation is immune from atrocities – either suffering them or committing them.
Operational incompetence was another surprise. The ratio of bombs dropped as opposed to those landing within 1 kilometre of their target is unbelievably low. A Russian soldier was heard to say “When the Germans drop a bomb we duck, when the Brits drop a bomb, no one ducks (i.e. it hits the target – the opposition), when the Americans drop a bomb everyone ducks!” The Americans were the most inaccurate of the war. There was a town in Belgium close to the German border that was repeatedly destroyed by friendly bombing.
Egos of Generals was the final surprise. On every side there were egos so big that they would endanger the lives of many thousands of men just to be the first to enter a city. They would trigger the deaths of their own troops just to outdo a colleague; they would risk losing a battle to ensure great press coverage. And the suffering they would inflict on any conquered people was incredible.
By the end of the book one is weary of death. Between 60 and 70 million people were killed in the war. Around 5-6million were Jews in concentration camps and ghettos. The numbers of dead soldiers seems difficult to calculate with any accuracy. The rest we civilians caught in bombing raids, murdered by rampaging troops, slaughtered after being gang raped, or – most typically – dying of starvation after being besieged by the enemy or having their crops taken away to support troops at the front. Needless to say suicide was rife.
I would really recommend this book for its thorough coverage and for the perspective it gives on the whole war. The writing is dry and unemotional and there are few individual human stories, however it is technically brilliant and for that it is worth reading.
The narrator is superb and his German and Russian pronunciation is excellent.
Love having someone read me a story. Fires in the hearth, rain on the roof, sunny days and surf. Good friends, good food and J S Bach.
I was hoping to learn a lot more about the Second World War in the Asia Pacific region.
As I am still listening to Sean Barrett read this wide ranging coverage of WW11 and as I have no intention of checking Antony Beevor's sources I can not give this volume anything but a subjective response.
It does cover the European perspective, includes North Africa and Russia, as well as the Asia Pacific area and for me is slow going.
This would be helped if there were a pdf with relevent maps and maybe a brief overview/ timeline/combatants in note form.
For this reason I wonder if a hard copy may be better read rather than listening to an audio version.
My ratings no doubt will change, however the lack of of a quick reference guide does detract from my overall rating.
Sean Barrett reads very well. Beevor's amazing research brings much of this time into a broader perspective.
This is an outstanding account of the Second World War that should be read by everyone. The two volumes tell the story of the war in a clear, consise fashion that brought me a great deal of new understanding of what really happened and how it has shaped the world today.
Mr Beevor brings out the main charatcers of the leaders and shows how they react to events as they unfold as well as how they try to impose their wills to achieve their hoped for outcomes. We learn of great men, of mad men, of egomaniacs or just good people trying to do their best in difficult circumstances. This is a very human account without any sentimentality. It is vivid and compelling. No student of history should miss these two volumes.
"The book to read on the Second World War!"
I have always wanted to read a book which gives a clear and accurate view of the second world for. This is that book. This never glamourises the War and it plays down the propaganda and the myths. In fact on reading this book i feel that no nation comes out with credit - just some were more guilty then others.
The book delves deep into the detail and it pulls no punches. this isn't a boys adventure tale. Its War and the worst of it.
Its so fascinating to see what strange and evil alliances the War bought together and I have never ever realised that some of the German allies were so close to the Uk. How the British had to fight the French after their surrender to Germany in some instances and how there was several nations who changed sides during the War - not just Italy.
The book delves into the reasons and the start of the War and Britain does not fare well. The brits were slow to start and let several nations down with their lack of support. France - then a super army never delivered and surprisingly fell to the Germany quickly and Italy panders to Germany without engaging in the War. America has to be cajoled into the War and it costs the Brits substantially to get them to join. Facts I never knew.
Its a big book an at times hard to follow - well at the start at least. But its well worth reading on. i just couldn't wait to get back into the book.
This book will be seen as THE BOOK ON THE SECOND WORLD WAR - I am sure of that.
"Good Over view of the second half of the war"
N/A - This is a history book!
No, to long to listen in one sitting, listen while in the car
Interesting overview of thee 2nd half of World War 2, good balance between the broad themes and the detail of experience at the individual level well narrated
"Definitive history of WWII"
Probably the best general history of WWII. Beevor has an uncanny ability to mix an excellent strategic overview of the whole conflict with a coherent tactical analysis of the single battles. To this he adds a precise eye for the anecdote and the personal testimony without bogging down the narrative and breaking it in too many pieces. Highly recommended to anybody interested in the period.
"Excellent work by a master"
The concise way in which this vast subject is covered almost conceals the tremendous amount of research and knowledge that has gone into it. From the historic to the personal recollection, this book covers every aspect.
Max Hastings "All Hell Let Loose" is the other recent conside history of the Second World War; a different style, but just as compelling in its way.
The account of the D-Day landings and their immediate aftermath.
There were many. I cannot distinguish one from another in any way that would be fair.
I thoroughly recommend this book.
"A very detailed account, a benchmark"
Beevor continues to impress with his research and detail.
I had read Stalingrad and Berlin and was struck by the individual tragedies of these battles but this series places these two into context of the wider and shocking tragedy that was ww2.
Inevitably the audio production suffers from a lack of reference maps which is its only disadvantage
"Very detailed and well written"
The audiobook narration is very good and the book itself is incredibly interesting for anyone who is interested in the Second World War.
"Full History of WW2"
This is by far the best ever account of the 2nd world war.
It's spoken in such a way that holds you for hours.
You can never put the book down and it give a history without any favouritism to either side.
I haven't read the paper version but this is brilliantly narrated and easy to listen to. I learnt much particularly about the Pacific War that I didn't know before.
Possibly All Hell Let Loose - but this is more in depth.
The treatment of POWs by the Japanese. Absolutely appalling.
Just brilliant. I'd recommend to any history student or anyone with an interest in history of WW2.
"Incredible breadth of history"
I'd certainly listen again although leave it for a few years. It covers the complete breadth of the second world war.
This is much better and accessible than say, any of the Max Hastings books, would refer anyone to this tao guide them through a who's who of WW2.
The scale of WW2 means you often miss the personal tragedy. This book, the way it is written brings colossal tragedy of an epic scale and brings it down to a level that you can personalise and empathise with in a much more real way.
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