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Publisher's Summary

The Penguin History of Europe series reaches the 20th century with acclaimed scholar Ian Kershaw's long-anticipated analysis of the pivotal years of World War I and World War II.

The European catastrophe, the long, continuous period from 1914 to1949, was unprecedented in human history - an extraordinarily dramatic, often traumatic, and endlessly fascinating period of upheaval and transformation. This new volume in the Penguin History of Europe series offers comprehensive coverage of this tumultuous era. Beginning with the outbreak of World War I through the rise of Hitler and the aftermath of the Second World War, award-winning British historian Ian Kershaw combines his characteristic original scholarship and gripping prose as he profiles the key decision makers and the violent shocks of war as they affected the entire European continent and radically altered the course of European history. Kershaw identifies four major causes for this catastrophe: an explosion of ethnic-racist nationalism, bitter and irreconcilable demands for territorial revisionism, acute class conflict given concrete focus through the Bolshevik Revolution, and a protracted crisis of capitalism.

Incisive, brilliantly written, and filled with penetrating insights, To Hell and Back offers an indispensable study of a period in European history whose effects are still being felt today.

©2015 Ian Kershaw (P)2015 Recorded Books

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What listeners say about To Hell and Back

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Very good, well-educated reader/narrator.

What did you love best about To Hell and Back?

Lots of information, intelligent narration. All books by Kershaw I've read so far are well-researched and highly informative. I have heard Kershaw lecture in both English and German. He is a great historian, and could have been a great narrator as well, had he chosen to narrate in this case.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not applicable in a book with so many historical personages.

Which character – as performed by John Curless – was your favorite?

Not applicable to a large-scale factual historical study, I think.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Learned more about how high-placed Europeans did self-destructive things, then as now.

Any additional comments?

Looking forward to the next volume.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Perfect. eye opening.

I have read and studied this time period for decades, but I've always looked at each issue or incident in isolation. it's quite eye opening to "read" the history of this time period as a single narrative. it definitely adds a new perspective.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great listen for a WWII history buff.

A very thorough and comprehensive look at the myriad forces at play which plunged Europe into its second war in less than a generation. Well done.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great, big picture story-telling

Ian Kershaw accomplishes a very difficult feat: he tells the story of Europe over a violent, complicated 35-year period in a way that is both comprehensive but not overwrought. I highly recommend it to all.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

to hell and back

Very informative, kept it moving along nicely. Narration was done nicely and made this long read easy to stay with.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

History in detail is an antidote for arrogance

A deep question never perfectly answered, but driving my quest into history is, "what is a reasonable baseline?" What norms of events can I compare my own experience to? The violence I have personally experienced? My income? The stability of my economy? The costs imposed by impingements of wars, invading armies, disruptive history beyond my control? Good history constantly jolts me out of my sore sense of things not going right for me. Compared to what? To Hell and Back is spot-on in marching me past a panorama I can only gape at in wonder and horror. I realize I have things incredibly soft and good, with an appropriate baseline over, say, the last century globally, and Europe's compass is a good sample. Why 4 stars overall? Because the march here (not much, but) occasionally sags a little bit, goes a little flatter for a few sentences, and I have got spoiled by those authors who give me a little more spice with my fare, who can tell stories with slightly more lyrical grace, sentence for sentence. But that may be a less responsible kind of history. That more glittering eye-catching popularization style, perhaps, takes another pass of editing with an eye for the mind-stirring images, which is perhaps not this author's intention. So I mildly prefer a slightly different sub-genre. But for getting a clear-eyed look at humanity's gropings, follies and disasters, nothing beats "the facts, ma'am," and we get them here. There is plenty in intensity, well told, to freeze one's innards. There are passages of surpassing clarity and probity. And they are delivered in a crisp British cadence I like best with my history. At this moment my reflection is, for all those basking smugly or defensively in the wonders of our brilliant western civilization, and the horrors of the bad guys of the moment, how this post-mortem brings me to the realization that from this cradle of civilization, so fancied, Europe-centric paroxysms of violence in the last century dwarf anything Islam ever did, over any number of centuries, anywhere. Perhaps this can be marked to the brilliance of our science -- so much the pity there too. All these brilliant, flourishing nations, with their schools of diplomacy and great academies, could yet allow an assassination in some backwater to draw them into world war. And after the world wars, with hundreds of millions dead, one must also include the Cold War as a beef between western philosophies. The industrial scale of violence, the author notes, was presaged in the American Civil War, and starting in 1914, emerged in ghastly full flower, as if (in my phrasing) football suddenly allowed the offense to brandish cannons, and blast the spectators as well. And the second war only got worse, in terms of engulfing whole swaths of earth in fire. The suffering is incalculable by any yardstick my mind can produce. The numbers alone are numbing. And, our reasonable affable, responsible, confident neighbor Germany had to undergo a bloody makeover beyond human ken, scorched to the ground, broken, before emerging with its smiling burghers and beer-gardens of today. (And now I can nervously eye the European project yet again, another topic, but echoing in my listening to this. We see here how bad things can be, and be again.) All of which does not excuse any bad actors, Western, Islamic or otherwise, but again, it helps me constantly emerge from drifting into the hysterical ninnyhood of the eternal media now, to be a sober observer with some well-grounded perspective on things. And reaching hard for my next breath, as if I had passed through experiences I could not dream up.

26 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Wonderful historical overview

Kershaw continues to be one of my favorite historians and he covers the period of the 2 world wars masterfully. There is a good combination of research that reads like the telling of a story. If you like this period of history you will like this.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Another triumph for Ian Kershaw

Another triumph for Ian Kershaw. ...detailed and analytical chronology of the interwar, WW2 and after

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Panoramic view and analysis of Europe's crisis

Would you listen to To Hell and Back again? Why?

Excellent version of Ian Kershaw's book. It follows the essential thesis in the book: that 1) aggressive nationalism in conflict, 2) unresolved territorial questions associated with nationalist claims, 3) class conflicts and 4) the existentialist crisis faced by capitalism drove European conflict between 1914-1949 to near apocalyptic destruction. This historical narrative is comprehensive and detailed.

What did you like best about this story?

Well produced and detailed

What about John Curless’s performance did you like?

fluidity and pacing

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It made me reflect on the vagaries of history

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

35 years of European History

There have been many books written describing the events from 1914 through 1949 - biographies of the important historical figures of this period, histories of World War I and World War II, descriptions of the rise of Adolph Hitler and the effects of the Great Depression, but all the books I have read have been dedicated to one specific aspect of the period. There are many books on World War I, many more on World War II and a great many books on the rise and fall of Adolph Hitler, but what I have not seen until now was a history that covered the entire period and that described the events in all of Europe, eastern and western, and that delved into questions about why things turned out the way they did.

For example, why did Fascism gain hold in Italy and Germany, but not in other authoritarian governments in Eastern Europe? What was the role of neutral governments during World War II, and how neutral were they? Were Spain and Portugal partners of the Axis powers? Or of the Allies? Or of both? Why was Communism such a powerful draw for some people in Europe, but not for others? What effect did World War II have on the intellectuals in Europe, and on their writings? How did the period affect religious institutions? And was the Papacy an active ally of the Nazis? Of the Allies? And how did many of the European countries recover from the effects of World War I and World War II?

What Mr Kershaw has given us is a wide ranging and informative view of 35 years of European History covering all of the countries in Europe, and not just a look at the events leading up to World War II. Almost every book I had read prior to this book covered Western Europe with an emphasis on the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union with little mention of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania, and so on. Mr Kershaw has done a great service opening up all go European history in looking at this period.

I found the narration to be OK, if not. inspired, and the material to be helpful in answering questions I never knew I had. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this period of history.

1 person found this helpful