Book Review: The Second World War


by Antony Beevor

Boston / New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012. Pp. xii, 863. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 9780316023740

A Global History of WW II

The author, a retired British army officer with a number of good works on World War II to his credit covering Stalingrad, Berlin, D-Day, and Crete, among other campaigns, gives us an excellent synthesis of current scholarship on the war. Beevor’s primary contribution with this new volume is to tie the pieces together. 

Earlier histories of World War II in English have focused on the Anglo-American theaters. As a result, maneuvers of relative handfuls of divisions in Libya received much greater attention than the actions of army groups in Russia and China. The fashion changed with the second generation of histories, beginning in the ‘70s, that gave greater weight to the Eastern Front. Beevor extends this trend by increased attention to the fighting in China. 

Beevor opens his book with an anecdote about a Korean captured at D-Day while serving in the German Army. The man had been in the Japanese Army when captured by the Red Army at Khalkhin Gol in 1939, and soon found himself in Soviet service, to be captured by the Germans in 1943 at Kharkov, and then by US paratroopers on D-Day, to spent time in a POW camp in the UK, after which he migrated to the US and lived there until his death in 1992. Beevor uses this man as a metaphor for a global war in which the theaters cannot be understood as wholly separate from each other. 

Beevor’s account cuts back and forth among the various major theatres, so that the “Big Picture” is covered in a roughly chronological fashion. After giving us the background to and the outbreak of the European war in 1939, Beevor covers Poland and the “Phony War,” events in the East Asia, followed by the German blitzkrieg in the West, then the Battle for Britain, the desert war, and on to Barbarossa, before returning to the Asia-Pacific, and so forth. Several chapters cover diplomatic developments and grand strategy, as well as the origins and implementation of the Holocaust. 

This approach also helps remind us that not every power was active in every corner of the world, but that their individual war efforts were all linked by the demands for resources. Thus, Churchill’s fixation with retaking Burma and FDR’s with aiding Chiang’s China limited the resources available for Anzio. 

While geared to the general reader, even someone with as large World War II book collection as this reviewer was still able to find numerous nuggets of new information. A book well worth the reading.                                   --Scott Palter

 Note: The Second World War, is also available in paperback, $20.00, ISBN 978-0-3160-2375-7, and as an e-book, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-3160-8407-9.



Reviewer: Scott Palter   

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