Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Antony Beevor's The Second World War

Throughout his career, noted British historian Antony Beevor has certainly done his best to capture the truth of war. He's extensively covered the European side of the war, including Stalingrad, Berlin, and Paris following its liberation.

With the massive scope of World War II, however, Beevor certainly had his work cut out for him, yet there is no doubt that he delivered with The Second World War. It's mammoth, coming in at nearly 800 pages, and has a bibliography that's a treasure trove for any historian of World War II.

This is mostly a military history of the war rather than a social one, though Beevor includes fascinating tidbits from numerous points of view. Beevor starts with the first few months before the war in 1939, when Hitler was planning his invasion of Poland, and takes us all the way through to September 1945 and Japan's defeat.

Make no mistake about it - this is a dense book. But its chock full of details, battle tactics, personalities, and just about everything in between. Beevor devotes nearly equal time to both the European and Pacific Theaters of war. His prose isn't heavy or plodding, but highly readable. His writes of the common soldier, the politician, and the generals, weaving a solid narrative filled with tidbits of information that truly make history come alive. For example, when Hitler heard of the German surrender at Stalingrad, he apparently stared into his vegetable soup. One wonders what he saw.

Beevor's discussion of the Soviet war with Finland is particularly jarring, shedding light on a conflict that tends to disappear within the larger narrative of World War II. Likewise, he doesn't blink in describing the gruesome atrocities committed by the Japanese, Soviets, and Germans alike.

Don't be dissuaded by the thickness of this book. It's well worth your time, and though this may be a cliche to say, it belongs on every World War II historian's book shelf.


Jess Zimmerman said...

Great review Melissa! It sounds like an interesting read. I tend to go more along the social history side when picking up books, but I believe I will make an exception for this! Thanks!

Melissa Marsh said...

You're welcome! Hope you like it!

Jeff Williams said...

I enjoyed reading Antony Beevor's CRETE--The Battle and the Resistance. He wrote it in 1991 and it is full of whimsical details. eg. How Ian Fleming chose the surname Bond for his hero, or the story of Captain John Pendlebury, the British agent with a swordstick and a glass eye.

Melissa Marsh said...

Jeff - That sounds like another book I need to put on my huge WW2 to-read list. Thanks for the recommendation as I'm also a huge James Bond fan.