Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945
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Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  2,329 ratings  ·  287 reviews
From one of our finest military historians, a monumental work that shows us at once the truly global reach of World War II and its deeply personal consequences.

World War II involved tens of millions of soldiers and cost sixty million lives—an average of twenty-seven thousand a day. For thirty-five years, Max Hastings has researched and written about different aspects of t...more
Hardcover, 752 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Knopf (first published 2011)
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Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

A fast ride through World War Two. This will be unspeakable, but we must speak.

Here goes.

Poland – the only nation in which there was no collaboration with the Nazis…

when the Soviets invaded Finland the Finns joked "There are so many and our country is so small, where shall we find room to bury them all?"…

A Norwegian officer reported that one British unit was composed of "very young lads who appear to come from the slums of London. They have taken...more
Nov 13, 2012 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Mike by:
Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 is a Five Star masterwork, revealing fresh stories and perspective on the many theaters and events of WWII. Hastings brings you into all of the major and many minor battles of the war. A one volume summary of the war could be so broad and high level that it fails to grab attention. Not so with Inferno. I so appreciated how he relates the sweeping events through the eyes of participants, often soldiers on both sides of a particular battle and sometimes the civ...more
A huge and hugely impressive and moving book, 'All Hell Let Loose' is a concise and precise, but detailed and passion-filled history of the war years of the Second World War. The bookis a rivetingly fresh look at a period I thought I knew something about. It challenged me and it has - certainly - rewarded me with increased understanding both of the situation and for those who had to try and survive it. On both sides.

Max Hastings never loses sight of his objective; to put into words an experience...more
As a former history teacher, I have always struggled with a question invariably posed by my students: "What's the point of knowing all this?" Over the years I marshaled a number of replies to this query. My ultimate response was that history shows us what it means to be human. Of course this statement conjures another issue.
One of the potential pitfalls in being a student of history is temptation to fall into a deep and abiding pessimism about the general qualities of "human nature".
Historians a...more
Steven Peterson
At the outset, I will confess that I thought a good one volume history of World War II would be very difficult. How would one adequately treat the lead up to this conflict? How could there be enough detail to give a sense to the reality "on the ground"? How could such a work capture the economic and social aspects of the war? However, author Max Hastings juggles the various aspects of World War II quite nicely and leaves a satisfying work.

One of the disadvantages of a one volume work is that the...more
Oh no, another single volume World War 2 book. Not just the European theater but the Pacific as well? In 600 odd pages? Before you groan and turn away, do consider this one.

For one, Hastings moves away from a stories of heroic (the West) or grimly determined (the Soviets or Germans) armies and leaders. His focus is on the unbelievable suffering the war caused. He reminds us again and again how truly awful the war was, for nearly everyone involved. We learn about the immense cruelty perpetrated...more
Very comprehensive summary of the Second World War which really emphasised that it was a World War by describing what happened in every country that was involved. Thought I knew quite a bit about the War but this filled in a number of gaps and gave very interesting analysis of the importance of each battle and the cost to each side - full of facts but to summarise, the most important was that Germany v Russia was the crucial conflict and the one where both sides bore most of the overall casualit...more
John Nellis
This account of the second world war was one of the very best I have read. Mr. Hastings puts a human face on the war so few accounts have fully managed to do. Not just the words of the soldiers or leaders, but the words of the common man and woman. He is able to convey the horror and tragedy of the whole scope of the war brilliantly. I was moved by his words on many occasions as I read. I can't say I have read any other account to show the absolute whole story of the war experiance so well. The...more
“Inferno The World at War 1939 – 1945” is the best war history I have read. Hastings unique account eschews the typical military history preoccupation with detailed accounts of generals and their battle plans. Hastings gives us the strategies of the war as a framework, a glue to bring into focus the war at a personal level. What was it like to be on the Russian Steppe in the winter of 1941-42 without food or warm clothes, or in the jungle in Guadalcanal with dysentery and malarial mosquitoes eve...more
Mikey B.
For a one-volume history (over 600 pages) of the Second World War this book is quite all encompassing and thorough. I felt there were two strengths to this book. One was the brilliant eloquence. Mr. Hastings can summarize events succinctly with a remarkable poignancy.

The other asset is the authors’ ability to bring us to the ground level – to view situations from the perspective of the common soldier – whether from Britain, Russia, the U.S., Japan... The same for the civilians who suffered and e...more
I have read perhaps two dozen books about World War II, including four or five comprehensive histories, so I was amazed to find that Inferno added rich new knowledge and insights to my understanding of the war. Hastings has dimensionalized the narrative with the personal statements of ordinary people who participated in the carnage. This proves to be a master-stroke, causing the story to leap to life as never before. It is hard for me to read about war. I don't enjoy it. But I regard understandi...more
carl  theaker
Jul 27, 2012 carl theaker rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to carl by: WW2 Group Buddy Read
Shelves: ww2

Max Hastings style makes this general history of World War2 a
compelling read. I often couldn't wait to pick it up again,
despite the fact that at 700 pages - on the heavy side.

There are many histories of the 'Good' War available, so to
differ, Hastings takes the tack of using the stories of
many participants be they in the trenches or at the home
front to not necessarily prove points, but to illustrate them.

He also has a keen way of laying out the different sides of
an event without being overl...more
This book bears the properties one has come to associate with anything written by Sir Max Hastings - thorough research, impeccable penmanship and impartiality. I gave it 5 stars gladly.

There is only one caveat I would place against someone's enjoyment of this book - it is better to read this after you are somewhat familiar with the progression of the war, and its key figures.

One of my fears about picking up this book was that I might have encountered some of the material elsewhere. Whilst it i...more
This book is huge, overwhelming, stuffed full of 658 pages of facts, and totally absorbing. It took me over a week to read it, but I'm glad I did. I am astonished at how much I did not know about WWII. I thought I was pretty widely read in the area for an American housewife. :-) But I discovered things constantly that I had NO IDEA about. 2 or 3 million Bengals starved to death in India because no one would send them food supplies to end a famine? Had NO idea. The war in northern Africa was more...more
Very good overall look at WW II. Mr. Hastings has very readable writing style and integrates both the high level strategic threads with the bottom up, what are the privates and civilian feeling, very well. He uses letters, diaries and memoirs of the people involved extremely well giving the reader a glimpse of what it must have been like, both at home and in the trenches with the PBI.

Hastings has very strong point of view and for the most part makes coherent arguments in favor of those POVs. How...more
This is probably the must read recent single volume history of World War 2 mainly because it is so focused on the view from below: the fighting men and women and the victims of the killings and general awfulness.

It is nevertheless very well constructed and shows a judicious balanced view of military performance, including the idea that only a society as brutal and barbarous as Stalin's Soviet Union stood much chance of defeating Hitler. Something like 90% of German casualties were fighting the...more
I've just completed the audiobook and it has been a really wonderful experience. The focus on the victims, including so many from forgotten battles and atrocities really sets this apart. It's one of the best attempts I've read to encompass something of the sheer size of World War 2. It wipes away a good deal of the golden glow of the Greatest Generation but the more honest picture that emerges is so much more satisfying. The courage of so many of the people involved doesn't burn brighter because...more
I now have another great historian whose every book becomes a must read. His narrative rivals Stephen Ambrose and his sense of history matches that of William Shirer. It must be really difficult to compress a global event like World War 2 into the pages of a book like this, but Hastings does it and makes it a page turner. There is not much new here, no secrets, no missing archives, but reading about the war from a different perspective is nonetheless fascinating - especially coming from this guy...more
An attempt to get at the more personal and less well known sides of ww2. Mostly successful. The wealth of quotes, letters and diaries are fascinating, and the book was most interesting, to me at least, when in stayed in that sphere, trying to examine the feelings, loyalties and opinions of ordinary citizens and soldiers and giving some sense of the complexities and contradictions of the war as it was experienced.

For long streches though, Hastings can't seem to help himself and the narrative dis...more
World War II is not an event for which there is a shortage of books. Max Hastings, a British military historian who had already written several books about the war, produced a one volume epic of World War II. And the emphasis of this book is war. This book is not about politics. It is about the brutality and violence that is war.

It might be hard to believe that anyone can write anything new about World War II given that libraries and bookstores are flooded with titles on the topic, but Hastings...more
If you want to know what war is like, read/listen to this book. War is Hell and this book gives evidence of it. It is overview but gives description on what was it like to be in it. Hitler had to be stopped and what a price was paid to stop him. Suffering of levels we could not now comprehend. This book give broad look at the individuals and how countries acted during the War. Have new respect for Scandinavian countries, Denmark resistance movement was fierce more so than France's resistance mov...more
This is a very odd book. It strives to be a general history of the Second World War, across all fronts of conflict. The best thing about it is the primary source material which Hastings uses to provide a personal, human face to the often grand scope of the conflict. He uses this to remind us of the tragedy of the conflict - the personal sacrifice involved in fighting the war, on all sides - and he succeeds.

But the book is far too broad to constitute the sort of history Hastings wishes to provide...more
Bob Mobley
Max Hastings has written a truly superb book on the Second World War, 1939-1945. I think the subtitle of the book, "The World at War, 1939-1945" summarizes the real setting for what Hastings is doing. thoughtful, incisive, provoking, probing and analytical, he exposes and explodes many of the misconceptions and misperceptions of World War II. I think this is one of the best books Hastings has ever written, and certainly one of the finest histories of this cataclysmic world event. The huge cast o...more
Jan 17, 2012 Don rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to understand more about that part of our history
I was thoroughly impressed with Inferno. I haven’t read a history book in a long, long time. I picked this up because I wanted to fill in all the blanks I had about World War 2. How did the war start in Europe, before the US was involved? What series of events led Japan to attack Pearl Harbor? What in the world were we doing fighting Rommel in North Africa? Hastings does a thorough job of explaining background and context. He also spends a great deal of time recounting the stories of common peop...more
Lorenzo Berardi
"The World at War 1939-1945" states the subtitle of this mastodontic book by the British historian and former war correspondent Max Hastings.
And there is little doubt that the 675 pages of "All Hell Let Loose", also known as "Inferno" for the US audience, should be enough to deliver a thorough account of all the main events of World War Two.

Potential skepticals on the ability of Mr Hastings to portray such an important period of history on a worldwide scale will be stunned to find fifty-nine (59...more
This book is extremely informative! Most WWII books focus solely on Germany, Britain, the US, and occasionally France. It gave me a whole new insight into Russia's involvement. I just kept thinking if Germany and Russia remained allies, what a different war it would have been. It also covered countries such as Yugoslavia that I had no idea were involved in a war during that time.

Hastings had a way of removing the romanticism that I often find in WWII literature. It was a nasty, brutal war that...more
A fantastic book outlining the events of World War II from 1939-1945! What makes this book different from other surveys of the War was that it told through the perspective of the participants. We read endless quotes and thoughts from leaders, soldiers, civilians; everyone and anyone who was impacted by the war. Hastings has an exciting writing style and I thought he presented the important details of the war in a way that was necessary and informative, but not overwhelming. I particularly enjoye...more
Excellent one volume history of World War II. I loved "Delivered From Evil" by Robert Leckie, and this is similar to it in scope and source. Hastings uses compelling primary sources such as diaries and eyewitness interviews to give a compelling personal touch to the war. He seems to be continuing the trend towards downgrading the Allied war effort in WWII in comparison to the Soviet effort. This is something that anyone who had ever played the Europa series of games learned long ago. I also thou...more
A fantastic book. An indepth look at the War from an angle often lost in other History books. Covering the subject from the personal side of the people caught up in this period, it is insightful, informative and intensely moving. It makes you realise that the War wasn't just about those who were fighting. It was about those left at home, those left behind. For example, it touches on how pets were euthanased, something you probably wouldn't consider when reading another book on the subject.

In all...more
Somewhat Anglocentric history of WWII but very much enlivened and distinct from other histories in the use of quotes. Almost every paragraph has a quotation from someone who was actually at involved in whatever event/decision/battle under discussion. Though it does not pack the punch, in many ways this is the book version of the incomparable BBC series The World at War narrated by Laurence Olivier. IF you are going to read only one book about the war, I would read something a little more compreh...more
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Sir Max Hugh Macdonald Hastings, FRSL, FRHistS is a British journalist, editor, historian and author. His parents were Macdonald Hastings, a journalist and war correspondent, and Anne Scott-James, sometime editor of Harper's Bazaar.

Hastings was educated at Charterhouse School and University College, Oxford, which he left after a year.After leaving Oxford University, Max Hastings became a foreign c...more
More about Max Hastings...
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945

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“In Soviet thinking the concept of economy of force has little place. Whereas to an Englishman the taking of a sledgehammer to crack a nut is a wrong decision and a sign of mental Russian eyes the cracking of nuts is clearly what sledgehammers are for.” 7 likes
“The street is no longer measured by meters but by corpses ... Stalingrad is no longer a town. By day it is an enormous cloud of burning, blinding smoke; it is a vast furnace lit by the reflection of the flames. And when night arrives, one of those scorching howling bleeding nights, the dogs plunge into the Volga and swim desperately to gain the other bank. The nights of Stalingrad are a terror for them. Animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure.” 7 likes
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