The Second World War
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The Second World War

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,412 ratings  ·  77 reviews
In this comprehensive history, John Keegan explores both the technical and the human impact of the greatest war of all time. He focuses on five crucial battles and offers new insights into the distinctive methods and motivations of modern warfare. In knowledgable, perceptive analysis of the airborne battle of Crete, the carrier battle of Midway, the tank battle of Falaise,...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published September 1st 1990 by Penguin Books (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

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Ted
This book has sometimes been viewed as the best one volume history of World War II. It might be, though I’m not qualified to say. There is no doubt, however, that Keegan is one of the best military historians of the second half of the last century, particularly in the area of “accessible” books. He avoids writing thousand-page tomes in which every other sentence is foot-noted, instead using a style which is appealing to those readers, like me, who are more interested in the big story than in the...more
Rob
This would be the text to start finding out about WW2 if you knew absolutely nothing about the subject. Unfortunately people under the age of 30, 35 (?) haven't got a clue so that's a lot of people.

With such a broad topic and many historical controversies faced head on by Keegan this book could have had a nightmare structure. It could have been rambling, discursive mess. The book is superbly paced and structured. The controversies such as why Hitler attacked the USSR, failure or success of strat...more
Jason
This is an excellent one volume telling of the Second World War, within its historical context, with a heavy emphasis on the strategic questions and decisions faced by the political and military high commands of the five major powers (Keegan doesn't consider Italy a major power). A long-time instructor at Sandhurst in Britain, Keegan brings to this work an ability to link the conflict within the historical flow of Europe and modern Asia, going as far back as time of Charlemagne, but especially e...more
Joe
Usual Keegan, which is not a bad thing, but this seemed a weaker (or perhaps just more hurried?) effort than his other books. The first couple of chapters are amazing in setting a broad scope for exactly how a terrible event such as the second World War can come about in civilization. The rest was a good overview of the conflict in general. While some subjects, either ignored or poorly reviewed in other works, were covered in satisfying detail (although still brief given the overall scope of the...more
Donald
This book's a brick but Keegan gives the heavy matter readability with clear prose and the right amount of jargon for non-war buffs such as myself. It is a great, balanced, one-volume description of WWII which provides enough material for the reader to understand the events and gives plenty of ideas for further reading on the subject.

It was exactly what I was after: a comprehensive history of the war with details of the political strategies of the heavyweights and details of indicative battles,...more
Mike
This is a 600-page summary of the most important conflict in modern history, so it's bound to disappoint some. Iwo Jima and Okinawa are dealt with in a few pages; The Battle of the Bulge gets five. But the opening chapters describing the factors leading up to the war are an invaluable synopsis. My biggest complaint is that Keegan spends too much time on less interesting, and arguably less important theaters of war, like North Africa, and too little on topics like the Manhattan Project and the Ho...more
Virgil
A magisterial work. The only thing I would have liked from the book was more discussion of the Battle of the Atlantic, but otherwise I have no complaints. The framing of the book as a series of strategic dilemmas for the major leaders is a simple but effective way of bringing order to a notoriously complex period in history. I can tell why this book made Keegan's career, and it's considerably better than his history of the First World War.
Todd
This was an excellent history of World War II. Keegan does a masterful job of understanding the larger historical trends and tying them into the origin and conduct of the war. He takes a mainly "forest" view vice "trees," so there are no gripping bullet-by-bullet personal accounts. In fact, he does not treat the personalities of the war except at the most senior levels. A person who knew nothing of the history of the war could easily start with this book and get a good overall understanding of i...more
Geoffrey
A brilliant book that got bogged down midway, somewhat akin to Montgomery`s ponderous assault on Sicily. I simply can`t believe that Keegan rewrote history by leaving out Patton`s assault on Berlin completely out of the picture. Granted he did not like the General, but such an injudicious deletion is inexcusable.
David Wardell
Keegan's knowledge of military subjects and insights are always exceptional. In this book he avoids most of the political discussions and social issues which distract historians of this period and focuses upon command, generalship, and tactics. This makes the book rare among reasonably accessible histories of the war.

Keegan readily admits his own viewpoints and prejudices, which are among the book's flaws:

More attention to the European war in the west than a book of this scope would warrant; ev...more
murph
World War II from 20,000 feet.

The bulk of popular WWII histories are written with a narrow scope. Memoirs or other you-are-there narratives are the usual means of describing a particular battle or campaign. And no wonder - a full accounting of a single battle would easily overwhelm your average mass-market hardcover.

I've read roomfuls of such books and it wasn't until I read Keegan that I appreciated what I'd missed: the overall story of the war. Reading excellent books like Richard B. Frank's...more
Matt
A good military history of the war that concentrates on different aspects than Martin Gilbert's book of the same name (for interest, the detail in Keegan's book about the paratroopers landing on Crete was far superior than the two paragraphs devoted to the same subject in Gilbert's book). Still, the Holocaust is barely mentioned, and the individual stories are kept to a bare minimum.

I usually find the biographical side of history books dull (I admit to "skimming" the later years of presidential...more
Charlotte
All right. I now know much more about WWII than I did previously. What is really interesting about this book is how unromantic it is for the most part--a lot of the rhetoric about WWII is uber-romantic, and perhaps deservedly so, but Keegan hammers home again and again (and again) that won is really won by the cold hard realities of who has the most men, the biggest guns, the best tanks (there is a LOT of writing about tanks in this book) and the best strategies. Reading about the strategies was...more
Penny
Good one-volume account of World War II, from the legacy of World War I and the rise of Hitler and Stalin, through the major battles and effects on populations, to the aftermath. Keegan starts each section describing strategic dilemmas, from Hitler's decision to invade Russia through Roosevelt/ Truman's considerations on whether to use the atom bomb. He also discusses various kinds of battle, many of which employed new forms of technology (tanks, aircraft carriers, etc.) Keegan provides scope an...more
Dimitri Laureys
As a general history of WWII, this occupies a middle ground with its familiar, slightly anglocentric story. As a read, this is Keegan gold in its eloquence. It takes a teacher to simply write: "the question was, where ?"
Chris
When my one high-school teacher started the course off, the teacher used this book. Although the teacher told us that he used this book when he was in college, he copied off chapters for us to read. But before the end of the 2nd week's assignment with the book, he dropped these assignments. However, I later picked up another copy of this book for myself and decided to read it. Although the author is a bit wordy, if you enjoy military terminology and most battles of World War 2, you might actuall...more
Ryan Wulfsohn
A good single-volume history of WW2 but I preferred both Andrew Roberts' The Storm of War and Max Hastings' Inferno.
Timothy Fitzgerald
I read this just after "The First World War" by the same author. Again, the research and detail were unbelievable. I found the account of the events leading up to the war and the aftermath of the war to be most interesting. The account of the war itself was the meat of the book, and at times was a little too heavy on battle details. At times I found it hard to wade through certain sections, but it was well worth it.
Frank Chadwick
John Keegan is a much better historian than this book would suggest. It seemed to me as if it had been thrown together in a weekend to catch the 50th anniversary of WW II celebration and sales bonanza. It is a tired rehash of every bit of conventional wisdom and popular legend about the war, many of which have been discarded by the historical community for decades. It's disheartening that Keegan didn't notice that.
Josh Liller
Good strategic overview of the entire war. It also has a good opening chapter covering the events leading up to the war including the changes in European civilization that helped make both World Wars possible.

The author has a good writing style and he isn't afraid to stretch an overview book to 600 pages because that is what is needed. I spotted a few mistakes but overall it's pretty darn good.
Rick Brindle
An excellent, readable and accessable history of world war 2, essentially this book does what it says on the tin. Interestingly, it takes the war from the point of view of the main wartime leaders, allowing for national priorities. Thoroughly absorbing, in fact I'm tempted to read it again after reviewing it from a gap of a few years since I read it.
Curtiss
An intelligent, one-volume look at the Second World War, divided into the early years of the war from 1939 to mid' 1943, when the Allies managed to turn the tide in every theater, and the later years from 1943 to the war's end, and addressing three primary theaters of war; The War in the East, The War in the West, and The War in the Pacific.
Patrick Haga
This book was awesome! Really well written and very informative. I never in my life thought I would want to read a book about WWII, in the past the subject bored me to death..this book completely changed the way I look at military history altogether. I'm actually excited to read more about the events surrounding WWII.
Andrew
Superb large picture analysis of WW2 punctuated, as per Keegan's style, with precise detail and jarring anecdotes. Not as mature as WW1 but the chapters on Okinawa and the Eastern Front are as gripping as any history I've read. The Okinawa chapter turned a life long cynic into a believer in the choice of using the atomic bomb.
Brendan Sweeney
Can't say I'm a huge fan of Mr. Keegan. The book was nice and . . . mostly complete. Mr. Keegan has a distinctively Anglocentric to this work. For example, the Battle of the Bulge consists mostly of British action while giving a feel of, 'Oh, the Americans and Canadians were there too, I think.'
Jason Guilford
An excellent and very readable analysis of the second world war. This is the first of John Keegan's books which I have read. I found it easy to follow, informative and concise. A shame, really, that modern classrooms tend to eschew this book for newer, but less well-written, texts.
Nathan
Sep 23, 2007 Nathan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who wish they'd majored in history.
Shelves: history, reference
John Keegan is one of the finest military historians of our time, and in The Second World War he does the unthinkable: he provides a picture-perfect, concise history of WWII. This is an essential reference book on the topic, and one of the only textbooks to have on the matter.

NC
Jonathan
Extremely detailed history of WWII that dives into the strategic and tactical moves made during the war, so much so that it is somewhat difficult to read at times. Does a decent job of explaining how the war came about and that it was basically an extension of WWI.
Sara
Phew, finally finished this monster! An amazing overview of WWII. I like that Keegan shows the strategies, mistakes, and victories from all sides of the conflict. He also never minimizes the human cost of all of those years of war. I learned a ton from this book.
Don Stanton
How can that topic me covered in one book? It cannot. Keegan grinds out a very very thin outline. A decent novice read for someone beginning to show some interest it that era. For the serious student of WWII this would be a waste of time and shelf space
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Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE was a British military historian, lecturer and journalist. He published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle.

More about John Keegan...
The First World War The Face of Battle A History of Warfare The Mask of Command: Alexander the Great, Wellington, Ulysses S. Grant, Hitler, and the Nature of Leadership Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris; June 6 - Aug. 5, 1944

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