This is an extraordinary work - Atkinson melds his superbly discerning reportorial eye with his exhaustive and authoritative research and analysis of...moreThis is an extraordinary work - Atkinson melds his superbly discerning reportorial eye with his exhaustive and authoritative research and analysis of a professional historian to create a work of history writ literature. It is an immersion in the times, the events, the personalities, the experience of World War II in the final year-plus in Europe and how it happened. He personifies the time in such a way as to impel the reader into the places, times and events of which he writes... enduring, winning, losing and lasting with the actual men and women who did it for real in 194 and 1945. And he successfully imbues the reader with a comprehension of, and understanding for, the sheer vastness of the enterprise. The scope and reach of the war is all-pervasive. The vastness and the magnitude of it all are almost overwhelming - Atkinson conveys it throughout in numbers, weights, casualties, and all the minutia of everyday life, starting with conditions in Britain in early 1944 after five years of war.
That latter brief example is illustrative of Atkinson's achievement. It is stark, startling and dismaying to read how life in Britain had altered and deteriorated so - we don't think of such things after the Battle of Britain and the Blitz when the War moves on to other locales and other populations. And that is just his Prologue! This is absolutely one of the finest histories written, certainly one of the best possible for those interested in the war in Europe - a wonderfully compelling, even enthralling, immersion in that roughly 18 months of war on a scale unlike any ever known or imagined. (less)
Leahy, USNA class of 1897 - King, class of 1901 - Halsey, class of 1904 - Nimitz, class of 1905... these remarkable men are the only five-star Admiral...moreLeahy, USNA class of 1897 - King, class of 1901 - Halsey, class of 1904 - Nimitz, class of 1905... these remarkable men are the only five-star Admirals in US history. Borneman relates their biographies (mostly professional), their career histories and their momentous achievements in World War II, interweaving their individual narratives to create a compelling story. Their interactions over the years, the events and people that influenced them in their careers, their strengths and weaknesses - their early careers, successes and mistakes, and the war years.
It is a gripping, perceptive, informative and well crafted story fleshed out with anecdotes, vignettes, contemporary observations that personify the four as well as the people they interact with - superiors and subordinates. FDR is here, as is Churchill, Marshall, MacArthur, Spruance, Eisenhower, Fletcher... and so many others. Early years in the turn of the century Navy - Spanish/American War, Battle of Tsushima, World War I, early submarine and naval aviation development, carrier development and tactical evolution - and the influences that carried over into World War II. The author is fair and objective - he presents the strong points of the historical personalities populating his narrative, but also lays out their flaws and mistakes. He makes no value judgments - leaving that to the reader - but he does give a balanced, fully fleshed-out characterization. Borneman does justice especially to the historical records of Leahy and King. Leahy was a far more important and influential Presidential adviser than conventional historical wisdom recognizes - and King was singularly responsible for much of the most important strategic decisions that shaped the course and success of World War II - equally unrecognized by conventional historical wisdom. Borneman sets the record straight, doing great (and overdue) justice to both men. Nimitz and Halsey have been far more recognized and applauded by that same conventional wisdom - not unjustly - but Borneman gives a far more balanced and nuanced basis for judging their merit. Nimitz historical evaluation is significantly improved beyond its admittedly high esteem - Halsey not so much. The conventional esteem for his place in WWII history was/is inflated, much as was done with MacArthur - and for the same reasons - the creation of battlefront heroes for public consumption. Halsey's actual record was excellent - and certainly nowhere near as problematical to the war effort as MacArthur's ego and limitations... but inflated, nevertheless. Again, Borneman lays out an objective record - he leaves such judgments to the reader.
This is easily one of the best history books I have read in years, combining the best of biography with history. If you have an interest in WWII - read this book! If you have an interest in the navy - read this book! If you just like history - or want to read a wonderful narrative - read this book! Hope I'm being clear here...(less)
I have mixed emotions about this book. Toll has an easy-to-read, enjoyable writing style. He brings in perspectives and details that flesh out and ani...moreI have mixed emotions about this book. Toll has an easy-to-read, enjoyable writing style. He brings in perspectives and details that flesh out and animate well known events. Yet he has an irritating tendency to get side-tracked, and to over state. He spends a chapter on Yamamoto that is interesting - helpful to understanding "War At Sea in the Pacific 1941-1942" - but he favorably likens Yamamoto to Lord Nelson then spends the rest of the book detailing Japanese failures in strategy, planning, training and logistics all laid at Yamamoto's door. The Nelson comparison simply does not work.
In his chapter on Nimitz, he tells us that Nimitz rode by train from Washington to the West Coast on his way to take command at Pearl - and then expends pages describing and extolling the landscapes the trains passed through, landmarks and points of interest that would have been located in towns along the way, although the trains never stopped and Nimitz never went there. He describes survivors being pulled from the sea following the sinking of the Hornet at Midway - notes that doctors doing a post-mortem observed multiple small internal injuries to the gut as though perforated with BBs or shotgun pellets. He never explains why - or what if any significance this bears. It is implicit that somehow this relates to concussive trauma from underwater explosions... but he doesn't say, just leaves it hanging.
There is too much irrelevant, insignificant information - too many pages spent on detail that does not advance the history, does not expand understanding of the times, and distracts from the narrative. He also has a tendency to try to get effusive and lyrical in his narrative - also distracting and irritating when an eruption of this proclivity occurs - and it does regularly. Life in Japan - Navy pilots partying in Honolulu - extraneous side-tracks into essay-like dissertations on aspects of life in the US - a photo of a couple of barefoot low income kids on a porch in Arkansas (Really! I still wonder what that is meant to illustrate about war at sea in the Pacific?)
And lastly, although purported to be a history of "War At Sea in the Pacific 1941-1942" it is incomplete. He covers the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines (briefly, really), the carrier raids on Japanese held islands (superb and lots of fresh history here), Japanese naval training, planning and capabilities (quite good), Coral Sea, the Doolittle Raid and Midway. Toll spends quite a bit of his narrative on the personalities in Washington (King, Marshall, et al.) and Churchill's time in Washington in early 1942. This too is interesting, and well done. Midway happened in June 1942 - and Toll's history ends with it. Nothing of Guadalcanal (August 1942) or the significant and endless naval campaigns and battles in and around the Solomons. There was lots and lots of "War At Sea in the Pacific" that happened in 1942 following Midway.
All in all - disappointing and no where near the excellence of his book "Six Frigates" - a monumental and superb history of the frigates that formed the backbone of the US Navy from the Revolutionary War through the War of 1812. Still - I give it four stars because much of this book does rise to the inestimable quality of "Six Frigates" - but much of it does not.(less)
This is primarily a history of the transition from FDR to Truman and the slow evolution of policy that ensued, ultimately leading to the rise of the C...moreThis is primarily a history of the transition from FDR to Truman and the slow evolution of policy that ensued, ultimately leading to the rise of the Cold War. Miscamble explores policies, personalities and the inside maneuvering and influences of key advisers... it sounds dull, but it isn't. Perhaps the most affecting aspect is the treatment afforded to Stalin and the insistence on defining Stalin as a man of rational goals and peace, an ally in the trues sense of the word, despite ample evidence to the contrary dating back to Stalin's mutual non-aggression pact with Hitler and Stalin's active support of the Nazi war effort against France and Britain, the famines and millions of deaths, the show trials and purges, the division of Poland - half to Nazi Germany, half to Soviet Russia, his invasion of the Baltics and war with Finland, his decidedly non-mutual demand for war materiel assistance with no favorable policy or actions in return, his demands for control of occupied territory, his demands to occupy Japan after being formally at war with Japan for one week before Japan surrendered, the strong opinions and advice of successive US Ambassadors to Russia who took up their post with the view that Russia was a cooperative ally and a rational regime interested in a fair peace only to change their views 180° after actual experience with Soviet Russia. FDR ignored it all - telling aides that he had a hunch he could win over Stalin... a hunch he never refuted. FDR also had the regrettable trait of keeping everything to himself, playing aides off against each other, and never letting anybody know his true intent or policy goals. He was his own Secretary of State, keeping his actual SecState in the dark. His closest aides and advisers were Soviet sympathizers who consistently argued the Soviet side of policy issues, vehemently opposing any restrictive policy or quid pro quo demands.
When FDR died, Truman stepped into the Presidency with the firm intention of continuing FDR's policies -- but that was in essence a matter of him feeling his way in the dark. He, too, was beset with close advisers who were adamant Soviet sympathizers, to the point of insisting, in effect, that the United States subordinate its interests and foreign polices to the interests of the Soviet Union for fear of alienating Russia.
Now, looking back, it is simply appalling the extent to which FDR and subsequently Truman determinedly refused to recognize the reality of Soviet Russia, indeed, treated Great Britain as a more serious threat to world order and international peace than the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov consistently refused to concede any US points in the several formal negotiations following the end of the war, refused to cooperate in the structure of the new United Nations, refused to agree to abide by the terms of the Yalta Conference for Poland and other East European states, the Truman reaction was to assume that the US (Truman and his Secretary of State Byrnes) could go over Molotov's head and Stalin would countermand Molotov... failing to even consider the nature of the Stalin dictatorship and how naive they were in that belief. Averell Harriman was US Ambassador to Russia, and had a clear understanding of Stalin's regime - Truman ignored him. Truman is also illuminated as less decisive and accountable than conventional wisdom has portrayed him. Conventional wisdom is largely based upon Truman's own accounts of events and interactions offered years after the fact, and clearly embellished to support Truman's own self-image. Miscamble refutes many of the most familiar Truman anecdotes through carefully researched diaries, notes and other documentation. Truman was a careful, deliberative executive who solicited advice and opinions from a variety of aides and officials before acting. The first couple of years he was further slow and deliberative in his policy making by his determination to "do what FDR would have done." It is a fascinating sub-plot of Miscamble's excellent work, the authentic Truman as opposed to the mythical Truman of anecdotal provenance in these years.
Eventually, of course, Truman began to recognize the Soviet Union for what it was and develop policy accordingly. Those advisers such as Harriman, Kennan and opposition figures like Dulles began to be heard over the blindly sympathetic Soviet apologists and thus began the Cold War. All in all, this is a fascinating and well written, exhaustively researched and foot-noted, history of a short but critical period from roughly the Yalta Conference through the transition following FDR's sudden death and the end of the war negotiations and policies to the early onset of Cold War, roughly 1947. It's a great read - interesting throughout.(less)
You would think by now that it would not be possible to write a history of World War II and offer anything new, interesting or relevant… but you would...moreYou would think by now that it would not be possible to write a history of World War II and offer anything new, interesting or relevant… but you would be wrong! Roberts has accomplished exactly that, but with one very large and important caveat. This book would more properly be titled a History of the British, Russian and German War – and within that field of inquiry, it is superb! Roberts brings in a lot of previously unrevealed documentation, diaries, recorded conversations and similar new, revealing and pertinent data. He examines this aspect of the war from the point of view that Hitler was the prime factor. Everything – strategic planning, prioritization, tactics, production – everything was driven by Hitler, his decisions, his strategies, his direction of Germany’s war – good and bad, brilliant and monumentally foolish. And Roberts is compelling in his historical case – Hitler was in total control. And Hitler’s decisions were not all wrong. But when he did go wrong, he did so spectacularly and he never adapted – he did not learn, he did not change. He (in his mind) was always right. As Roberts explains, that latter failing was fortunate otherwise the war would have lasted significantly longer, and Germany might even have won, or won enough to establish herself as a world power in equal opposition to the US. The US, by the way, does not get the attention that Britain, France, Germany and the USSR get. US personalities, strategies, and military efforts are unavoidable – but not the focus of Roberts’ work. That’s OK – as a history of the British, Russian and German War this is understandable, and not at all mis-representational or unfair. His treatment of the US participation is fair, as interesting and perceptive as is his treatment of his primary subjects – just nowhere near as complete or comprehensive.
Roberts does an excellent job of explaining and reporting the German war effort, strategy and tactics, weaponry used and developed, the major battles on Germany’s two fronts, and contrasting the German governmental and military institutions and machinery with those of Britain and the Soviet Union. He clearly understands and explains military technology and its effects, and the systemic affects of all three systems (free democracy, NAZI fascism and Stalinistic communism) – warplanes, U-boats, tanks, German secret weapons – all here (but minimal regarding the naval arms – this is a land focused history, with the exception of a relatively brief foray into the Battle of the Atlantic). He offers no apologies – Churchill, Stalin and Hitler are objectively and compellingly presented with warts intact. So this aspect of the book (maybe 80+% of the content) alone makes it an absolute historical treasure – BUY THIS BOOK, for that reason.
Do not buy this book thinking the war in the Pacific is going to receive similar treatment. Roberts gives very short shrift to the Pacific. He has an odd(for me, anyway) chapter on the British army’s campaigns in India and Malaya, notice of Singapore, and a vary shallow overview of the Japanese system. He does a Cliff’s Notes version of Japanese motivations and war efforts, the Battle of Midway, and the end of the war. Midway is the only Pacific battle he pretends to describe, and he does not do it justice, basically parroting an abbreviated regurgitation of conventional wisdoms and factoids about the battle, many if not most of which have been dispelled by exhaustive recent historical work (work that Roberts equals here when he is focused on the German theater). It is odd that he makes no reference to modern historical research on Midway, but contents himself with a simplified rote narrative based on outdated work. The rest of the Pacific campaign simply does not come up. Coral Sea – Guadalcanal – Philippines – island campaign – contrasts of Japanese strategies/tactics/weapons/institutions/battle planning and execution with those of the US are not here. German theater, yes –Japanese theater, no - some passing mentions here and there, but little more.
For that inexplicable and glaring overreach reflected invitingly in the title, I give this book 4-stars, not 5. If Roberts had provided the same depth and breadth of information, insights and narrative in the Pacific as he does in Europe/Africa/USSR, this would be a 10-star book. If he just limited himself to a history of the Anglo/German/Russian war, and did not purport to be writing a “New History of the Second World War” I would give him 5-stars. But he did include the Pacific, and you just cannot ignore his minimal and deficient treatment of the subject. But I must say in closing, his last chapter “Conclusion” should be mandatory reading all on its own! If you don’t buy the book – at least sit down in your local bookstore and read that chapter. Bravo Mr. Roberts.(less)