Pros: werewolves killing Nazis. Cons: gratuitous sex (because apparently the WWII action novel demo is also really into erotic fiction?), declines intPros: werewolves killing Nazis. Cons: gratuitous sex (because apparently the WWII action novel demo is also really into erotic fiction?), declines into formulaic attractive-spies-dodging-bullets....more
Of all the war histories I've read... no, of all the non-fiction books I've read in my life, Catastrophe 1914 has the most spectacular prose, edging oOf all the war histories I've read... no, of all the non-fiction books I've read in my life, Catastrophe 1914 has the most spectacular prose, edging out "Retribution". Every sentence is a work of art, and like "Retribution", nearly every sentence carries an opinion, in many cases an opinion that doesn't come across in other histories of the same period.
Here's a one-sentence excerpt that ties together much of what I like about this book:
"The excesses of the Kaiser's nation cannot reasonably be compared with those of the Nazi regime that followed a generation later. But they make it more difficult to accept the indulgent view of some historians that a German victory in the conflict of 1914-18 would have represented the triumph of a nation and a cause morally indistinguishable from those of the allies."
Did you hear that, other historians? Hastings called you "indulgent"! Also this sentence clearly closes a chapter, tying together a number of anecdotes on German brutality in Belgium and France in 1914, and framing Hastings's unique blend of narrative and argument.
My endorsement of the prose doesn't mean I think this book reads like a work of fiction: it's definitely a war history, and you have to be at least a little into the movement of armies to stay focused. There are also cases where those beautiful sentences are randomly sloshed together into paragraphs; it's clear that a lot of time went into sentence-craft, less so into chapter-craft. And while I'm finishing up the criticism, I was disappointed that *zero* pages were spent on the Ottoman entry into the war, and all the goings-on in the Mediterranean. It's hard to say this doesn't qualify as "Europe" or "1914", and it diminishes the value of this book as an introductory history to the period.
But nonetheless, as a compelling tour of all the other European fronts in 1914 (France/Belgium, Galicia, East Prussia, Serbia) and - to a lesser extent - the politics leading to the outbreak of war, "Catastrophe 1914" is excellent. ...more
For a history newbie, the description of the pre-war period is among the best I've read, and the nearly complete omission of the July Crisis - which aFor a history newbie, the description of the pre-war period is among the best I've read, and the nearly complete omission of the July Crisis - which apparently irks historians - is actually a refreshingly different perspective, that abstracts away the details of alliances that triggered the war and focuses on what made Germany willing to go to war in the first place. I think the word "Austria" literally occurs twice in this book.
The discussion of the brief sea pursuit leading up to the declaration of war by the Ottomans is also a perspective I hadn't come across in my brief expedition into WW1 history, and as the military description goes, this is the most engaging bit.
The majority of the book, describing the invasion of Belgium and France, is necessarily a little slow, but I think it's as engaging as it could be given the level of detail.
All in all an excellent complement to the small handful of other histories I've read. ...more
Retribution strikes a perfect balance between informative and thoughtful, between editorial and reporting. So much so that I can't decide which was thRetribution strikes a perfect balance between informative and thoughtful, between editorial and reporting. So much so that I can't decide which was the more important part of my experience with this book: being deeply immersed in the basic narrative of aspects of the war that are often omitted from introductory historical texts and with which I was almost completely unfamiliar (e.g. the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, the Burma front, and the Pacific submarine campaign), or being deeply immersed in Hastings's no-holds-barred judgement (positive and negative) of the key decisions and personnel of the war. In addition to the expected condemnation of the behavior of the entire Japanese Empire, Hastings is harsh (but fair) toward MacArthur, toward British competence and motivations, and toward more or less the entire nation of Australia. But at the same time, he is equally willing to dole out praise not only for the individual soldiers who often appear only *because* of their sacrifice and endurance, but for the U.S. Navy, for Slim, for LeMay, and even - in a moment of balance near the end of the book - for the post-war MacArthur.
But most moving to me, perhaps, was Hastings's treatment of the atomic bombs, despite his claim that he was not doing to devote much of this book to this topic. To be fair, this was not one of the longer sections of the book, so he lived up to this claim. But the depth of his treatment of the decision goes far beyond that of the usual supporters, and of course far beyond the usual critics. With cautious conservatism about projected losses in a continued war, Hastings not only highlights the lives saved by the attacks, and the almost certain Soviet land-grab that would have divided Japan, but also gently scolds those who object to the nuclear attacks and the fantasies they're usually entertaining (IIRC, he uses the word "fantasies").
I can't wait to read "Armageddon". Interestingly one of the few war histories I've abandoned was Hastings's "Inferno", which I found wildly boring. This book is structured similarly, but nonetheless stands miles above Inferno IMO, and probably stands as the best book I've read in my recent WWI/WWII history kick....more
The book I expected to be reading - a dramatized non-fiction narrative about Patton's life and the circumstances of his death - was not good. Even thoThe book I expected to be reading - a dramatized non-fiction narrative about Patton's life and the circumstances of his death - was not good. Even though I didn't know the details in most cases, it was clear that stuff was being made up across the board to make every personality discussed anywhere in the book seem maximally salacious. The crux of the book - a claim that someone... Stalin? the CIA?... killed Patton - emerges rather suddenly and comes across as utterly ridiculous.
But... as my first introduction into some of the highlights of the late Western Front, in fact in much more detail than I expected, this was an excellent overview, and on the broad strokes - the Bulge, Bastogne, the Rhine - it doesn't seem to disagree with mainstream history. So, as a very readable intro to this part of the war, good times. And to its credit, this is actually most of the book, despite the nominal focus on Patton's death.
One more bone to pick: I consumed this as an audio book, and it was the most careless audio book I have experienced. Constant mispronunciations and awkward phrasing permeate nearly every paragraph... nothing that any reader wouldn't experience if reading this text out loud, but all things that would have been re-recorded if the author card at all. At times O'Reilly literally seems bored... listen to the first sentence of each chapter; they mostly come out as giant sighs. This from someone who is by most definitions a professional speaker, and a good one at that. I didn't really knock off points for this, but really lazy work. ...more
As a novel that happens to be set in Europe during WWI: implausible dialogue, predictable characters, absurd coincidences invented to move the plot foAs a novel that happens to be set in Europe during WWI: implausible dialogue, predictable characters, absurd coincidences invented to move the plot forward, awkward romantic subplots. Not great. 2 stars. Maybe 2.5.
As a history of WWI told through the lens of fictional stories: excellent. 5 stars. A phenomenal way to make history interesting, with precisely the right blend of fact and fiction. It's *almost* always clear what's real and what's not, and when it's not, it doesn't matter. All history texts should be written like this, instead of like, well, history texts.
Since I happen to be on a WWI kick, I'm rounding up the average to 4 stars, and I'm excited about the second book. But for someone just looking for good fiction, I'd look elsewhere....more
Same review as I wrote for the first book ("Fall of Giants"): as a dramatic novel set during WWII, not good at all. Implausible dialogue, implausibleSame review as I wrote for the first book ("Fall of Giants"): as a dramatic novel set during WWII, not good at all. Implausible dialogue, implausible coincidences on every page, absolutely predictable. But as a history of WWII through the lens of the characters, which I how I read it, absolutely fantastic. All high school history texts on WWI and WWII history (and, I presume, on Cold War history, though I've only started the third book) should be replaced by these books....more
The marketing of this book really plays it up as a story about one inspiring moment of "combat and chivalry", but IMO the incident itself plays a relaThe marketing of this book really plays it up as a story about one inspiring moment of "combat and chivalry", but IMO the incident itself plays a relatively minor role in the book. Rather, it's a snapshot of life as a pilot on both sides of the war that perfectly balances "realistic" with "upbeat", and was hard for me to put down.
Also although this is one of many narratives that attempts to garner *some* sympathy for German soldiers, IMO this is the most effective that I've seen. Without getting bogged down in melodrama and trying to label every soldier as a monster or a hero, it paints a believable picture of how a pilot could keep going up every day and killing other pilots, somewhere between "actually just a really bad person" and "unaware of what's happening at home" and "under constant threat of execution" and "just trying to keep bombs away from Berlin and keep his friends alive". The author doesn't ask the reader to be naive and think that German soldiers had much of a moral defense or weren't viciously anti-Semitic, but he does paint a picture of how one day can lead to the next without much choice of *not* fighting.
So, 5 stars, and I look forward to the movie... ...more
How this book didn't get boring remains a mystery, but there you have it, it never got boring. This book, even decades after being written, fills precHow this book didn't get boring remains a mystery, but there you have it, it never got boring. This book, even decades after being written, fills precisely the gaps in American popular understanding of Nazi Germany; Shirer seems to have found interesting exactly what American popular education does not. Americans pretty much learn the broad strokes of the war (if mostly from movies) and are extensively exposed to information about the holocaust, but - at least when I was in high school - learn almost nothing about the Nazi rise and Hitler's war aims. This book only touches on military details and only devotes one chapter specifically to the holocaust; it is otherwise a (remarkably captivating) picture of the Nazi rise to power, Nazi policy, Nazi personalities, and Hitler's ideology, which for me cast the war in a new light and - if anything - highlights the lessons the world should be learning from WWII history.