Michael Berman's Reviews > Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945

Inferno by Max Hastings
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's review
Jan 22, 12

bookshelves: history, world-war-ii
Read from January 03 to 22, 2012

I've read a handful of WWII histories, but this is the most exhaustive, balanced, and interesting of any of them. I won't go into all of the details, but these are a few of the reasons why:

--The author uses primary sources (letters, diaries, interviews, etc.) to great effect. Not just the generals or the politicians, but the ordinary soldiers, seamen, civilians, and victims. All nationalities are included. Nothing brings home the horror of the war better than these first-hand reports.

--This book conveys the truly global scope of WWII. The elements that most Americans think of as WWII (western Europe after D-day, the Pacific war against Japan, and maybe north Africa) are only a portion of the whole picture. The contribution of the USSR in particular is set out in great detail, but never romanticized.

--The author notes the irony of England, in particular, fighting for freedom while hoping to return, after the war, to its "rightful" position as the colonial master of India, Burma, and other soon-to-be-free colonies.

--The author argues (convincingly, to me) that some aspects of the war, such as the US re-invasion of the Philipines, were driven not by military necessity but by the internal logic of waging war: once a fighting force is assembled, it will be used. He does allow, at the same time, that these instances are certainly clearer in retrospect than they were at the time.

--Finally, while he accepts that WWII was "the good war", he notes that the brutality with which it was waged (particularly on the USSR-German front) as well as the results (Eastern Europe being within the Soviet sphere of influence, as one notable example) make facile moral judgments not only impossible but dangerous.

Highly recommended.

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message 1: by Mark (new)

Mark This looks good--looking forward to your comments.

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