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Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  7,004 ratings  ·  622 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
Hardcover, 729 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Knopf (first published 2011)
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 ·  7,004 ratings  ·  622 reviews

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Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-ii, history
When my daughter Emilia was just starting to move around, I’d bring her into my office and let her crawl around while I worked. And by work, I mean “play spider solitaire obsessively on the computer.” That was a certain, magical age, in which Emilia was satisfied by simply holding a softball in her hands, or playing with a camera that hadn’t worked in years. I got a lot of work spider solitaire playing done in those days.

Sometimes, during the course of my important work (maintaining a 60% win t
Paul Bryant
May 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: worldwar2


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
Jul 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
I finish this book with the same thought i've had all along: that this is how modern history should be written.

Hastings has put together one of the most comprehensive, detailed, and moving books on the Second World War that i've ever read. Most importantly, he has addressed the issue of it being a WORLD war in a way that few manage. From Burma to Australia to Egypt to India, he includes information and reflections from combatants on both sides and from all the arenas of the conflict. His use of
Oct 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945

The author of this book, Max Hastings, is a military author and historian. In 2012 he received the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. Don't for an instant think that an author with such credentials is going to deliver anything but a book that focuses primarily on military aspects of the Second World War. He writes about the war from a global perspective. The emphasis is not on politics nor the genocide of t
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

More than any other book I've read, this gives a real sense of the global nature of WW2: both geographically (Russia/Eastern Europe, the Pacific & North Africa are covered in as much detail as Western Europe) and in terms of its impact on people (with as much emphasis given to civilians and "ordinary" soldiers as to Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals).

Hastings moves seamlessly from grand strategy to individual eye-witness accounts, using a multitude of letters, diaries and interviews with
Sep 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-2, history
Under normal circumstances this would have received 5 stars as it is as good as Liddell Harts one volume tome I read in my youth. The final chapter has covered various opinion of the author, not that I have an issue with that per se, but to mention the present state of Russia under Putin lets the chapter down somewhat as histories such as this should be of the ages and not this age. A minor quibble in the end maybe?

Ultimately though this was a very good read indeed. The mixture of military and
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mikey B.
Jan 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-ii
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
Chin Joo
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, ww2
What does one do after years of research, having collected piles of documents from the archives, stacks of scholarly and journalistic articles, gigabytes of interview records on different aspects of the same war? A logical thing to do would be to put them all down in a book that gives the reader an overview of the whole war. This was precisely what two prominent and important British authors have done. Both Sir Max Hastings and Antony Beevor are well-known for their scholarly research and clear ...more
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I grew up in a remarkable day and time—the 1950s—one of millions of Baby Boomers. Being born just five years after the end of World War II, it was natural to hear stories about the hardships of the war. My mother moved from Nebraska to Norfolk, Virginia to work at the naval base. All of her four brothers served in the war. My father and his two brothers also served in the war—my father in the Pacific theater. I heard how one my father’s transport ships was hit by a kamikaze pilot in the latter s ...more
Charlie Hasler
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In terms of world war 2 books I don’t think they come much better than this. Superbly written. Fast paced and no unnecessary padding out of the subjects.

The personal accounts are harrowing and as much of a cliche as it is to say, it really does bring things into perspective.

I have some other books of Max Hastings to read but will do them in stages due to the heavy subject matter.

Brilliant, an utterly brilliant book.
Kimba Tichenor
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From the standpoint of a military history, this one is excellent. The author provides truly global coverage of the battles in Asia, Africa, and Europe and does so without glorifying the experience of total war. In his recounting of the experience of the common soldier, he gives voice to not only the experience of American and British soldiers, but also German, Russian, and Japanese. In this respect, the book is superb, drawing on diaries, archival documents, and letters to capture the experience ...more
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: second-world-war
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 book is 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 experien
carl  theaker
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  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 ove
Jan 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-history
“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
Steven Peterson
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Max Hastings provides a grand one volume study of the Second World War that emphasizes historical scope over chronological narrative. This approach uncovers numerous lessons and considerations for the modern reader which performs a service by providing an objective macro-presentation of the war. There are "good war" histories and critical revisionist studies; Hastings's Inferno fits into a middle of the road category that ought to be labeled "necessary, but ugly" historiography.

He achieves this
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, firstreads
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

An excellent overview of the Second World War. It tells you almost everything that can be told in a single volume. Great for the person who wants to know about the war without buying an encyclopedia set.
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Inferno The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings

Max Hasting's "Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945" is in my opinion, one of the best books on the Second World War that has been published so far in this decade. It is a sweeping view of a war that was truly global.

The beginning of the book does not spend too much time detailing the causes of the war, instead it launches the reader straight in, first with the invasion of Poland in 1939, and it continues to the end of the war with Japan's surrender and some early postwar history. The leng
Michael Flanagan
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An epic single volume covering the history of World War II. Hastings has delivered a book that is so well balanced that this thick tome leaves no stone unturned. A mix of first hand accounts with the facts and figures of this conflict left me with a complete undertanding and sense of this epic struggle. My hat off to the author who once again has shown why he is regarded one of the leading authorities in the genre.
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book for getting and overview of WW2. It would be a good starting place for someone interested in the big picture. From this you could choose a theater or battle to focus on.

The inclusion of many anecdotes makes the book very personal. Hastings said he wanted to provide and number of "I didn't know that" moments and he was very successful!
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
Mar 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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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

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