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The Second World War

(The World Wars #2)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  4,418 ratings  ·  126 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 September 21st 1989)
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Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This book has sometimes been viewed as the best one volume history of World War II.

Well, I wouldn't argue with that, at least regarding readability. There is no doubt 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 th
Jill Hutchinson
Historian John Keegan packed all of the Second World War in one book of 595 pages and did it well. Granted, there were certain battles that were shortchanged or not mentioned at all but that is bound to happen when both the European and Pacific theaters are being covered. He divides the book into each theater and gives fairly short but concise histories of how Germany and Japan planned for war and why. And, thank heavens, he provides maps for the major events such as Operation Barbarossa and the ...more
Oct 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
My first serious introduction to WWII, read in 2015. John Keegan in The Second World War gives the reader an excellent and balanced one-volume analysis of this crucial historical conflict. At 500 plus pages, it is not a short read. However, it is presented with a clear prose and provided me, as a beginner, enough material to understand the events and inspired me for further readings. ...more
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: militaria, history
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
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
John Keegan gives a clear, comprehensive survey of WWII. If you're unclear about the era of WWII, read Keegan's Second World War before going to Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy, which is much more detailed. Then go to the biographies of world leaders of the time. Finally, study individual battles and other aspects of the war. Such a study is essential for all students of history, and everyone should be a lifelong student of history.
Feb 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Erik Graff
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: WWII fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Picked this up at the sale room at the Hayward, Wisconsin public library last summer.

John Keegan is primarily a military historian, someone familiar to me from other publications. He writes, in my experience, at a level above that of popular historians while still remaining accessible to lay readers willing to think a little bit. This survey of both theatres of WWII does a remarkably good job of outlining the war in only 600 pages. Although English, Keegan impresses me with his relative impartia
Feb 03, 2014 marked it as to-read

Description: This is the unabridged reading of "The Second World War" by John Keegan. The book was published in 1989, and this audio book was produced by Books on Tape, Inc in 1990 and has 6 parts and 33 chapters. Read by Bill Kelsey.


Chapter 1: Every Man a Soldier
Chapter 2: Fomenting World War

Chapter 3: The Triumph of Blitzkrieg
Chapter 4: Air Battle: The Battle of Britain
Chapter 5: War Supply an
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: WW II buffs and students of History .
John Keegan is most likely the pre-eminent military historian in the English speaking world. One of the things I appreciate, about his writing, is he does not try to overwhelm the reader with details. Many historians seem to want to impress the reader with their research. Even Keegan's bibliography is limited to 50 books which he describes in a three page summary at the back of the book.

I thought I knew all there was to know about WWII. Wrong! I learned more about the Eastern Front between Russi
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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,
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wow! This was not the book I had in mind for learning more about WWII. For some reason I thought it was 150 pages, not 600. However, I muddled through and sometimes skimmed a bit. There was far more detail than I was even interested in but occasionally that was good as I learned quite a bit. In the end I was astonished that any writer would undertake such a task. Just a bit of heavy reading to start the summer. Now on to lighter things ....
Dec 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 12, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Peter Cashwell
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the advice of my ex-Marine father and a variety of friends, I picked this as the one-volume history of WWII to dive into, and with some significant reservations, I'd say their advice was sound. Keegan takes an extraordinarily complex subject and devises a clear and engaging strategy for presenting it to a lay audience. After offering a prologue to explain the war's causes and Hitler's opening advances, he divides the war in half chronologically (1940-43 in the first half, 1943-45 in the secon ...more
Nov 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Frank Chadwick
Jul 30, 2009 rated it did not like it
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.
Sep 09, 2013 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Taylor Burrows
First and foremost about John Keegan's volume on WWII is that, for him, WWII is a continuation of the first. In the first book I found this comparison annoying as the first war was not dependent on the second. Of course, because the second started from irrationally pursuing a means of reversing the outcome of the first world war, this notion was more appropriate in the second volume.

The book itself flows somewhat smoothly and does cover the fronts in the west, the east, and Pacific. The broad ov
Having just seen the movie Darkest Hour, and after unpacking the history section of my library after having it stored away in boxes for ten months, I thought I'd jump right into this long, heavy single volume history of World War II. It was given to me as a gift last year, and it's been on my mind since I've been wanting to do a bit of refresher reading with regard to the War.

But. Man. Oh. Man. I made it ten pages in before dropping to my knees in exhaustion. This book is the literary equivalen
Joshua Weiner
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a fantastic one-volume summary! All three theaters (the Western, Eastern and Pacific Fronts) are detailed in a readable and informative manner. You will get a clear sense from reading this as to why the outcome of WWII was the way it was, as John Keegan details the stark contrast between the Allies and the Axis' war economies and industrial efficiency. He also offers well-reasoned challenges to some common though flawed interpretations of the war (did the Ultra intelligence really reduce th ...more
Marie Weiler
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I had to read this for a high school course, and I thoroughly enjoyed its comprehensive layout of the entire Second World War. It's a long read, but anyone interested in the subject matter should definitely consider giving it a closer look.

The only downfall is that, like another world history book portraying the matter, the Canadians weren't really mentioned a whole lot. There are whole chapters within the book describing Churchill's, Roosevelt's, Hitler's, Stalin's, and Tojo's strategic dilemma
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Second World War, the very war which entirely changed the world and led to where we are today. The book was excellently written and displayed all of the horrendous events which led up to and occurred during the war. It was very interesting getting to know about all the strings being played in the background as the war was waging, and all the logistic issues pertaining to the Germans on the Eastern Front. I don't think that you could write a book about any other time period in history and mak ...more
Dave Ream
Aiming for an credible and balanced overview of WWII military events, I completed the reading without alarms going off that my choice had missed the mark. I guess just starting out reading on the subject I really won't know for awhile, nevertheless it was reassuring to think I wasn't distracted by the writing or research (yet). What I did expect to find and what I realized is that I did have many gaps in my understanding of the conflict at even the broadest level. I was glad to read in what was ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent strategic overview with personalized examples

Written by a leading British military historian who writes books that are very accessible to the general public, the author provides a wide-ranging, strategic and chronological of the major campaigns in each theater of the war in a relatively large tome (608 pages). What sets aside this work from other respected, comprehensive treatments is the regular inclusion of quotes, stories, and anecdotes from everyday witnesses (common soldiers, low-
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Keegan's history of the great war is a masterpiece for the ages, in his acute perceptiveness of the military and political dimensions of that conflict. His narrative of the second world war fails to live up to the expectations set by the first, which is more than forgivable, given its far greater scope. His narrative rambles back and forth across the various fields of battles he visits, and his political understanding of the conflict is less than perfect (but far from poor, and he establishes a ...more
Hong An
Feb 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Comprehensive and extremely lucidly written. Would have preferred a broader focus on the other aspects of the war and more attention paid to "secondary" theatres such as China, and some of the broader human costs of the war. Excellent summation of the lead-up to the war, but discussion of the various ideological drivers of the belligerents is lacking and the assessment of the final consequences is too abrupt.
Lia Patterson
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is not so much about what happened in the Second World War (though that's also part of it) as rather why it happened. The factors building up to from before the First World War, but also what decisions, good and bad, affected the outcome.

Very much recommended to any student of those times.
Chris Miller
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
As a general history this is a marvelous job. He seems to cover everything in a logical way and even though there is some repetition due to the change of theatre, it is done smoothly and succinctly. He has a sure handle not only on the narrative, but on the entire scope of a world at war. I would highly recommend it to people new to the subject as a major starting point.
Jeff G
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a massive book (about a rather large topic WWII). Of course, thoroughly-researched and well-written. The book skews more to the conflict in Europe than in the Pacific.

Keegan is extremely knowledgeable on the topic; at times, the book seems to assume some prior knowledge of WWII history.
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Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan, OBE, FRSL 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.

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The World Wars (2 books)
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