In a manner that will surprise few of his faithful readers, historian and writer John Keegan turns what one would expect to be a dry bibliographic survey of what this noted scholar believes to be the seminal and meaningfully works on the subject of World War Two into a fascinating and sometimes provocative survey into the subject of not only that most fateful of conflicts, but also of war itself. As has recently been proven through the edifying work of other authors such as Ian Kershaw with his brilliant two volume study of Adolph Hitler (see my reviews) as well as books by Michael Burleigh's "The Third Reich: A New History", Daniel Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners", and Williamson Murray and Allan Millet's "A War To Be Won", the field of investigation is hardly complete.
Indeed, given the fact that the integration of all the relevant information concerning the war remains such a daunting task based on its size, complexity, and the fact that it is found in a plethora of languages and dialects, one has to admire Keegan's admission that his own work as well as that by notable others such as Sir Martin Gilbert, Gerhard Weinberg's mammoth "A World At Arms" (my own personal favorite) do not represent anything close to definitive histories of the Second World War. Instead, he insists with both energy and enthusiasm that such a definitive work is yet to be written. Moreover, as anyone familiar with works ranging from Hugh Trevor-Roper's early masterpiece on Hitler's final days in the Berlin bunker to the recent short overview by Richard Overy (see his wonderful short essay and overview in "The Origins Of The Second World War"), arguments regarding the etiology and progress of that war are hardly settled beyond the point of argument or discussion. So while one might think that some half century after the fact the dust of truth would have settled over the subject, Keegan insists the quite the opposite is the case.
In my opinion, this book is an essential read for anyone who seriously attempts to study the most amazing string of historical events we now refer to as comprising World War Two. Keegan threads his way through a pile of titles, many of which the serious student of 20th century history will be familiar with, but also including a number of titles I am now scurrying to find or order in order to further my understanding of this endlessly fascinating time period. By the way, by providing such an authoritative survey of all these works, he of necessity must provide a kind of unifying narrative that amounts to one of the most concise and immensely readable histories of the war I have yet seen, including all of Professor Keegan's other works. This may not be the first book on WWII you want to order, and in fact few of us finding this book would expect to approach it as anything like a comprehensive history. But it is at once both an engaging and entertaining read as well as an intelligent guide through the virtual briar patch of the hundreds and hundreds of titles still in print on the subject of the single most important historical event of the 20th century. I highly recommend this book. Enjoy!