Concise and enjoyable account of the major players in WW2. An excellent introduction to the period and subjects, although people who have read a lot on the subject may not find anything new here. That said, the book is written by one of the great historians of the 20th century and should be of interest for that fact alone.
This was originally a series of short lectures for TV - things were different in the 70s! - about the main national leaders in WWII. Taylor tries to see everybody's point of view, including the Axis leaders; he was no advocate of the theory that Hitler was some kind of demonic genius, and the way he presents Japan's conduct it seems almost reasonable. The most favourable of the portraits though is Stalin's, described as 'most effective of the war lords'. He is given most of the credit for Russia's defeat of Germany, and presented as an honest, almost affable figure. Again, changing times: you can't imagine any reputable historian being as positive about Stalin now. Actually he made many colossal mistakes (which Taylor may not have been fully aware of). If he had been in charge of Britain instead of Russia - which with its huge territory and population had a much greater margin for error - the war might well have ended in 1940 in Hitler's favour.
Roosevelt on the other hand - whilst Taylor notes his 'great power of accepting responsibility' - is gently ribbed for his naivety, particularly in thinking that after the war America would police the world. Yet in the long run that's pretty much what has happened; and it now looks a lot less naïve than believing the world could be policed by a United Nations lacking any power of its own.
For what it's worth, though, surely Churchill deserves to be considered the greatest of them. He alone recognised that, beyond simple national interests, there was a duty to protect the world from fascism; he had far less to work with than Roosevelt or Stalin; but he achieved most of his aims, and without a British holocaust such as there had been in the First War. But as a Tory he will have been less congenial to Taylor.
Not a history of the war - actually more like the premise for a TV drama or a boardgame - this is an interesting read. Taylor's powers of understanding and exposition were of a far higher order than popular historians today; and he doesn't treat his audience like idiots. This version does not reproduce the many photographs included in the original edition, which diminishes its value quite a bit.Read more ›
This is very enjoyable. The piece on Stalin being particularly interesting. There are a few typos though. The most amusing being at the end of the Stalin section where the second world war is called the scrotal world war!