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262 of 268 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does he ever write a bad book?
I must confess I have read all of Mr Hastings past offerings concerning the Second World War, finding him to be consistently informative about the conflict that never ends - in publisher's eyes at least. In many ways a Hastings book is like your favourite grey cardigan, you slip it on, finding its feel both reassuring and comfy i.e you know what you will get. It is the...
Published on 16 Oct. 2011 by Bobby Smith

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good that Mr H is looking at a different war
What to say about this offering from Mr Hastings.

A weighty tome this purports to be a full history of the experience of WW2 (this was my first kindle download as it was just too heavy to commute with!).

In his preface the author mentions that he will not plagiarise his own work and write about issues he has covered in depth elswhere. All vary proper...
Published on 19 Mar. 2013 by Gleddings monkey


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The worst of times revisited, 11 Mar. 2012
By 
Aidan J. McQuade (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
With this book, Max Hastings has completed a body of work on the Second World War comparable to Shelby Foote's magisterial history of the American Civil War. This book fills some of the gaps in the history of the war not covered by his more detailed studies (Overlord on the battle for Normandy; Armageddon on the last year of the war in Europe; Nemesis on the last year of the war in the Pacific; Warlord, his study of Churchill's war leadership; and Bomber Command). So there is greater consideration here of, for example, the invasion of Poland, the war in the Mediterranian, the major naval campaigns such as the Battle of the Atlantic and the Artic Convoys, and amongst the most chilling chapters, a discussion on the war in the Balkans. Naturally, however the discussion of the war's final campaigns are more cursory here given Hasting's other writings.

One of the things about Hastings work that is so delightful is that even if one is familiar with much of the narrative of the events he will often bring new detail or insight to the discussion. This book does not disappoint in this regard: the retreat from Stalingrad, for example, is told principally from an Italian perspective; and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is discussed through the idea of "technological determinism" which Hastings sees as shaping key aspects of the Allied campaign, particularly the B29 bomber offensive on Japan. By this he means that when a military capacity exists there can become an overwhelming motivation to use it irrespective of the strategic value: it is an idea that also helps illuminates the dynamics behind some questionable dashes into war, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Overall the work is pervaded with a great sense of humanity and of the pity of war. There is also a great fairmindedness to Hastings writing, acknowledging, given the comparable horror of both Soviet and Nazi tyrannies, that for many eastern Europeans the war never could appear the clear cut battle between good and evil it has become in Anglo-American mythology. Hastings also points out how that Anglo-American myth must take some tarnishing given Britian's role in the Indian wartime famine, the Anglo-American betrayal of Poland, and some of the needless blood shed by the Allies in the Pacific.

Overall a great work of narrative history, elegantly written with a seeming effortlessness that belies the great learning it contains.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing single volume on the second world war, 21 Jan. 2012
This review is from: All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
For a while now I've been averaging about one book every ten days, yet here we are three weeks into January and I've only just finished my first book of 2012. The reason for that is that Max Hasting's monumental volume on the second world war, All Hell Let Loose, is 748 pages long so it's like reading three books!

The volume of literature on the last great war is immense, the bibliography to this book is enormous and so it's hard to say where this single volume work ranks. I also haven't read many other books so have little to compare it with, but I'm not sure I need to read another.

This book manages something remarkable, it conveys the great sweep of the war, the many differing timelines and events and yet manages to convey what the war was like. This is because the perspective is not that of a Churchill or a Roosevelt, for they are minor characters but having drawn from a myraid of letters, diaries and reports shares what war was like for those most affected by it, mothers, soldiers, sons.

The second world war really was global and immense, the numbers are staggering and hard to comprehend and this book both shattered illusions and educated. I learnt of the 15 million Chinese who died and the Bengal famine which saw nearly two million Indians starve, I learnt that the British army rarely if ever crowned itself in glory and learned how the great powers utterly shafted, screwed and ignored the nation of Poland from first to last.

That more Russians soldiers were shot by the Russians than British soldiers were sot by the Germans, that more Russians (civilians and soldiers) died at the battle of Leninggrad than the Americans and British armies combined for the whole war. The numbers are staggering, nearly 60 million people were killed in just six years.

No nation covers itself in glory during war, combatants and neutrals alike. Switzerland, Ireland and Sweden can hardly be proud of their neutrality. France has much to be ashamed of, and there were enough incidents for to prevent Britain and America from too much hubris. America became a great power as a result of this war, the only nation to emerge vastly richer and more powerful while all it's rivals lay exhausted and in ruins.

Of the three great powers, Britain stood up to the war when all others didn't. France defeated, America abstained and Russia was an ally to Hitler. Britain really did stand very much alone but too weak to win the war on its own. America paid for the victory. It's vast industrial might provided for all and proved far too much for anyone else to emerge victorious. Russian on the other hand clearly died for the war. 25 million Russians died, starved, shot, raped and ruined. No country was as willing to sacrifice it's millions more than Stalin and had they not, Hitler would have taken a lot longer to defeat.

Yet all these facts stand alongside countless story of death, rape, mutilation, despair. The sufferings of the Yugoslavs, Poles, Italians, Chinese, Burmese, Malays and of course the Jews throughout mainland Europe and ordinary people everywhere was horrific and shocking and it is these stories that make this book such a masterpiece.

This is quite a phenomenal book and I'm sure, no matter what I read, it will rank near the top of my reading list come December 2012. That's a slightly depressing to think I may have already read the best book of the year but at the same time, what a book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating learning tool, 10 Jan. 2012
By 
Mr. D. Williams (Beverley) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am not a reader, nor am I that well educated. I have in many ways become a member of the 'zombie nation' and can sit and stare through some plasma screen for hours on end. I had to change. In-keeping with my gadget ways I compromised my subliminal mind and opted for a kindle to appease the button pressing and computer screen fix. I searched for my first book. I wanted it to be something that taught me something. Something that was factual that I thought I should know.
'All Hell Let Loose' is my one and only purchase on my kindle and I will not let myself buy another one until it is read.
Not only in the 10% I have read, (yes the kindle tracks your progress in %ages!), am I glued to the way Mr. Hastings makes this so easy to read but I am fascinated by what I am finally, at 35, learning.
The tales of war and written so cleverly you can see the colour of the blood in the pages. Or in the bombings it is as if smoke is coming up from the book and you can taste the dust. Diagrams of war fronts and how the Germans are slowly getting their strangle hold across central Europe lets you see how huge their army was.
Mr. Hastings brings you right back to the action whenever you find yourself drifting away with attentative references from people's diaries and the like, letting you know how things really were.
This book is not just a fine factual world war two coverall but it is an insight in to how people struggled and coped during this horrific time. Highly recommended for all readers.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars factual and crystal clear, 28 Jan. 2012
This review is from: All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
Having lived through the war serving briefly in the Navy towards the end I was always aware that we only knew what we experienced or were told. This book gives a tremendously detailed oversight of the whole war. It deals sympathetically with the main characters without disguising their shortcomings. Few British people have any idea about the scale of the Russian involvement or the American efforts in the Far East. We have reason to be grateful to them both. And we can still hold our heads up high - we did more than our share.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 13 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
I bought this book for my husband as part of his Christmas present in 2011 .
Since he loves reading about the strategy of the war, especially about Winston Churchill I decided to buy it for him after hearing an interview with Max Hastings on the radio. It is about the everyday involvement of the people and the impact on the lives. I thought that my husband would like it and I was right
He says that it is a great read and he finds it difficult to put down.
In his words it is excellent
All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterly summary of a dysfunctional world, 24 Nov. 2011
This review is from: All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
Max Hasting's summary of the second world war is a golden document of great distinction. It is also compulsive reading.
His research has covered a multitude of letters and diaries written by a wide variety of people who became involved.either as armed servicemen or as reporters or sadly, as hapless civilians who were dragged into the melee.

I lived through those years but there was so much I had not understood.
It is possible at this distance of time to be open about failures, either by individuals e.g Stalin or surprisingly Macarthur and including Alexander : even Churchill and Montgommery. But this honesty gives an authority to the story which increases the interest and allows the author to discuss strategy and tactics. Having criticised, however Max Hastings discusses sympathetically all the problems faced by the leaders of the various countrys
The book gives a ring of truth to an appalling seven years. The millions and millions of lost lives make one grieve all over again. It was indeed Hell on earth.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Stuff, 16 Dec. 2011
By 
Marty (Manchester) - See all my reviews
This review is from: All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
Max Hastings writes engagingly and briskly, like the good journalist he is. All Hell Let Loose is a mostly conventional take on WWII but it is well worth a read, as a refreshment course or to fill in the gaps.

There are some sweeping generalisations which might appal old-fashioned academics but one suspects that by and large he gets the emphasis roughly right, stressing the horror of the Eastern Front, the place where the Nazis came to grief - the stats are such that the rest of the War is almost a sideshow.

This is a good book with which to hook teenagers into history; a lively, gung-ho style of writing that somehow celebrates all that is fine about mankind because good wins. And the journalistic prose style lends a light touch to weighty themes well-handled.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Authoritive use of quotes, not so of figures, 28 Jan. 2013
I enjoyed this book as much as I expected, having already read Armageddon a few years ago. It was constructed in the same style and built on the same themes, perhaps with a more judicious wording of some conclusions such as the stress of some importance on the Western Allies' bombing of Germany.

It would perhaps too easy to describe Hastings' style as journalistic given his distinguished career in British newspapers but I think the description serves the right purpose as it suggests reliance on eye-witness accounts and strives to balance the viewpoint of different protogonists while guiding the reader to the writer's conclusions. Hastings, to me, applies the same style as the journalists who covered countless "little" wars from Beirut to Yugoslavia; journalists that he would have commissioned and probably encouraged. He uses the same heady style on the largest-scale war of all time, quoting at length from diaries and letters of a host of junior protoganists from a variety of countries and finds time to describe the views and policies of the great leaders. True to his trade, he does not shy away from offering robust opinions of many of these men; MacArthur arguably comes off worst. In fact it is his opinions that make the book, indeed without them, his narrative could be boiled down to a linkages between series of gripping quotes, a sort of war DJ introducing a series of moving records.
Hastings signalled in his publicity interviews and the book's foreword that he would dedicate sufficient attention to the horrors, scale and criticality of fighting in Russia. Hard to argue with this, given we have all been softened up for this focus by Beevor's work and numerous first hand Axis accounts from Guy Sajer to Curzio Malaparte to Heinz Guderian; we wouldn't have it any other way. But surprisingly he devotes a significant number of pages to the weaknesses in the British army both in absolute terms and relative to other armies and to the other two services. The passion of his views leap off the page as he takes the reader through Dunkirk, Greece, Crete, Singapore, Burma, Tobruk and then the plodding victories of Italy and France. Perhaps he could have found time to discuss the relative merits of the British army and martial spirit in the two world wars (given the sturdiness and pivotal role of the British army in the Great War), and to draw out the conclusion that the reader makes as a byproduct that there was no possibility that the Empire would continue after the military collapse of May 1940 to March 1942. It is a stark conclusion that those two years unravelled centuries of greed, exploitation and bluster.

There are a few things this book is not, and it is worth drawing attention to these:
- The causes and indeed the conclusions get limited attention
- The Second World War is not placed in any set of context of contemporaneous wars such as the Spanish Civil War and the savage Japanese invasion of Manchuria and China. A strange oversight, given the prequel nature of both conflicts.
- He spends little time charting a path through the Allied Summits, the subject of many lengthy books in their own right.
- The Victims chapter describes the suffering of civilians as Hastings tells us that more civilians died than combatants.

However he chooses to make this an aside from the driving narrative of the Allied military slow and torturous path to overcome their initial defeat to overcome the Axis powers. Sideshows that contribute only a little to that are treated as exactly that, irrespective of the scale of human involvement. So he dismisses the horrors of Yugoslavia as a synchronous civil war with little relevance to the bigger picture and consequently he does it the disservice of relying almost exclusively on a single source, Djilas. Conversely he is satisfied with devoting considerable space to the Allied slog up Italy a few hundred miles away which as he admits had little direct consequence on the fall of Hitler. Why the discrepancy? Firstly it serves his central argument about the weak fighting spirit of the Allies, the British in particular, and of course the Allies, not partisans aligned to them were involved.

He (fortunately) spares us the type of military writing of "the 4th cross the xyz river but exposed its right flank to the 9th corps before the 325th could assist"

The biggest weakness of his book is the slapdash use of statistics in the text, not helped by his refusal to reference secondary sources in the notes. The most obvious example is that on p550 we learn that 149,000 German soldiers were trapped in the Courland until 1945, but later on p615 we learn that this number has grown to 200,000.
Less obvious, but more important, is his assertion on p614 that "During the last four months of the war, more Germans perished than in the whole of 1942-43". This eye-catching statement made me pause and perform a rough calculation for the military dead using his earlier figure of an average of 60,0000 dead per month from June 1941 to May 1994 so 1.44 million estimated for 1942 to 1943 vs the sum of the figures he provides on p614 for the first four months of 1945 of roughly 1.3 million dead. I wanted to check up more exactly but because he does not provide his sources I had to assume that he was utilising the work by Dr Overmans (given he quote the same total of German military dead, 5.3 million. Wikipedia tells me that Overmans calculated that the total German military dead in 1942-3 was 1.384 million compared to 1.313 in the last four months. Now I know that Hastings is talking about all Germans, not just military dead but the numbers he quotes on p614 are clearly from Overman's research on military dead. More precision would have been helpful.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Hastings was asked why would historians attempt to write again over such familar ground as World War Two, to which he replied that the writer is always looking for a new angle, to put things in an overall perspective. I think he manages the former to a great extent and the latter to a lesser extent. His writing on the growth of the US economy and it's importance to the Russians is convincing as his fascinating revelations about the deep ambivalence of many parts of the French military to lend assistance to Britain after the June 1940 collapse, the attention he gives to the Italian views of the war including some starkly memorable personal accounts and then his damming verdict on the qualities of the Japanese leadership. But does he get the balance right? On the whole, yes, I think even he fudges many of the conclusions he sets up for himself; his final chapters reminds you of a striker missing the goal after a well signalled build-up and cross. Perhaps he too like all of us is coloured by his own previous work experience and views. Not just in his journalistic style but like many on the British right from the 1960s to 1980s he is damming of the efforts of the previous generation and feels an awstruck admiration of more energetic and technocratic societies such as Germany and America. He wishes to write the obituary of the cocktail of Fabanism and stiff upper lip plodding and amateurism. Understandable, but I just wish he could have paid more attention to his numbers!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coming alive in hell, 14 Jan. 2012
By 
Hande Z (Singapore) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (Hardcover)
William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"'s fiftieth anniversary edition was published in the same year (2011) as Max Hasting's "All Hell Let Loose". Do we need another history book on the Second World War, especially when there have been dozens of them since Shirer? The historian Edward Hallett Carr once wrote that "the specific function of the historian, qua historian, is not to judge but to explain". If we are indeed to seek patterns and explanations, we need statistics and broad accounts of events, but to understand, we need the subjective accounts of men and women who lived through the moment; who could stare statistics in the face and say "I was one of the units. Here is what happened - to me." This lengthy (675 pages) book was written from the perspective of those who had lived through the war. Hastings explained his purpose in his introduction thus: One of the most important truths about the war, as indeed about all human affairs, is that people can interpret what happens to them only in the context of their own circumstances. The fact that, objectively and statistically, the sufferings of some individuals were less terrible than those of others elsewhere in the world was meaningless to those concerned."

Hasting opned his story of the war with its origins in Poland, moving rapidly from describing how in 1939, people in Poland were no sooner enjoying the popularity of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" when the German army, and war descended. The pace of his account was fast and exciting, making William Shirer's book appear ponderous. If we read Shirer, we will find a long account of the rise of Hitler's Third Reich before we reach the moment chosen by Hasting for his opening. This comparison is made with the qualification that the purpose of the two books is different (as Shirer's title will explain), but it is an important comparison to indicate which of the two books one might wish to buy if he has time for only one lengthy book on the Second World War.

Shirer describes events around the key people in the history of the war - Hitler, Goebbels, Rommel, and so on. Hastings speaks through the experiences of the otherwise unknown people who lived and died in that war. Consider his description of the situation in Leningrad: "Most Leningraders, deprived of power, heat, light and employment eked out a hibernatory existence amid mounting snow and rubble; their lives and metabolic processes slowed like the fading of an old clockwork gramaphone. In Svetlana Margaeva's apartment building, an old woman named Kamilla grew steadily more enfeebled, though neighbours burned furniture in her stove to preserve a flicker of life. One morning she suddenly rose from her bed and embarked upon a frenzied search of every cupboard and crevice for food. Frustrated, she took plates and dishes from her cabinet and dropped them one by one on the floor. Then she fell on her hands and knees, searched the fragments for breadcrumbs. Soon afterwards, Kamilla died."

Carr, recognised this approach to history writing, the effort to let facts speak for themselves by the judicious and skilful hand of the historian in summoning those facts and juxtaposing them in the chronological line of what we know as historical time. Before we realise it, we would have reached page 665, intellectually and emotionally exhausted, but in awe of the massive effort of a fine piece of history telling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind blowing..., 3 Aug. 2012
This book is an exceptional piece of work that had me wondering about humanity; brought me close to tears and opened my eyes to what actually happened in the war. It dispells the myth of good versus evil and lays out the millions of deaths and limitless cruelty in all its bear ugliness and does not spare the allies either.

I am a well-educated thirty something with a background in the military and this has completely changed my romanitcised version of the war which I have accrued through countless films and our own national myth.

This is one of those books that comes along every few years and changes your views on history and the world.

Well done Max!
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All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945
All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 by Max Hastings (Hardcover - 29 Sept. 2011)
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