251 of 268 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A panoramic tale of woe and triumph from a master historian
The sheer immensity of the Second World War is even now, after more ink has been spilt on it than on almost any other event in history, almost impossible to grasp. The war affected countless people in every conceivable small and big way, it changed the fate of innumerable nations and set the tone for issues with which we are still grappling, and it showcased the very best...
Published 18 months ago by A. Jogalekar
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars going against the crowd
I was starting to think that i was the only person who did not think this book was on the same level as Antony Beevors earlier ones on Salingrad and Berlin . He seems to have totally dismissed any suffering that Britain went through either civilian or military ,and in some parts it was like a Hollywood film script on how America had won the war.The subject of the book is...
Published 16 months ago by andy
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251 of 268 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A panoramic tale of woe and triumph from a master historian,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)The sheer immensity of the Second World War is even now, after more ink has been spilt on it than on almost any other event in history, almost impossible to grasp. The war affected countless people in every conceivable small and big way, it changed the fate of innumerable nations and set the tone for issues with which we are still grappling, and it showcased the very best and very worst in human nature. Very few historians are capable of capturing this epic panorama of tragedy and triumph on paper. Happily for us, Antony Beevor is one of those chosen few who can. In the past few decades he has established himself as a war historian of the first rank. This volume can be seen as the culmination of a stellar career during which he has introduced us to the very nature of war and its human elements. Beevor's sweeping, magisterial account of this great conflict excels in three ways that are characteristic of his past scholarship on D-Day, Stalingrad and Berlin.
Firstly, Beevor delivers the raw strategic and historical facts with a relentless, crisp pace, covering all major events, participants and theaters of war. The history is informed by a treasure trove of material cited in the notes, including personal sources such as the invaluable diary of Soviet correspondent Vasily Grossman. There are 50 chapters and the title of each chapter describes the one or two key events narrated in it. The brevity of the chapters makes the book accessible and great for bedtime reading. A particular skill of Beevor's is in condensing the most important information in relatively brief paragraphs. Rather than provide separate extended quotes from the prime participants, he excerpts these quotes within the paragraphs. Even a book that is 800 pages long cannot possibly spend too much time on every single event; Beevor understands this and is remarkably facile at saying much in a minimum number of words. It's also worth comparing this volume with the acclaimed recent book by Max Hastings. Hastings's is more of an on-the-ground perspective detailing the travails and triumphs of ordinary people. Beevor's is a higher-level account that nonetheless includes enough personal details to bring out the brutality of the war. Both are outstanding.
Unlike many other works, Beevor begins his story not with the traditional German invasion of Poland in 1939 but with the Soviet defeat of the Japanese in Manchuria one month earlier. In fact one of the major strengths of the book that sets it apart from many other volumes is its constant focus on the conflict in the Far East between Japan, China and the Soviet Union whose origins preceded European events. This theme surfaces regularly in the book as it should since the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, as exemplified by the horrific Rape of Nanking, was as momentous for the future of the war as anything else. Along the same lines, while Beevor does cover major battles in Europe and the Pacific like the Battle of Britain, France, El Alamein, Stalingrad, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Italy, Midway and the U-Boat conflict with verve and clarity, he also has separate detailed chapters on (relatively) minor but still key war zones like Egypt, Greece and Burma. An especially rousing story is of the small Finnish army virtually demolishing the overwhelmingly large Soviet forces at the start of the war through guerrilla warfare. Large, clear maps displaying movements and sites of major battles accompany every account. Descriptions of weapons systems, code-breaking and terrain-specific equipment all benefit from Beevor's concise style. In chapters on the Holocaust and Soviet purges, he chillingly documents the incalculably horrific crimes of the twentieth century's two genocidal tyrants, Hitler and Stalin, even as he does not fail to detail their shrewd genius in manipulating human beings and events. Stalin especially clearly comes across as an egomaniacal but calculating strategist who ensured his share of the postwar spoils during meetings with Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta, Tehran and Potsdam.
Secondly, just as he did in past works, Beevor is remarkable at documenting the human element in the war in all its terrifying cruelty and redeeming glory. All the horrors of the war are on full display here; the NKVD murdering its own people by the hundreds of thousands, the Japanese mutilating Chinese women with bayonets, the cold killing soldiers so swiftly that they resembled grotesque ice sculptures, the citizens of Leningrad eating their own children in the face of desperate starvation and madness, Russian soldiers raping every female between eight and eighty after "liberating" Berlin, and of course, the systematic, industrialized mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. A particularly disturbing and startling fact which I was not aware of concerns horrible experiments with biological agents performed on American POWs by Japanese doctors, often with fatal results. The disturbing thing is that Douglas MacArthur granted immunity from prosecution to these doctors in the hope that they would provide detailed records to the Allies. This story only drives home the fact that the war which Beevor writes of was unimaginably horrific and blurred moral boundaries, and particularly because it is unimaginably so, the passage of time should never blind us to it. While many deeds in the war were undoubtedly immoral, ambiguous morality was also a constant theme, whether it concerned MacArthur's behavior or the strategic bombing of German cities. We are still debating these issues.
But there are also acts of incredible altruism described in here; ordinary Germans sacrificing themselves to protect Jews, hopelessly outnumbered Jews rising against monstrous despots (as in the Warsaw uprising), and people transcending religion, class and political sentiments to save the lives of total strangers. These accounts are accompanied by characteristically vivid - and at times amusing - character sketches which concisely showcase the essential qualities of major participants; for instance, Chamberlain is out of depth with his "winged collar, Edwardian mustache and rolled umbrella". All major human alliances, including the famously successful relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt, are chronicled with wit, compassion and insight. Another of Beevor's talents is in conveying the sheer absurdity and surreal nature of war; for example there's Hermann Goering complaining about the price of shattered glass panes during Kristallnacht, and the French gingerly broadcasting a song named "I will wait" even as German forces amassed across the border in plain sight in 1940. Most emblematic of how downright bizarre war can be is the story of a Korean private named Yang Kyoungjong who was captured and conscripted successively by the Japanese, the Soviets and the Germans.
Finally, Beevor does a stunning job at giving us an idea of the sheer irrationality and utterly brutalizing nature of war and how it changes everyone and everything. Fifty or sixty years after the fact, the Second World War appears like a series of rationally organized if tragic incidents culminating in the victory of good over evil. It's accounts like this that dispel that illusion and tell us that so many events were just based on good or bad luck. But in concluding this magisterial narrative, Beevor leaves us with the caveat that in the irrationality of war lies hope, the possibility that things could have been different had people acted just a little differently. In case of the Second World War that would have translated to France, Britain and the United States recognizing Hitler's ominous and growing power in the 30s and banding together to stop him. Of course it is convenient to conclude this in hindsight, but it still makes a case for always being alert in recognizing the wrong turns that human nature can take. Indeed, Beevor reminds us in the end that "moral choice is the fundamental element in human drama, because it lies at the very heart of humanity itself". This is a lesson we should remember until the end of time.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Second World War by Antony Beevor,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)The Second World War by Antony Beevor is a well written book on an epic conflict on a global scale and a highly documented subject.
To take on a subject as complex and as multi-faceted as the second World War and still keep the narrative interesting would be a challenge to any author and yet Antony Beevor manages to do this in the books 879 pages.
The book deals with the all aspects of the War from the European and Pacific Theatres and their decisive battles and campaigns to the less well known ones such as those in North Africa, Burma and the campaigns in the Mediterranean region.
I also liked the way the book deals with not just the Major characters in the War such as Churchill, Hitler, Stalin etc... but also the perspective of ordinary soldiers on both sides and also the innocent civilians who got caught up in the conflict.
I first heard about the book through BBC History magazines Podcast where the Author Antony Beevor was interviewed and some aspects of his book and his approach to the material were discussed and it pricked my curiosity.
Needless to say the book is a compulsive read by an engaging author. I highly recommed it to those interested in the History of the World War Two and History lovers in general.
72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars accessible yet horrifying single volume history of WWII,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)This is a superbly written, and very readable, account which covers the global sweep of the Second World War, with clear explanation of the factors which drove events at the time, as well as excellent narrations of the events themselves. There is also a strong human dimension in the writing - the motivations of the key players and the effects of war on the lives of combatants and civilians is recounted superbly, often in the words of those who were there.
Antony Beevor's magisterial, and superbly researched, history is not biased towards coverage of a particular geographical region or country. This history explains the events of the war in each of the main, and many of the smaller, theatres of war; there is much here for, example, about the events in Asia, as well as the war in Western and Eastern Europe. As a general reader i found much that was new to me, and many fresh insights into the events of which I already had fairly good knowledge
Beevor makes clear the horror of war, and its appalling human cost, whilst providing a highly informative, beautifully illustrated and very readable narrative.
75 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written tale but is material too familiar?,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)There is already a much more erudite and in depth review of the book above so all I can add are my impressions of it which may be of value to you.
Whilst I eagerly devour just about anything written about WWII I was particularly looking forward to this all encompassing book on the war. I am probably in the majority in that I have just finished Max Hastings' similar effort before tackling this and I have to say that this book is a much more - the only word I can think of is - entertaining read. It is truly a delight and I have finished it in a two day readathon. This has NOT been time wasted. I have one, probably obvious, caveat in that similarly to Mr Beevor's last book on D-Day there is not much new on display here. This could have been a problem had not well known events take on new resonance with the author's brisk and incisive style. For me this style still didn't make "D-Day" the great book it promised to be but it would appear that there is enough room when writing about the war as a whole to find nuggets that keep the pace going to the end.
All in all this book created a dilemma for me because in some eyes a 5 star review should be reserved for uncondtionally great books, and because this book largely goes over old ground perhaps it cannot be deemed "great" in that sense but I have looked at Amazon's "rules" and apparently a five star review should be reserved for a book one has "loved" and i loved this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Monumental , sound and sobering,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)Anthony Beevor's book provides an excellent and often compassionate account of this most appalling human tragedy. It is written in his well established authorative yet readable style. I am not an historian as such but as far as I can tell, from other books I have consulted, Beevor has successfully brought together the account of this event and clearly demonstrates why WWII still casts the long shadow across generations like mine, fortunate enough not to have experience of it at first hand. I have been a little surprised that some celebrated episodes are not referred to even in passing, but I accept that in a single volume like this, some events may have played a rather minor part in WWII as a whole. It is a harrowing account and one wonders how anyone who lived through the Second World War would not be altered and conditioned by it. The brutality of it as described here is at times utterly distressing.
The book suffers from a deficiency in maps (there are a few but they are not the best). A work like this could do with a supporting website to provide clearer and more detailed cartography, or failing that, at least perhaps a recommended war atlas to provide locations and campaigns that formed the contexts of the war, and the chapters of this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed 'tour de force' by one of the UK's top historians,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)A superior detailed analysis of the 20th century's greatest conflict. Gives equal prominence to events in the Far East/Pacific theatre and the huge loss of life there. (Indeed the narrative begins with the Japanese seizure of Manchuria and clashes between the Japanese and Red Army in the years leading up to 1939 .) At over 800 pages, no sentence is wasted - each paragraph a wealth of detail . Presentation is important to me and this book is beautifully presented in hard back, its over 800 pages printed on white paper slightly thicker than that found in traditional bibles in order to keep the size and weight down.Indeed the bibliography appears on the author's website, presumably for the same reason. Lavishly illustrated with b/w photos and useful maps at endpapers . Make sure you buy the hardback version while it is half price on Amazon. You'll be delighted with your purchase !
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History For Humans,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)Beevor as usual presents an account of the most devastating War in History with a mixture of accuracy, engaging narrative and splashes of black humour in those dark events which compels one to read on , he links the Geo-Politics , overall Strategies and grass roots humanities/ inhumanities of the peoples involved and illuminates those times. If we can take lessons I hope we shall .
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Second World War,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)This is an exceptional book. I lived through the Second World War and remember much of what we experienced and what was on the BBC news but this book fills in the gaps in a very complete and readable way. Antony Beevor has a gift for taking dry facts and bringing them to life with anecdotes and quotations which are relevant, accurate and helpful. It's a big book - 783 pages - but the story unfolds in such a vivid way that I just kept on reading. For anyone interested in this period of history, this is a must.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A World at War,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)Beevor had already made his reputation as a leading historian with his books on Berlin, Stalingrad, Crete and Paris;this book enhances his reputation.
In terms of the number killed as a proportion of the population the second world war was not the most bloody, the Thirty Years War, for example, was far worse.
Nevertheless, 70m dead make it the deadliest war ever to date. Only a nuclear war is ever likely to cause more death and destruction. It is worth remembering that some 60m of the dead were civilians.
China lost around 15m, the Soviet Union 27m, and Germany lost 31% of her army.The Jews, we must never forget, lost a minimum of 7m in the ovens of German camps.
It has been estimated that approximately 28-30000 people were killed every day between 1940 and 1945.
A recent book by Max Hastings: 'All Hell Let Loose', brilliantly dissected the war exposing the good and the bad deeds of all the combatants. It is a tour de force as were his earlier books 'Nemesis' and 'Armageddon'. Beevor's book is not based on anything like the number of primary sources as Hastings' work. It is in many ways a good old fashioned military history book, and none the worse for that. Beevor is right to give space to China and her savage war against the barbaric Japanese although he is not the first to do so. His denunciation of the strategic bombing campaign is weak and misplaced. One wonders if he is aware of recent research on this issue.
Beevor's descriptions of the horrors on the Eastern front are, of course, familiar to readers of his earlier works.
Both Hastings' and Beevor's books should be required reading by all interested in the second world war. Different in many ways they provide a useful balanced approach to the conflict. For example,Hastings outguns him with ease when writing about operations in the Pacific. On the other hand, Beevor has a better grasp of the major land battles. This reviewer finds Hastings' (a superb journalist) style much easier and satisfying to get to grips with. It is regrettable that a number of British academic historians look down their noses at the mention of any work by Hastings simply because he is a trained journalist. If only these same people could one day write history that is capable of being understood.
We need both Hastings and Beevor to enlighten us about the past.
This is not Beevor's best book by a long way but it is still superb.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful and cinematic yet also personal and revealing,
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)Anthony Beevor's sweeping, colossal account of the disaster that was The Second World War is given a near-cinematic touch in this grand narrative history. While no individual book can hope to be all-encompassing on any single subject, especially one as multi-layered as WWII, Beevor presents what may be the definitive single volume account of the most destructive conflict in human history.
All the familiar bases are touched upon yet such is Beevor's skill as both researcher and writer, that he brings something fresh to each chapter. Yes, he does reuse small parts of his previous books but then, if you have already written superb histories of individual battles, why rewrite what was already excellent in the first place. Unfamiliar facets are also brought to light, for me at least, such as the conflict betwixt Japan & Russia on the Chinese mainland.
As with his previous books, what breathes life in to what could be dry military history is the personal anecdote, that really brings out the human dimension in these titanic struggles - the plight of refugees uprooted from their homelands, attempting to escape being literally crushed by a vast incoming army, or the fear of trapped civilians, waiting for one army and then another to destroy their historic towns.
If there was any one criticism to make of this book, it is that, like a great meal, there is perhaps just too much to digest and that could make it potentially off-putting for some. That said, certain readers will devour this book from end to end, while others may wish to dip in to this a chapter at a time. Regardless, Anthony Beevor has written such a rich and evocative account of this terrible war that it is impossible not to be touched by the sorrow, chaos, bravery, humanity and savagery that he illustrates in this masterful history.
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The Second World War by Antony Beevor (Hardcover - 7 Jun 2012)