on 5 December 1997
Gerhard Weinberg's A World at Arms is a must possession for every World War 2 buff. Even as a reference work never read continuously its beautifully complete index will page you in on every significant event in a conflict that Weinberg sees and treats as a storm that enveloped every country in the world; even Uruguay and Mexico are indexed.
After I had begun the book, some confusion that arose from viewing a documentary about the battle of Leyte Gulf was promptly cleared up by reading Weinberg's account with the relevant maps. I have been waiting for this book for a long time and recommend it highly for those readers whose sophistication about these events demands references when they read that Douglas McArthur received a great deal of money from Filipino President Manuel Quezon when they departed for safety on 11 March 1942. This is not a book for those who want a quickly readable survey of American involvement in the conflict.
Details is what this book is about--stupendously documented details, mainly to do with shifting alliances within the Axis and Allied responses; there are, for example, eight indexed references to Sir John Dill, the man who more than any other was responsible for smoothing out the prickles in the Anglo-American alliance. Details, however, do not always make for easy reading. An academic historian whose expertise stems from his intimate knowledge of the relevant documentary archives, Weinberg writes academic prose. Few of his sentences would pass the Fleischman criteria for readibility. Even a reader used to this kind of prose will find that one sentence in ten requires re-reading. And sometimes we wish that the author had chosen a different way of putting his point. And the publisher could have seen to it that the maps in the appendix of such an important book were of a quality equal to the thought behind this great work. Nonetheless, any complaints here are mere quibbles; @ 3 cents per page this book is a bargain by any one's accounting. Thank you Dr. Weinberg and Cambridge University Press!
on 13 June 2004
"A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II," is a historical masterpiece. Hats off to Author Gerjard L. Weinberg for maintaining a high degree of objectivity and not waving any partisan flags. All serious students of World War II "must" study this comprehensive work. To this end, the preface, body, conclusion, notes, maps and index are outstanding.
This heavy-weight Cambridge Univeristy Press book (1,178 pages) belongs in every library. Moreover, the author must be commended for starting this book when his wife (who urged him to continue) was already fighting cancer. A battle she eventually lost. Weinberg brings a compelling focus to World War II that few historians can match (particularly with the German/Soviet Union confrontation)...I for one am grateful for his dedication.
I first read this book nearly ten years ago...and now realize just how great this man's vision extends. Weinberg is truly a remarkable historian. Highly recommended for those who want the truth about World War II.
on 18 June 1998
A World at Arms is the best single-volume history of WWII I've read. The book's strengths are in analyzing the global strategy (or lack thereof) of the various participants and the interrelationship of various theaters. Weinberg does a great job of weaving developments on obscure fronts (Finland, Sub-Saharan Africa, India) and the behavior of neutrals (Sweden, Turkey, Portugal) into the general narrative. He is particularly good on Soviet-Japanese relations and his use of Japanese diplomatic sources commenting on the war in Europe is fascinating.
In general the tone is dispassionate, although there are occasional flashes of well-deserved scorn for the Axis and their apologists. Once Weinberg has made such a point, however, he often can't resist making it again and again. For example, he repeatedly derides the supposed "success" of Germany's aerial rearmament in the 1930s, by pointing out that Germany was eventually bombed to bits--a marginal argument and not one that needs to be repeated in each summary of developments in the air war.
The book sticks mostly to grand strategy and doesn't try to recreate the experience of the war, either on the battlefield or the home front. It also eschews biographical sketches of the major figures, perhaps assuming that they are already sufficiently familiar. Use of memorable quotations (such as Churchill's matchless oratory) would have lent more color and spark to the narrative.
My biggest quibble with the book is maps. The publisher has generally produced a very handsome volume, but the maps are tucked into the back rather than interspersed with the text. Moreover, they are few in number, difficult to read, and lacking in detail.
Nevertheless, the book is an excellent introduction to the subject as well as a valuable synthesis of recent research.