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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!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 October 2008
I came to this book having read superficially about various aspects of WWII, which are staples to the British persepective, and which I have since come to see as semi-mythological. Battle of Britain, D-Day, El-Alemain, etc.

This book went on to provide me with the foundational big picture of the war, giving me the top-level of full political and strategic detail. Details of which I had no idea before, like the allegiances and fortunes of the various eastern European states, wider aspects of the colonial struggle in Africa, America's commitment to the struggle in China, the intricacies of the Pacific theatre and so on.

When I came to the end it included the realisation of what a relatively minor, if critical, role Britain had played and how provincially anglocentric my previous perceptions had been. I also came to appreciate that Britain's sufferings were relatively minor too.

I have watched the BBC's excellent The World At War - Complete TV Series (11 Disc Box Set) both before and after reading this book. I realised in the latter viewing to what extent my eyes had glazed over with relative incomprehension at the parts outside the standard British mythology, in my earlier viewing. Having read this book I was able to appreciate the extent to which the TV series was trying to educate us to the bigger picture. However the big picture provided by this book is to a much greater level of detail than that provided by the TV series.

I actually read this book twice, in farly rapid succession, to further nail down this foundation of my understanding. I would guess this would be about 10 years ago.

Since then I've gone on to read quite a bit more WWII history. One of the greatest reading experiences of my life was the six volumes of Churchill's war diaries The Second World War, 6 Volume Set. These are primary historical sources of course and must be read with great circumspection, but even if they were outright fiction, as some people appear anxious to believe, they would still qualify as first class literature. If I had not had Weinberg's history under my belt I don't think I would have got as much depth from the Churchill.

More recently I've gone on to read Norman Davies Europe at War 1939-1945: No Simple Victory, which has gone on to make explicit what I was coming to realise from my own reading, that the top level story of the war as we in the West understand it is still heavily mythologised, and that the story needs to be rewritten if it is to be representative of the persepectives of all participants. In particular Russia and Eastern Europe where by far most of the tragedy and drama played out, but are still made to seem a relative sideshow in the current 'classical' account. Nothing in the Weinberg account is wrong as such, it's just that if you start factoring in the numbers of casualties to that account, a whole new emphasis emerges that makes the standard western interpretation appear skewed.

In summary, I would recommend this as the best one-volume, big-picture account of WWII for someone who wants to get serious about the full history of the conflict, and who intends to go on to further reading about more specific aspects.

However, to a young person wanting to begin their understanding from a more distant generational perspective, I would ask them to read the Norman Davies first. This is because I believe and hope that it is the beginning of a new account of the war which must be developed and grown, if full justice is to be done to those caught up and destroyed in it, and if all the lessons for all participants are to be learned. Should this take place then there will be a need for a new book to replace Weinberg's to tell the same story, to the same level of detail, but with adjusted perspectives. Until that time Weinberg's serves its particular purpose magnificently.
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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.
Bert Ruiz
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VINE VOICEon 13 June 2010
brilliant book that you should have to hand for overview reading. brilliantly written and accessible. highly recommend but this is no small book as you would expect
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on 26 October 2015
Well what can I say, probably one of the best works on WW2 ever written. It really is quite a tome, but essential reading for any one with a desire to KNOW about WW2.
My copy was a total bargain price too!
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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.
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on 4 July 2015
monumental work
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