12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 19 October 1998
It was surely the most significant period in modern history and to tackle such a subject, to try and put across its full significance, a monumental task. John Keegan's fascinating book not only manages this but more impressively presents it in such a fashion that it keeps the reader riveted whether he be exposing the political malfeasance and crulety of the Third Reich or the ruthless battle tactics of the Red Army. Keegan has broken the story of the war into three main portions: the wars in the East, West and Pacific, each in itself in two parts. This enables the reader to be led chronologically through the War itself as it developed throughout the world, spreading like a cancer. The real sense of this escalation is one of the book's strongest features. One can almost 'feel' the growing crisis afflicting our entire planet and the scale of the conflict is simply stunning. The focus on the battle in the Pacific was a particular revelation to this reader as Keegan explains how Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbour effectively committed Hitler to declaring war on America, something he had avoided at all costs up to that point. It is difficult to do justice to the entire volume in the space of this short review but a particular fact that stuck in my mind was that the German U-boat crews, despite their infamous reputations, had the highest casualty rates suffered by any arm of service in the navy, army or air force of any combatant country. Furthermore, the photographs included are often breathtaking (of particular note is one of a horrific Bergen-Belsen mass grave and another astonishing shot of a B-52 bomber with a tail wing cleanly broken off by one of the bombs dropped by its companion craft flying above it). In summary, if you wish to read a full history of this most fascinating and tragic period of our history, presented in a logical and gripping fashion, John Keegan's book can not be bettered in terms of detail and insight.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2011
Comprehensive in scope, if not detail, and very readable. Great narrative energy. Necessarily for a one-volume history of WW2, some battles are dealt with abruptly, so any serious student of the war may be disappointed. But for an overview of 6 years of intensive war, crammed into 600 pages, it is an admirable work.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2008
The thing to remember first and foremost with these books is that it's a memoir. If you are looking for a balanced overview of the events of World War II this book is not for you. It's written from his point of view based on what he did at the time. His correspondence form the backbone of the narrative. As a result, other interpretations of events are not featured in the story and it is told from a very British angle.
That said, what a story! Volume One deals with the inter-war years. He describes the rise of fascism in what would become the axis countries and the rise of pacifism/neutralism in what would become the Allies. At times it's a bit I-told-you-so but he did tell-us-so so I guess that's his perogative. This takes us up to him becoming Prime Minister with Britain in its darkest hour.
From then on the volumes describe the prosecution of the war. The fact that it's written from his point-of-view, although the books biggest drawback, is also its biggest strength. The events are told plainly and in these parts the scenes leap from the pages. When he talks about his letters to Mussolini and Matsuoka; his meetings with Stalin, Roosevelt and Truman: the series of conferences between the war-leaders, we realise that there is only one man that could write like this. It's Churchill at his best.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2002
Anyone wanting to find a concise overview of World War II that puts every major event into an overall context should look no further. This book is an astonishingly complete account of the hostilities from start to finish. Every significant battle is included together with an incisive summary of why it was important or memorable. The deep knowledge of his subject demonstrated by the author is complemented by a lucid and engaging style. Keegan manages to combine an economy of words with a depth of insight that conveys information without sentimentality or detachment. As a result the facts speak for themselves, often with a devestating effect. Where Keegan provides deeper analysis, his arguements are structured with precision and clarity. You immediately sense that the more detailed observations provided are not one man's subjective view but the result of academic study across a wide range of other accounts. What Keegan has managed to pack into a book of such size is as remarkable as the events he describes. Any serious student of 20th Century warfare should read this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2012
John Keegan's 'The Second World War' is the pre-eminent military history of the war that, for better or ill, shaped our times. Written in a concise and innovative style, the book is an essential starting-point in understanding the military (and some of the political, diplomatic and socio-economic) aspects of the conflict. The strategic points of view of each of the combatants are studied in some detail and the analysis of key battles and campaigns is incomparable.
One of the things I like about this book is that it serves a dual purpose for the reader and researcher. It's compact enough to be read cover-to-cover, if you like, but at the same time it is also worthy as an authoritative reference that you can dip into from time-to-time for key facts and for insights that you will find nowhere else.
The Second World War still casts a shadow over our society and, even today, discussion of the subject has the power to incite great emotion. Keegan's perspective is uncontroversial and conventional. He delivers his subject in an academic but accessible prose that only serves to underline the disturbing picture presented. This was a world literally gone mad. Here was a brutal war waged by four ruthless political leaders in which up to fifty million souls would perish. Usually the passage of time serves to afford the comfort of distance, and with it, a greater objectivity, and that is indeed the case with these events. Yet Keegan's calm, relentless understatement is akin to a quiet hymn and as we read, our fear, shock, astonishment and incredulity at the cruelty and inhumanity of these events grows.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 June 1999
As a student of the Second World War, and of history in general, it is indeed a rare and wonderful thing to find an author as gifted as John Keegan.
The formula of the book is simple. Keegan offers well rounded narratives, pausing in between to describe particular battles that made the Second World War unlike any other armed conflict before. He doesn't bore the casual reader with a littany of dates and places, but also offers the serious student enough to grapple with. Above all, this is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about the conflict that changed our world.
Keegan encourages the more interested reader to learn more; he offers an excellent bibliography for those who wish to further their studies.
For those who wish to read this book in a more casual manner, do not fear. This book is surprisingly readable and paints a picture of the war that virtually anyone can enjoy and find compelling.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2001
Quite different in style and structure from the companion book "The First World War". I found it somewhat turgid, and under enthralling. Clearly well written, researched and presented. I think this author assumes too much of a grasp of miliary theory, and I agree with the point about the maps - explaining a complex battle suitation in text just doesnt do it unless you can see it visually. One of the problems of this kind of book is perspective. I think a chronological order is good, but tends to view from a number of different angles. Therefore, to view it from the belligerents point of view is somewhat difficult. Again, whilst blow-by-blow accounts are shown, does not really get under the skin and weigh up priorities, balances, points of views, importance of theatres etc. For example, it doesnt explain how important North Africa or Singapore was to Churchill. Still, criticisms aside, a good book.
on 8 August 2001
This is a solid introduction to the subject, packed with detail, well-researched and enjoyable to read. The focus of the book is on the military details - manoeuvres, weapons, etc. I would have preferred more discussion of the political, social, historical and cultural context of the war (although the economic context is covered quite well) and a little less technical military detail. A few light criticisms: The book would have benefited from more maps, as there is a great deal of discussion of geographic positions and operational manoeuvres, and there are only a few simple maps in the book. There are also a number of appalling typos. Overall, well worth a read, although I have to believe there are other better general introductions to WWII available.
on 25 December 2013
This book is well written, I have other work by John Keegan and in my opinion he does a good job. Not just the facts, but you get an idea how it must have been for the people involved. I'll give it a couple of years and then read this again.
on 28 May 2013
At the moment I received it, I was really shocked. Don't worry. I mean it is really amazing. The books look just like the new ones. No impairment occurs and the package is really nice.