50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
If only history was taught like this in school...,
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This review is from: Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War 1944-45 (Hardcover)
James Holland's generosity of spirit and indefatiguable labour has created one of the best general histories I've read recently--and there's a lot of stiff competition about. As well as using written sources, Holland personally interviewed survivors from all sides of the conflict; Germans, Poles, Canadians, Britons, Americans, Italian partisans and fascists. These accounts give a vivid picture of the heroism and brutality of war, and instil a sense of sympathy for (almost) all of the participants. Their stories are skillfully blended into the larger narrative, which explains what happened, and why the major players (Alexander, Mark Clark, Kesselring, Churchill, Roosevelt, Mussolini, etc) made crucial decisions. Holland is immenently fair-minded; the controversy surrounding Clark's dash for Rome (in defiance of Alexander's orders) is explained from all sides of the question.
Comparing this book with the banal materials presented in England's National Curriculum, one could almost be forgiven for thinking that our educators don't want our children to understand the past. If books like these--which don't require a vast amount of background knowledge--were used in our high schools, pupils would be queuing up to study history. For all that this is accessible to the non-specialist, there's nothing superficial about it. Certainly one of its most attractive features is the sympathy Holland shows to his cast of characters--a welcome relief from the sneering debunking that has been fashionable ever since Lytton Strachey first picked up his pen.