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Big book, big subject, big read, big distinction to be made
on 23 November 2005
Due to the attributed authoritativeness of author Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart a presumably simple question needs to be asked and answered from the outset: Does this history of the Second World War give an exact account of the global war between the Axis Powers and The Allies from 1939 to 1945?
The answer is very emphatically yes, but a distinction must be made. This book took me two months to read, taking into account its length (700 pages) this was not especially poor for a general history reader. But I believe the reason behind the prolongued read is precisely because it is not an account for general readership but for the reader of military history. It is, in short, a military and strategist's view of the Second World War. An important categorization that I hope informs potential buyers.
This does not mean however that its worth is negated for the general reader. Liddell Hart's history is as thorough and epic in scale as the war itself An experienced military strategist who bore witness to its prosecution, he held unique and valuable insight. Of particular value is the inclusion of German accounts of the war from interrogations and interviews made by Liddell Hart himself.
Great eruditeness is also shown in describing the varying campaigns, invasions, battlefields, and military plans from all sides. The sheer detail he offers is immense and because of this nothing is gleaned over, which I felt was of considerable use in gathering a full account of the actual fighting. In addition, something of the art, if not essentially chaotic nature of the war and indeed warfare as a whole is infused into the reader's mind.
Yet, all this could have been achieved with much greater effect and with less long-winded and relentless detail if it had contained more frequent accounts from the protagonists involved. Indeed if the participants in the theatre of operations were taken account of at all, this history would have added a worthwhile human dimension above the confusing tactical and strategic aspects which tended to dominate the retelling. But as I've already stated, this is a military and strategists' history
If it had, this account would surely have become an unsurpassable tome leaving fellow historians of WWII to fight it out for the scraps of academic esoteric obscurity that is Hitler's dietary needs.
Yet despite my craving for some sort of personal narrative, which is probably unfair in view of Liddell Hart's obvious interest and authority on strategic and military matters, this book did provide me with the knowledge of the Second World War that I had sought from the outset. It is so thoroughly detailed that it covered all of the theatres of war with particular emphasis on the campaigns in North Africa, Italy and the Battle of Britain/Atlantic.
Readers from the United States may be disappointed however at the focus of the war upon British and Soviet battles in contrast to their own vital contribution to the Allied victory, namely in the Pacific Ocean, which I might point out in mitigation was one of the strongest sections imparted. But I consider that Liddell Hart has emphasized overall fairness, the Allies together defeated the Axis powers, it was not one partner exclusively, although the Soviet Union's all-important recoiling of Hitler's invasion has been given deserved focus in the book.
I would also put forward certain caution if any readers approached this conflict without any prior knowledge of its main events, you will undoubtedly lose track of any timeline, as I occasionally did. The narrative swerves from North Africa to the Russian Steppes and the Burma jungle, with no clear indication of its importance in relation to other theatres of the war.
My judgement upon this book ultimately has to be that of conflicting middle ground however. As an account of any war it has to be regarded as a classic. As a military history of the Second World War I doubt whether the understanding of Liddell Hart or his analytical brilliance shall be surpassed, and as an historian of the Twentieth Century he is rightly regarded as amongst its most esteemed.
This book however does not fully meet the requirements of modern and younger readers like myself to understand the Second World War beyond the concept of armies, war production figures and "losses". It rarely goes beyond a history of the conflict that is simply one of strategic/military problem and solution. Indeed, it neglects to emphasize at all that the war involved massive human taking up of arms with the expected consequences. A history of war without human context bears no resemblance to the actual war itself and thus I believe this book is not as authoritative as it once seemed.