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on 27 September 2009
An excellent, well balanced history of the Second World War. Roberts writes extremely well and has a gift for expressing himself concisely, which is just as well considering the scale of his subject. It's not a `new' history in the sense of making any fresh revelations, the few paragraphs drawn from previously unpublished material are interesting but mostly not of great significance, confirming what has been appearing in other recent work. The book is, rather, a welcome new history of the war written in light of the excellent scholarship that has been carried out in recent years. Roberts is much more comfortable with the major issues than with the minor details of how the war was fought, and it is a pity that the publishers did not include a military specialist amongst those checking the drafts. That would have saved Roberts from some pretty basic errors. `Hull-down' does not mean that a tank has its hull pointing down (why would you do that??) it means that the hull is hidden by the terrain or by some other protection while the turret is exposed. The western allies were not so much short of the small landing craft that Roberts describes but of the larger craft - Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) particularly. The Panzerfaust was not "an anti-tank gun very accurate at short range" but an early RPG.
Does this sort of thing matter? Well, yes, in that if you don't know what you're talking about it is better to either write nothing or to check, which in these instances could easily have been done without going further than Wikipedia. The Panzerfaust was so devastating precisely because it was not a `gun' - that's why it could be mass-produced cheaply and in vast quantities to be effectively used by personnel with little training. It wasn't accurate at all - but at the range at which it was effective the target would have loomed so large that accuracy was not needed. Correctness in detail of this kind matters too in that if you know a little bit about the subject and discover obvious errors as you read, you naturally wonder about the reliability of research that has led to conclusions in the wider, more important areas that you perhaps do not know about. You lose some trust in the writer.
I feel mean in citing these small errors in what overall is a fine book, but there were other mistakes indicating a less than full mastery of his subject at this level of detail. It's worth noting that Max Hastings and Antony Beevor don't make mistakes like this. I would therefore argue with The Economist's view that Roberts is 'Britain's finest military historian', but not with the fact that he's damned good.
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on 2 October 2009
I'm not a great fan of the author's political views, and I approached this with a degree of scepticism, but I was quickly won over by an engaging writing style allied to a keen eye for detail.It is a great 'refresher' book, reminding me of details once read but then forgotten, and is a festschrift in combining information from a number of reputable source authors. Where it scores is in producing the occasional juicy nuggets that are new to me and which have habitually slipped under the radar, such as the response of the French to German occupation, the levels of accomodation with and opposition to the invader, and the paying of rescuing mariners for their services at Dunkirk. He comments wryly on the absence of the great bulk of the Rye fishing fleet during the Dunkirk evacuation, for example. He also shoots down some old canards, such as the supposed attack of Polish lancers against German tanks, as the product of propaganda. While much is familiar (inevitably, given the existing volume of writing on the subject) there is sufficient new material to justify the title of the book as being a new history, and not simply a rehash.As a work it earns its place on the shelf amongst the better accounts of this terrible period.
The book would appeal to more general readers with an interest in the period, as his style is to approach the unravelling tale of the war in the manner of a thriller writer; he returns regularly to the unpredictability of some of the outcomes at given points of the conflict, and raises some interesting 'what if' scenarios that help to keep it fresh. While I would still take issue with his take on certain events and key players in the war, I would have no hesitation in recommending this book. It is a rattling good read!
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on 15 August 2009
As we reach the 70th anniversary of World War Two's beginning, this is a first-class new general history of the conflict. Roberts writes with clarity and enthusiasm: his survey is wide-ranging and thoughtful and full of fascinating insights. The focus is on Axis war strategy, and using fresh archive material, Hitler's blunders are put under the spotlight - particularly his invasion of the Soviet Union, and - once the tide of war had turned - his dogmatic orders to hold every scrap of occupied territory, denying the German Wehrmacht all tactical flexibility. At the heart of the book is the simple yet powerful truth that the hateful race prejudices of the Nazis ultimately undermined their military efforts - but Roberts also pays proper and moving tribute to the courage of those who stood fast against them.
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on 16 August 2009
"The Storm of War" is just superb as a one volume overview of World War Two. Because it is a one volume book, Roberts must necessarily pick and choose what he focuses on. That said, the writing is crisp and clear, and the details and quotes that he does provide are chosen extremely well. I lost track long ago of how many books I have read on World War Two, but I found myself being fascinated by this book and learning a lot from it. The main thing about this book is that it is just so damn fun to read. I haven't had this much fun reading a book since I read Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series almost forty years ago. Based on the quality of this book, I will seriously consider buying all the other books Roberts has written. "The Storm of War" is just that good.
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on 28 August 2009
Andrew Roberts The Storm of War has provided a fresh light on various aspects of World War 11. Most of the story is well known but at least on a few aspects Robert's access to a hitherto private archive provides nuggets of interest. The most interesting is probably the definite confirmation that Hitler's 1940 decision to leave the Luftwaffe to finish off the British at Dunkirk had it's roots in the German failure to understand that a maritime nation would be able to conduct an evacuation by sea. Roberts rightly describes this decision as being one of the many blunders made by Hitler since it preserved the British Army. Roberts points out in reasoned detail that one of the main reasons that the war was won was the total incompetence of the Fuhrer as a Warlord. An incompetence that had it's roots in the absurdity of Nazi racial policy which left the best German atomic scientists on the Allied side. Roberts has succeeded in saying something fresh about what is probably the most written about war in history. No mean achievement since it ended 65 years ago.
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on 8 November 2009
Trying to write a history of WWII in one volume is a difficult trick to pull off, and it depends largely on how much knowledge you have on the subject on whether you think this book is succesful. What we have here is a series of loosely linked essays covering different aspects of the conflict. Some work, some don't, Andrew Roberts sems to be at his weakest when dealing with aspects of the air war. I had already tripped over a gradient error at Monte Cassino before being presented with the misrepresentation of the Avro Manchester as a four engined bomber (it only had two). By the time I got to the page that had two conflicting casualty totals for V2s in the UK I felt that I was less reading it than marking it. Sloppily written, probably to meet some publishers deadline, we should expect more from frontline historians like Andrew Roberts.
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on 31 August 2009
Andrew's book grips from start to finish. It's full of fresh incites and gems of information. The story unfolds like a novel, yet never falters from the history, with lots of anecdotes from those involved. I particularly liked the way Roberts reveals the paranoia infecting the German high command as generals fought for Hitler's ear; a basic flaw in the Nazi command structure, which in effect lost the war for Germany; despite the undoubted superiority of their forces. Hitler is seen for the egomaniac he was, ignoring advice from his best staff and listening only to those toads who agreed with him.

The war in the pacific is well illuminated, a weakness for me up to now and after this book, I have a much better understanding of events in that theatre

It's hard to put this book down, whether you're a well read military history fan or a real newbie this book will entertain, shock and educate.

A gem of a book.
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on 27 December 2009
I entirely agree with the 'expected better' review. I am a fan of Andrew Roberts and came to this having just read the more impressive 'Masters and Commanders' - notable for a portrayal of Marshall in some detail, not often found in British books. The elementary error with the Manchester is only one of several similar errors and pieces of irrelevant information that irritate. In a one volume general history, does the P-51H's maximum speed matter? No - not least because it wasn't flown in anger in the war. What are the mysterious "Northrops and Curtiss-Wrights" whose deliveries were diverted to Britain? The closest are Douglas DB-7s (Bostons and Havocs to us) and P-36s, which the RAF never used in the front line anyway (and so were of no significance). And no-one with Stephen Bungay in his biography should be alleging that the Spitfire was less sturdy than the Hurricane. P-39s playing a leading role in defending Moscow? Hardly. If you want the best single-volume history of WW2, then even 35 years on you must still head for Calvocoressi, Wint and Pritchard. This one is in the chasing pack and doesn't distinguish itself from the competition.
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on 8 September 2009
This is clearly a book written for a general audience. Unlike many academic historians, Roberts writes with great clarity and economy of prose and his book is therefore a pleasure to read as well as being highly informative for the non-specialist. There's nothing new here, of course - World War II has been picked over since its conclusion and the last great discovery of archive material occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Roberts manages to convey the scale of the horror as well as its very human elements by juxtaposing snippets of trivia alongside the mechanics of grand strategy. He also attempts to provide a balanced view of the war, including many Eastern Front battles that western historians have frequently omitted from their accounts.

War is too often a tale of stupidity, venality and incompetence and there's plenty of that to be found in this book; but there are also moments of great intelligence and - rarely - compassion among the squalor and the terror and the agony.

World War II is now seventy years behind us; most of those who fought in it are dead or in retirement homes. Several generations have grown up without experience of mechanized warfare on home soil and it is necessary that we remind ourselves that our current peace is far from being the historical norm. Hitler and Stalin were monsters, but they achieved total power because more reasonable people stood and did nothing during times of social upheaval. Civilization is a very thin veneer and is easily pulled off, leaving the brutal and the unscrupulous to thrive. War is perhaps an irrevocable part of the human condition and there are no easy answers to be learned from studying history. But it is vital that we remember and try to understand, and Roberts' book is a superb contribution to this task.

Some very minor nits - a few spelling errors should have been caught by the editor, and it is bizarre to use metric units for weight but Imperial units for distance. The text also shows signs of several revisions: in more than twenty places Roberts appears to draw a conclusion, only to draw seemingly the opposite conclusion a couple of paragraphs later. Again, the editor should have caught this prior to publication. These nits aside, this is a book to be read with pleasure and appreciated in many ways.
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on 23 August 2016
Andrew Roberts book is by far the best account I have read about WW2. I like the refreshing tone of the book and the little nooks and crannies Roberts visits with his unique almost detective type nose for 'what ifs' ! I have always questioned why Japan did not invade the Eastern coast of the USSR at the exact time as Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa on 2Ist June 1941. Keep the USA out of the war and when conquered the USSR had more than enough mineral, oil and agricultural wealth to sustain both the Nazi's and the Japanese Empire. Roberts touches on this subject and provides very interesting information as why this did not happen. Overall a great read about a bloody horrible conflict. Roberts has that rare ability to produce written matter that engages the reader and yet has a thread of humanity interwoven throughout the narrative.........the fire within the ice ! I emailed Mr Roberts to thank him for his work and his response within 5 minutes was a delight to read. You know you are getting old when you are reading wonderful history books written by people considerably younger than you as in this case !
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