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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 9 March 2007
I have just finished this magnificent book, and I have to say the chap that finished reading was not the one that started! I am searching for a word that fits my thoughts and the only one that comes to mind is "chastened" and I am sure a lot of my colleagues will feel the same.

After I finished the "firestorm" chapter, I had to leave the remainder of the book for a few days for, as the author knows (and despite having read Martin Middlebrook's version a few years ago), those of us that caused it had no knowledge of the extent at the time and for many years afterwards. It was not that I felt guilty, saddened perhaps, that that sort of thing should have to happen in the cause of fighting a war.

I was very interested and impressed with the way the author covered the history of Hamburg in the early chapters which, despite a reasonable education in N. London, I was totally unaware of the association with this country, perhaps because of the general attitude that all Germans were bad 'un's. It certainly came through at my school, and of course we were growing up in the atmosphere of their annexation of the Sudeten land, Munich agreement, Poland invasion, and finally the War. I likened the "shape" of this story to an aircraft lifting off and climb (history),the levelling off (his run up to the bombing) the actual bombing, turning for home and descent (aftermath and retribution) which was beautifully written.

The extraordinary thing for me, was that I flew over Hamburg and the Rurh towards the end of 1945, and was stationed at one stage at Wilhelmshaven with our mobile OBOE convoy, even so, this book had a greater effect on my thinking. In all probability, because I have finally grown up, and lost some of that "serve the b*****s right" mentality, which is no bad thing!

Finally, the author - for me - summed the whole episode up on the last page when he says ...."since 1945 Germany has only been deployed in peace keeping operations, in marked contrast to the USA, Britain, France, and the USSR, who have waged wars in almost every corner of the planet". Perhaps some good did come out of the carnage. Thank you Keith.
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on 15 March 2007
I found this a wonderful, terrifying and very thought-provoking book. It is impressively researched, Mr Lowe seems to have been to every relevant archive and has managed a balanced view of an emotional subject by interviewing people from both sides who were actually involved in the Hamburg firestorm. However, what really clinched it for me and makes it such a good book is that Mr Lowe obviously knows how to tell a good story. First of all he describes the run up to the bombings, which is full of suspense; then the terrible firestorm itself is presented in the sort of detail that really makes you feel like you're there (but makes you thank god you are not); and then finally when he describes the aftermath it's almost like he's describing Armageddon. However this is not just the telling of a story - Mr Lowe completes the book (as he should) with a discussion about the morality of bombing,inevitably this raises uncomfortable questions about the way we conducted the bomber war, but also asks, could we really have done it any other way? It is interesting to read about the bombing Germany in the context of a city other than Dresden and given that the Hamburg firestorm was such a huge event, I am surprised that I hadn't heard more about it before, however it seems that the Second World War was filled with hundreds of such events and this adds to the poignancy of this book - you can't read it without reflecting that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
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on 22 March 2007
I am someone who has never before read a military history book in their lives - and was persuaded to read this by my husband who thought I would like it. He said it wasn't the usual `run of the mill' military history book (whatever that is!) and so I gave it a go. I was amazed. I found myself gripped, challenged and very moved, immersed in an account that drew me on to read more whilst gently informing and educating me. Most of all, I felt my prejudices about the German experience during the war challenged and felt that the true horror of war was - probably for the first time- vividly conveyed to me by the author presenting both the perspectives of the British and American airman and the Germans on the ground. This book has a deceptive simplicity to it. To read it and engage with the story is a powerful and challenging emotional task, and reading it is something you will never forget. I was left feeling older and wiser about what it can mean to be caught up in a war, and I wholeheartedly recommend it because of this. If more history were written like this we may be more likely to heed its lessons.
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on 20 April 2007
In 'Inferno' Keith Lowe tells the story of the British and American air raids on the German city of Hamburg during one week in the summer of 1943. Although he covers in great detail the actual raids and the build -up to them, when the forced humour of the waiting aircrews masked their true feelings, the main thrust of the book is about the hellish events in the streets and cellars below. The 'firestorm' after the second raid, when winds of up to 150 miles per hour fanned the all-consuming flames, inflicted unimaginable horrors on the civilian population. The author seeks a balance by noting that 'by the beginning of September the charred, burned trees sprouted new life and white lilac bloomed in the destroyed gardens of the houses'. This was nature's reaction to man's inhumanity. Extensively researched and beautifully written, 'Inferno' recalls one of the significant turning points of the Second World War. As more than a million refugees from Hamburg took with them their stories of the city's destruction, the German people began to accept, probably for the first time, the inevitability of their defeat.
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on 17 March 2013
In less than one week in July 1943 a succession of mainly British bombing raids killed 45,000 people and destroyed or rendered uninhabitable more than half the homes in this city of almost 2m inhabitants. After the carnage a further 1m people fled. Nothing like this had ever occurred before. Industrial damage though not inconsiderable was actually redeemed quickly. Morale although battered was not transmuted into revolution. Arguably the chief beneficiary was the USSR as civilian and military resources had to be extensively mobilised against the bombers away from the eastern front. Pictures show just how awful those days and nights in Hamburg were and bolster eyewitness statements. Lowe looks at the inferno from every point of view - the fiery history of the city, the war, the bombing strategy, the crews as well as the people in the storm. I think his conclusions - moral/immoral, necessary/avoidable - are balanced. Nonetheless the sheer scale of destruction is truly frightening - the pictorial and verbal images remained in my mind long after I had finished the book.
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on 29 December 2012
The second title i have enjoyed by Mr Lowe.He has surpased the Savage Continent. A few days before as a coincidence i had searched Hamburg on a football trail through wikipedia and noticed that Hamburg had no twin town in Britain.I now know why.The book is even handed the horror extended to both sides allied and German.If ever a book will show the futility of war this is one.The bravery of the aircrew and the suffering of the citizens leaps out of the pages and one of the photographs had me almost in tears.
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on 26 October 2012
I'm not a student of this period in history, just someone whose life was very much affected by these events (who wasn't)and who has reached a stage in life when I want to know much more about what went on in these awful times. This book tells me in fascinating, gripping and terrible detail. I've read several other books about the 2nd world war by distinguished authors including Max Hastings and Anthony Beevor but I have to say that this book is the best by far for the simple fact that the author is clearly a gifted writer as well as a scholar and the result is a book that is hard to put down. His accounts are not just trotted out in chronoligical detail - they're fleshed out with interviews from both sides in the conflict and it is no exaggeration to say that I frequently had to stop to reflect on the horrendous and moving portrayals of the pilots experiences and their victims on the ground. I reccommend this book very highly to anyone who wants to know more about these events and I can assure you of a very rewarding and enjoyable read.
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on 28 June 2008
For those like myself and many reviewers below, influenced during our childhood by a simple view of the war as a heroic victory, this is a sobering book. Whilst describing the most unimaginable suffering, Lowe is careful to avoid blame. He remains dispassionate, even-handed, always at pains to see the bombers' point of view alongside that of the bombed, and remaining commendably forgiving towards everyone. In an intelligent analysis of the aftermath he concludes that at least the German people "have learnt their lesson", accepting their heavy burden of guilt. He could perhaps have added that had they won, which they very nearly did, they would presumably have felt no more guilty than Maggie Thatcher after the Falklands. Such are the vagaries of human nature to which Mr Lowe is so attuned, and which makes the book so valuable for those of a reflective disposition. In my view it should be recommended reading in schools. On the other hand, it will not appeal to everyone. I doubt if Sir Arthur Harris would have had much time for it, nor many of our present politicians.
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on 15 October 2016
Incredibly well researched, thoughtfully executed and a must for avid history of WW2 fans. My great uncle John died in these raids as a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber, which is a tragedy enough, but here you learn the other side of the story and the suffering and devastation of those being bombed. As usual, the powers that be are responsible for the mindless violence and the man in the street suffers the worst.

Will humanity ever learn from these repeated mistakes? Only when we confront those who rule us. We need to always be working towards peace and building bonds.

This is a fantastic book and should be read by everyone, we need to remember there is two sides to every story. Humanity is our common bond.
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on 12 March 2007
I applaud the author's efforts to make the consequences of the Hamburg raids known to a wider public here in the UK, but I think the book has a number of weaknesses as well as undeniable strengths. The sections that deal with the raids themselves are the most compelling, perhaps because they are also the sections where the author has clearly had the greatest access to eyewitness accounts. In comparison, I found some other sections colourless and lacking in detail, and the sections dealing with what flight crews might or might not have done in the hours before setting off for a raid were largely speculative - 'they might have done x, they might have done y' - and unworthy of a book on such a weighty topic. The author's weighing of the moral case lacked authority - far better to read AC Grayling's 'Among the Dead Cities' to get that, and there were one or two rather worrying mis-translations from the German - for example 'Du gehorst zu mir' does not mean 'you happened to me', as the book would have it, but 'you belong to me'. Not in itself such a serious error, perhaps, but in a book dealing with a German topic and citing numerous German-language sources, it's a bit of a worry. I also take issue with his dismissal of the Jorg Friedrich book 'The Fire', now available in English language translation and unfairly overlooked by reviewers in the UK. Nevertheless, the author does have an eye for a telling point, as at the end when he contrasts the German's peaceable nature since World War Two with the continued enthusiasm of the Americans and British for war.
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