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on 6 February 2016
I'm not going to write a lot here. For a more in depth review, read Wellread's. Says it all really. I'm just going to make some pertinent bullet points.

Hastings, in writing this book has gone to great lengths to not only gather information for this book, but to give it the correct gravitas and interpretation. Despite being British, he is careful to praise and criticise actions in this last year of the war arbitrarily and fairly.

Some reviewers criticise his anecdotal approach, saying that that is not a good method on which to reach conclusions. However, in most cases, Hastings makes his case with the available information and statistics where available and then illustrates those conclusions. This makes the book more readable and certainly impresses on the mind the story he is portraying.

Hastings is able in this book to press forward his own viewpoints on the subject in question very well, often without alerting the reader that is what is happening. However, his views are, in general, ones to which the vast majority would subscribe.

Another criticism levelled is that much of this book is not new. Many of the facts are a matter of public record and often the views of people quoted have been published elsewhere. Hastings doesn't seem to deny this. As with any history of such events, this is always going to be the case. In some ways, Hastings is simply putting the fractured information in one place.

It's a good book. It's readable, something you can't always say about this type of thing. For someone who knows little about the subject matter, it's ideal. One thing Hastings does successfully is to impress the awful death, destruction, despair and destitution that war brings, giving many stories of loss, death and utter devastation. Hopefully this will be a lasting monument not only to those who took part, but to the awfulness of war and the need to avoid it in the future wherever possible. A lesson that not all mankind has learnt, although the seventy years since this war has finished has not, thankfully seen anything on the same scale. So some reason to be optimistic, perhaps.
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on 27 January 2016
Max Hastings at his best, combines trenchant opinions, insight and a very engaging style to produce a masterful work.

The story of the last few months of the second world war in Europe is one which is relatively unknown save from a few high profile episodes such as Arnhem and the Battle of the Bulge in Britain. The hunger winter of the Netherlands, the rape of East Prussia, the savage fighting on the German frontier in areas such as the Hurtgen Forest and even the Battle of Berlin have been shamefully neglected in this country with the result that few realise just how savage the final few months of the war were. Whenever reading about the tragedy of Market Garden/Arnhem it is bizarre to think that the battle took place a month after the slaughter of Falaise when it seemed that the German army in the West had been smashed and that the war was almost over.

The story is a series of episodes and moves around. So it moves between the Western and Eastern fronts, considers the final months of the strategic bombing offensive, the tragic fate of prisoners of the Nazis and the German home front. Whilst the book gives due attention to the better known episodes such as the Battle of the Bulge, Warsaw uprising and the fall of Berlin I suspect many British readers will discover a great deal about battles such as the Hurtgen Forest and the fighting on the Oder and Vistula. Many British readers may be surprised to learn that Montgomery made perhaps the singularly greatest blunder of the war in Europe post D Day in his failure to clear the Scheldte estuary and so open up the Port of Antwerp. The book considers many of the great personalities of the war, whilst Montgomery is presented as you might expect, an insufferably vain, self serving and plodding general who was nevertheless highly competent when commanding set piece battles it may surprise readers to see that Patton was far from the great genius sometimes portrayed. Whilst the book shows Patton had flair and aggression in pursuit and manoeuvre it presents him as unimaginative and far from great when forced to fight attritional battles whilst the taskforce Baum incident was shocking. Hastings view of Eisenhower is rather conventional, far from a great strategist but a masterful diplomat who deserved the appreciation of history for being able to hold a coalition which was nothing like as amicable as often presented together.

Of the political figures, one figure overshadows all of the others in this book and that is Stalin. Hastings paints a picture of an incredibly vile, ruthless and evil man who was nevertheless a masterful political strategist.

The story of fighting men is an interesting one. Hastings may appear less than flattering about British and American soldiers yet his opinions are not unfair and he makes the valid point that in many ways the less flattering aspects of Western troops was the flip side of the very reasons the Western Allies came out of the war with a much cleaner record than the German or Soviet Armies. The German and Soviet armies are presented as being far superior in many martial aspects but at a cost of brutality and moral debasement. If Hastings is less than flattering about British and American troops he is scathing in his observations of the brutality of German and Soviet troops and their commanders and the managed indiscipline and drunkenness of the Red Army.

Hastings devotes a lot of space to the tragedy suffered by the German people, particularly in East Prussia and is clearly (and rightly) sympathetic to their pain and suffering whilst also avoiding the trap of equating this with the truly heinous policies of Germany towards their conquered territory in the East and those not deemed worthy of life by the Nazis. To be sympathetic to the suffering of German civilians is not the same as absolving Germany of responsibility for that suffering and Hastings navigates a moral minefield very effectively.

Overall the book highlights just what a tragedy the final few months of the war were, the suffering of those few months was dreadful. This is a book which deserves to be read widely, superb.

Hastings does not back away from offering judgements and it is the trenchant nature of his observations which makes the book so refreshing in many ways.
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on 6 April 2018
A superb account of the final year of the war in Europe taking as its starting point the breakout from Normandy in the summer of 1944. It pulls no punches in its assessment of the failings of the Western allies in taking advantage of the opportunity to press home its advantage in the autumn of that year, looking in detail at the strategic and tactical military mistakes (particularly Montgomery and the complete fiasco that was Arnhem) as well as the consequences of the war extending into 1945.

The book explore the eastern front in as much depth as the west and provides a fascinating contrast of the armies under Stalin and Eisenhower not just in philosophy and conduct but in the relative costs each army suffered.

Max Hastings also writes superbly about the suffering of the civilians as the war descends on mainland Europe - particularly the suffering of the Dutch and German people especially those who found themselves subject to Stalin's Red Army.
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on 12 June 2015
I decided to read this (lengthy) book before returning to the Stations series (David Downing) since it seemed to be a scene setter (it is). It looks in great detail at the final months of World War II. After the success of the 1944 Normandy landings it was expected that the advance to Berlin and final victory could be achieved fairly quickly, possibly by Christmas. It was not, and this book gives a worrying picture of division and even incompetence amongst the Allies, in contrast to skilled, dogged and even fanatical resistance from the Germans. This inevitably leads the book to Arnhem, justly described as "the Debacle". The author gives a description of great gallantry but also of the operation being messy and botched: a "fiasco".

The book then turns to the Eastern Front, including the tragically ill-fated Warsaw uprising. It also addresses Stalin's ambition to spread communism in counties "liberated" by his forces, though it is worth noting that the Americans were keen to spread their (preferable) way of life, and the British had their tradition of colonialism (as enunciated in "Land of Hope and Glory").

Back at the Western Front, the winter of 1944/45 seemed to have touches of a First World War stalemate and I was surprised at the levels of desertions and pilfering by both British and American troops. Meanwhile back in Germany the inhabitants were suffering grievously for their support of Hitler, but had very few feelings of guilt. As for Hitler himself, his grotesque "rejection of rationality" frustrated no end the abilities and strategies of his armed forces. This was particularly evident in the Battle of the Bulge, described in some detail.

Returning to the Eastern Front, the descriptions of the very mixed bunch that made up the Soviet armies are most interesting. As for the East Prussian tragedy, this is illustrated (as are other events) by some harrowing personal accounts. But the author stresses that the massive so-called "German Holocaust" (ie the huge and often bloody displacement of millions of ethnic Germans) was caused to a marked degree by their own (in)actions, which could not be said of the Jews and many others who died in concentration camps. "Wilfully or not, (the Germans) had brought a terrible evil on the world".

The chapter on the war in the air is possibly unduly detailed, though the author looks at the morality and effectiveness of mass bombing. Also the casualty rates among the air crews was frighteningly high, though there was no shortage of volunteers. The section concludes with vivid first hand accounts of the Dresden bombing.

The author goes on to consider the final breakthrough into Germany along with the distressing "animal subjection" of the millions of prisoners in the Third Reich: a terrible evil indeed. This is reinforced not only by harrowing descriptions of the concentration camps but also of the dreadful treatment of the Dutch in the closing months of the War. And to this list you can add many others, not least the Russians and the Poles. As the book says, "Adolf Hitler had led one of the most educated and cultured societies on earth to a moral, political and military abyss".

Finally the book describes the hard fought battle for Berlin, a subject already well documented. Less well documented though are the harrowing stories of survivors, not least in Russia and Hastings records these. Stalin of course seems as bad as Hitler, though the atrocities have not been as greatly researched.

Max Hastings is, of course, an accomplished writer and historian, very interested in the military. Indeed some of this book is possibly unduly detailed in its analysis of military strategy and tactics, not always directly related to the action. I don't think that this added to my appreciation of what is generally a very good book. Added to this, the author is close to becoming a Grand Old Man and we get a fair amount of philosophising. Also, although the reminiscences of people who were there add considerably to the subject matter, I'm not sure why Sir Max decided to write a book on something already well documented, for example by Anthony Beevor, Robert Key and Robin Neillands. It is interesting that he chose to avoid the Italian campaign, about which less has been written, and perhaps this might be the subject of his next book.
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on 19 July 2016
This has got to be one of the best histories of this type I have ever read. I has the detail that you need to get an understanding of the facts, while including a large dollop of personal anecdote. Well written so that you can keep going through even the most complex of explanations. The perspective seems to be only achievable 50 or more years after the event, objective while taking into account the national and personal tragedies and positions taken immediately after the war but without the overwhelming emotion that I certainly remember through to at least the 1980s.

My sole complaint is that the photographs don't appear on the relevant pages - perhaps a Kindle issue.

Highly recommended, whether a military history buff or just wondering about the end of the war and the powers of that time.
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on 10 January 2018
Following the success of Overlord and the subsequent fighting to push the Germans out of France, this is an excellent account of the political and military problems of continuing to take the war into Germany against fanatical Nazi troops whilst keeping casualties to the minimum. It covered some of General Eisenhower's (seemingly not a terribly experienced Field Commander) problems in dealing with the egos of his three main Generals - Bradley, Patton and in particular Montgomery's ambitions of taking Berlin despite the failure of Market Garden. It draws on many personal accounts of servicemen on both sides caught up in the chaos of war. It also compares the differences between the Allied and Soviet forces.
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on 14 December 2015
i am cracking through several of Mr Hastings books on my new kindle and i am loving his work. Reading this straight after his Overlord book allows the reader to understand the full story of the UK/US invasion of France and the part it then played in the battle for Germany. It also compares and contrasts that effort with what was happening on the Eastern front, which opened my eyes to how much more important that front was than "ours". also excellent on the role of air power and bombing in particular. Probably the best element though is the blending in of the human stories underneath each purely military piece. the sheer scale of human suffering in this period is unbelievable and warrants the title of the book. A fantastic piece of work.
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on 19 September 2015
Excellent and comprehensive account of the end of the war in Europe. Interesting and understandable comparison between the armies of the dictators and those of the Western democracies: the former professional and ruthless, the latter being cautious an d wanting to survive the war. A similar comparison between the generals leads to a hierarchy of Russian first, German second, American third, and the British last. Includes a lot of first hand testimony which brings life to Hasting's observations. I would highly recommend this to anyone who thinks that they know about this period of history: it will make you think again.
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on 25 September 2014
This is a rattling good read. It is mainly military history and lacks some of the social and political analysis that would be normal in a work of history but that does not matter. It enlightened me on the reality of fighting through Western Germany. I had known that the Battle of the Bulge was hard going but I had not realised that German resistance was quite so tough even into the heart of Germany. The sheer ruthlessness of the Soviet advance and the madness of some final German resistance I had not been aware of. This is a valuable addition to a library on the terror of war. Its only fault is a tendency to be repetitious in its evaluations of the different Allies` efforts.
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on 9 January 2017
The volume is replete with my underlinings. Max Hastings is a supremely talented author. He deals admirably with grand strategy, conflict and the political dimension while not neglecting individual experiences. His judgement is nearly infallible. The 5 stars are fully merited!
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