on 21 October 2002
Anyone wanting to find a concise overview of World War II that puts every major event into an overall context should look no further. This book is an astonishingly complete account of the hostilities from start to finish. Every significant battle is included together with an incisive summary of why it was important or memorable. The deep knowledge of his subject demonstrated by the author is complemented by a lucid and engaging style. Keegan manages to combine an economy of words with a depth of insight that conveys information without sentimentality or detachment. As a result the facts speak for themselves, often with a devestating effect. Where Keegan provides deeper analysis, his arguements are structured with precision and clarity. You immediately sense that the more detailed observations provided are not one man's subjective view but the result of academic study across a wide range of other accounts. What Keegan has managed to pack into a book of such size is as remarkable as the events he describes. Any serious student of 20th Century warfare should read this book.
on 19 October 1998
It was surely the most significant period in modern history and to tackle such a subject, to try and put across its full significance, a monumental task. John Keegan's fascinating book not only manages this but more impressively presents it in such a fashion that it keeps the reader riveted whether he be exposing the political malfeasance and crulety of the Third Reich or the ruthless battle tactics of the Red Army. Keegan has broken the story of the war into three main portions: the wars in the East, West and Pacific, each in itself in two parts. This enables the reader to be led chronologically through the War itself as it developed throughout the world, spreading like a cancer. The real sense of this escalation is one of the book's strongest features. One can almost 'feel' the growing crisis afflicting our entire planet and the scale of the conflict is simply stunning. The focus on the battle in the Pacific was a particular revelation to this reader as Keegan explains how Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbour effectively committed Hitler to declaring war on America, something he had avoided at all costs up to that point. It is difficult to do justice to the entire volume in the space of this short review but a particular fact that stuck in my mind was that the German U-boat crews, despite their infamous reputations, had the highest casualty rates suffered by any arm of service in the navy, army or air force of any combatant country. Furthermore, the photographs included are often breathtaking (of particular note is one of a horrific Bergen-Belsen mass grave and another astonishing shot of a B-52 bomber with a tail wing cleanly broken off by one of the bombs dropped by its companion craft flying above it). In summary, if you wish to read a full history of this most fascinating and tragic period of our history, presented in a logical and gripping fashion, John Keegan's book can not be bettered in terms of detail and insight.
on 10 August 2001
Quite different in style and structure from the companion book "The First World War". I found it somewhat turgid, and under enthralling. Clearly well written, researched and presented. I think this author assumes too much of a grasp of miliary theory, and I agree with the point about the maps - explaining a complex battle suitation in text just doesnt do it unless you can see it visually. One of the problems of this kind of book is perspective. I think a chronological order is good, but tends to view from a number of different angles. Therefore, to view it from the belligerents point of view is somewhat difficult. Again, whilst blow-by-blow accounts are shown, does not really get under the skin and weigh up priorities, balances, points of views, importance of theatres etc. For example, it doesnt explain how important North Africa or Singapore was to Churchill. Still, criticisms aside, a good book.
A magnificent series, notwithstanding the proximity of the author, and the years in which the work was written (1948 to 1953), to the actual events. No one interested in the history of the Second World War should omit this work, which must stand as the version against which all others must be compared. Clearly, the passage of time has allowed for new information and further personal accounts by many other participants to fine tune the accuracy of Churchill's interpretations and information, and to give him his due, in the introduction to this extraordinarily detailed work, he predicted that that would happen, and welcomed it.
Any objective reader must surely see that, without any attempt at self-glorification on his own part, Churchill himself comes across as a man of extraordinary talents and energy. There is little doubt that he probably changed the history of the world - and for the better. But he also was obsessed with tradition, glory, gallantry, royalty and empire, perhaps not a leader for the post war era but without question he was the man for the hour. His micromanagement of every conceivable activity to do with conduct of the war was evidence of the breadth of his competence and intelligence, not to mention his energy. And then he proceeds to write this and other major works and wins a Nobel Prize for literature. Pretty impressive!
There are a lot, a lot, of Churchill's memos / telegrams, to his various subordinates, political, military and lay, included in this history. They show his amazingly wide compass and grasp of all issues relating to the conduct of the war, at every level. Invariably he seemed to be talking very good sense. This is, so far, the best history of the war that I have ever read.
on 30 April 2011
Comprehensive in scope, if not detail, and very readable. Great narrative energy. Necessarily for a one-volume history of WW2, some battles are dealt with abruptly, so any serious student of the war may be disappointed. But for an overview of 6 years of intensive war, crammed into 600 pages, it is an admirable work.
on 10 November 2012
John Keegan's 'The Second World War' is the pre-eminent military history of the war that, for better or ill, shaped our times. Written in a concise and innovative style, the book is an essential starting-point in understanding the military (and some of the political, diplomatic and socio-economic) aspects of the conflict. The strategic points of view of each of the combatants are studied in some detail and the analysis of key battles and campaigns is incomparable.
One of the things I like about this book is that it serves a dual purpose for the reader and researcher. It's compact enough to be read cover-to-cover, if you like, but at the same time it is also worthy as an authoritative reference that you can dip into from time-to-time for key facts and for insights that you will find nowhere else.
The Second World War still casts a shadow over our society and, even today, discussion of the subject has the power to incite great emotion. Keegan's perspective is uncontroversial and conventional. He delivers his subject in an academic but accessible prose that only serves to underline the disturbing picture presented. This was a world literally gone mad. Here was a brutal war waged by four ruthless political leaders in which up to fifty million souls would perish. Usually the passage of time serves to afford the comfort of distance, and with it, a greater objectivity, and that is indeed the case with these events. Yet Keegan's calm, relentless understatement is akin to a quiet hymn and as we read, our fear, shock, astonishment and incredulity at the cruelty and inhumanity of these events grows.
on 25 June 1999
As a student of the Second World War, and of history in general, it is indeed a rare and wonderful thing to find an author as gifted as John Keegan.
The formula of the book is simple. Keegan offers well rounded narratives, pausing in between to describe particular battles that made the Second World War unlike any other armed conflict before. He doesn't bore the casual reader with a littany of dates and places, but also offers the serious student enough to grapple with. Above all, this is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about the conflict that changed our world.
Keegan encourages the more interested reader to learn more; he offers an excellent bibliography for those who wish to further their studies.
For those who wish to read this book in a more casual manner, do not fear. This book is surprisingly readable and paints a picture of the war that virtually anyone can enjoy and find compelling.
When this set came up for a steal of a price on Amazon, I sent it as a gift to my ex-husband. He loves it. He dips into it periodically and is working his way through the six volumes. Although he has a very serious interest in World War Two, he tells me that what elevates Churchill's writing is the humour which I guess makes this a very human history of the War from one of its key players.
on 21 March 2001
Don't be put off by the size of this book. It is very readable and plugged many of the gaps in my knowledge that i hoped to fill, before setting out to read this book. A fascinating read covering all aspects of the conflict.
on 4 January 2016
Excellent delivery, beautiful condition at a price that energises a good read, a read enhanced by holding a quality that only the hand binding of fine print upon quality paper can deliver. Sincerely the iBook can't compete with such a tactile delivery of moment.