So why should you choose this WWII book over the many hundreds of other books devoted to the subject?
The short answer, is the exhaustive depth of scale that is covered here. As well as the European conflict which is understandably the main focus of British history books, this tome also devotes itself to the Far Eastern theatre of conflict and the lesser known stories of Greece, Holland, Norway etc.
In truth, I’ve battled through this book for almost three weeks before finishing it today, and even if you minus the hours that have gone on an unusually buoyant social life of late, it’s still taken a lot of time to get through (for me at least).
Anyone who has ever read an Antony Beevor book before will know the style of writing, relentless facts lightly sprinkled with anecdotes from survivors, eye witnesses, journalists,soldiers and other sources, all melded together in an easy to read narrative. However due to its nature and wide ranging scope, this doesn’t feel as fluid as his earlier works, most notably Stalingrad and Berlin. there are plenty of maps though to help you follow the action and a list of abbreviations in the back, although there aren’t that many so it’s not too daunting.
This, though, is not a criticism. I shall be giving away a few other WWII books, as I believe this is the definitive book that I will be referring too from now on. The beauty of its structure is the overlapping chapters detailing campaigns, operations, etc,these don’t suffer from a staggered account but manage to flow without becoming a structural mess and a readers worst nightmare. Really it’s a book designed to be easy to reference as well as read straight through.
Beevor is very balanced in his analysis over all the theatres of conflict,, even if his criticisms of certain generals seems overly harsh. Then again faced with the inhumanity and brutality shown by all sides it is perhaps understandable.
Nowhere in the book is there a portrayal of a country with ‘right’ on their side, this is an honest, unflinching, brutal look at the lists of atrocities (on all sides), the carnage of war and the irrational nature of ideologies and beliefs. Although the egomania on show is absolutely appalling and grotesque carnage is not shied away from, there is never a descent into cheap gratuity.
Taking on the chronicling of the entire war, not to mention its build up, is an immense task and an exhaustive subject to balance but Beevor (as usual) has done a superbly job, the only thing that may make you want to wait for the paperback edition is the fairly high number of typos that plague the text but even they don’t stop this being a magnificent read.