The Historian’s List: World War II
World War II remains the deadliest conflict in human history. Its scope spread across the entire planet, engaging all major powers. During the First World War fighting in Asia and Africa was less broad, but now death came to all corners of the Earth. Obviously, understanding such a complex historical event is quite a challenge even for the most accomplished historians. The role of this new list of books is to offer readers a shortcut to the subject. We try including not only political aspects, but also those regarding human experience.
Stalingrad — Antony Beevor
If one had to name a well-known military historian, you would probably think of Anthony Beevor. It was a though choice between Stalingrad and Berlin: The Downfall 1945, but somehow the impact of the former was a battle that turned the tide of war. The book does not focus solely on the battle, but follows events from the start of Operation Barbarossa. It ends with the Soviet drive towards Germany. Even if you are not a fan of military history, it is still a very useful description of the Eastern Front.
The Origins of the Second World War — A.J.P. Taylor
This one is a bit older, first published in 1961. However, it remains a classic from one of the most influential historians of the 20th Century. There might be some modern books on the subject, but not including this one would certainly bring flack from some history consumers. In fact, the book was both controversial and a bestseller. Taylor broke with the epoch’s consensus painting a whole new image of the causes of World War II. This earned him the mark of revisionist. His contribution made way for a new interpretation of events.
Unconditional — Marc Galliccho
All history buffs and amateurs know of Japan’s fanatic war effort in the Pacific. The American objective was to force unconditional surrender, just like in the case of Nazi Germany. However, this was a difficult challenge for Harry S. Truman when he took over from Roosevelt. As readers of this book will discover, pursuing such a policy involved not only politicians making decisions, but also public opinion and what impact it could have.
To Hell and Back — Ian Kershaw
Choosing from Ian Kershaw’s enormous pile of books was again a huge challenge. He is one of the best known experts on Nazi Germany, so most of his books will be relevant. To Hell and Back, however, is a broader work, focusing on the history of Europe during both world wars and the interwar period. It earns its spot on the list for being comprehensive, but not overly-long, 624 pages for such a book is actually short.
Band of Brothers — Stephen E. Ambrose
This one is a good example of oral history done well and entertainingly. American historian Stephen Ambrose followed the exploits of the now famous 101st Airborne Division, more precisely, Easy Company during World War II. The focus on interviews offers an opportunity to look at how bonds form between soldiers. It also paints a different picture of war, less romanticised than shown in movies. Band of Brothers was so successful it was turned into a 10-episode tv series by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. It is worth both reading the book and watching the series.
Forgotten Ally — Rana Mitter
The Asian theatre of war was just as bloody as Europe. China really did suffer many casualties during the Japanese invasion. However, as the title of Rana Mitter’s book suggests we often tend to forget about its contribution to the war. Writing about China during that time is no easy task. Firstly, Mitter had to juggle the Communists’ side of the story and that of the Nationalists. Secondly, archives have been accessible only the last ten years, shedding light on new information.
An Army at Dawn — Rick Atkinson
We already said the war was global in scale and no continent was spared. Hence, it was only fitting that we include a book about the North African Theatre. The most famous ‘characters’ of this story were Montgomery and Rommel. Again, it was a difficult choice, but the style of the book makes it accessible to readers. It is not merely retelling of know facts, but was based on comprehensive research including all sorts of documents (even notes from generals). Hence, it should be scientifically relevant as well.
We certainly did not include a lot of history books. It is not that we would not like to do that, but it would probably end up as an article so long nobody would read. This being said, we do promise to come back with new lists for the lists we already published. Of course, in this regard, we would very much appreciate if everyone keeps making books suggestions. Meanwhile, we do hope this list is helpful.
You can find more lists and reviews here.
Originally published at https://www.theworldbriefly.com on April 26, 2022.