Inferno: discount The World at War, new arrival 1939-1945 sale

Inferno: discount The World at War, new arrival 1939-1945 sale

Inferno: discount The World at War, new arrival 1939-1945 sale
Inferno: discount The World at War, new arrival 1939-1945 sale__after

Description

Product Description

Winner of the Pritzker Prize for Military History
A New York Times Notable Book

From one of our finest military historians, a monumental work that shows us at once the truly global reach of World War II and its deeply personal consequences.
 
For thirty-five years, Max Hastings has researched and written about different aspects of the war. Now, for the first time, he gives us a magnificent, single-volume history of the entire conflict. Through his strikingly detailed stories of everyday people—of soldiers, sailors and airmen; British housewives and Indian peasants; SS killers and the citizens of Leningrad—Hastings provides a singularly intimate portrait of the world at war. Remarkably informed and wide-ranging, Inferno is both elegantly written and cogently argued. Above all, it is a new and essential understanding of one of the greatest and bloodiest events of the twentieth century.

Review

Praise for Inferno:

"The best one-volume history of the war yet written. . . . It is in all ways a monumental achievement. . . . A relatively brief review can only begin to indicate the depth, breadth, complexity and pervasive humanity of this extraordinary book. The literature of World War II is, as Hastings notes at the beginning of his bibliography, so vast as almost to defy enumeration or comprehension, but Inferno immediately moves to the head of the list."
The Washington Post

"Balanced and elegantly written prose. . . . Inferno is a magnificent achievement, a one-volume history that should find favor among readers thoroughly immersed in World War II and those approaching the subject for the first time. As the years thin the ranks of those who fought in the war, Hastings’s balanced and elegantly written prose should help ensure that the bloodshed, bravery and brutality of that tragic conflict aren''t forgotten."
—Associated Press
 
"A work of staggering scope and erudition, narrated with supreme fluency and insight, it is unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written. . . . Oddly enough, good single-volume histories of the war are relatively rare. By and large, its sheer scope intimidates writers: while there are hundreds of books about individual episode, from the Battle of Britain to D-Day, surprisingly few historians have tried to pull all the threads together. But Hastings, as the author of several splendid volumes on various aspects of the conflict, is the ideal candidate to conquer this historiographical Everest.  His book is at once a ''global portrait,'' emphasizing events in Asia as well as in Europe, and a ''human story,'' saturated in the details of ordinary people’s experience. . . . Hastings has a terrific grasp of the grand sweep and military strategy of the war, showing how a combination of Russian blood, American industry and German incompetence made the allied victory inevitable. But what makes this book so compelling are the human stories. . . . This is the book he was born to write."
The Sunday Times
 
"A fast-moving, highly readable survey of the entire war, in all its phases and on all fronts . . . . This is military history at its most gripping. Of all Max Hastings''s valuable books, this is possibly his best—a veritable tour de force. . . . Though the Second World War has been the subject of immense historical research, Max Hastings here demonstrates how much there is still to know. . . . Hastings draws on eye-witness accounts and anecdotes from soldiers of all armies to show graphically what the war was like for the ordinary people who fought it, and, overwhelmingly, how terrible it was for the combatants. While many of the frontline commanders of each of the belligerent powers come in for some harsh treatment for their ineptitude or bungling, the valour, heroism and, above all, the extraordinary stoicism of their troops amid scarcely imaginable pain, suffering and losses are repeatedly highlighted."
The Evening Standard

"A new, original, necessary history, in many ways the crowning of a life’s work. A professional war correspondent who has personally witnessed armed conflict in Vietnam, the Falkland Islands and other danger zones, Hastings has a sober, unromantic and realistic view of battle that puts him into a different category from the armchair generals whose gung-ho, schoolboy attitude to war fills the pages of a great majority of military histories. He writes with grace, fluency and authority. . . . Inferno is superb."
The New York Times Book Review
 
"If there is a contemporary British historian who is the chronicler of World War II, it would be Max Hastings . . . [Inferno] is a true distillation of everything this historian has learned from a lifetime of scholarship—and more important, of real thought—on what he calls ''the greatest and most terrible event in human history.''"
San Francisco Chronicle
 
"Compellingly different . . . a panoramic social history that not only recounts the military action with admirable thoroughness, crispness and energy but also tells the story of the people who suffered in the war, combatants and civilians alike."
The Wall Street Journal
 
"This book is packed with fascinating and surprising statistics and facts . . . . Hastings has an extraordinary ability to throw a bucket into the ocean of wartime papers, diaries, letters and documents of every kind, and bring up something fascinating and worthwhile every time."
Financial Times
 
"[A] huge, majestic book . . . . The Second World War took place in the skies, the oceans and the lands of five different continents. It encompassed fighting in Arctic blizzards, as well as in jungles and deserts. Any military history must encompass all of this and more. And at the same time it must reconcile the grand strategy of generals and politicians with the more violent experiences of ordinary soldiers . . . Hastings shapes all these stories, almost miraculously, into a coherent narrative. Overlaid upon this tapestry is an analysis of how the war brought out the best and the worst in people, how it could be won only through the use of astonishing brutality and how it changed society forever."
The Telegraph
 
"[Hastings’s] nine books on aspects of [World War II] have given him a claim to be our pre-eminent military historian. In All Hell Let Loose he attempts to tell the whole story in a single volume, and succeeds triumphantly, combining fluid narrative with some piercing insights and unsentimental judgments. . . . As this enthralling book shows, in the right hands, the study of war – like the study of sacred text – can generate and endless stream of new meanings and insights, illuminating in their turn the wider mysteries of existence."
Standpoint

About the Author

Max Hastings is the author of more than twenty books. He has served as a foreign correspondent and as the editor of Britain’s Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph. He has received numerous British Press Awards, including Journalist of the Year in 1982, and Editor of the Year in 1988. He lives outside London.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

 
       On the outbreak of war: ‘France, Britain and its dominions were the only major nations to enter World War II as an act of principle, rather than because they sought territorial gains or were themselves attacked.   Their claims upon the moral high ground were injured, however, by the fact that they declared support for embattled Poland without any intention of giving this meaningful military effect’.
 
       On Stalin’s ‘devil’s bargain’ with Hitler:  ‘If Stalin was not Hitler’s co-belligerent, Moscow’s deal with Berlin made him the co-beneficiary of Nazi aggression.  From 23 August 1939 onwards, the world saw Germany and the Soviet Union acting in concert, twin faces of totalitarianism.  Because of the manner in which the global struggle ended in 1945, with Russia in the allied camp, some historians have accepted the post-war Soviet Union’s classification of itself as a neutral power until 1941.  This is mistaken.   Though Stalin feared Hitler and expected eventually to have to fight him, in 1939 he made a historic decision to acquiesce in German aggression, in return for Nazi support for Moscow’s own programme of territorial aggrandisement.   Whatever excuses the Soviet leader later offered, and although his armies never fought in partnership with the Wehrmacht, the Nazi-Soviet Pact established a collaboration which persisted until Hitler revealed his true purposes in Operation Barbarossa’
 
 
      On the Battle of Britain: ‘The latter months of 1940 were decisive in determining the course of the war: the Nazis, stunned by the scale of their triumphs, allowed themselves to suffer a loss of momentum.  By launching an air assault on Britain, Hitler adopted the worst possible strategic compromise.   As master of the continent, he believed a modest further display of force would suffice to precipitate its surrender.  Yet if, instead, he had left Churchill’s people to stew in their island, the prime minister would have faced great difficulties in sustaining national morale and a charade of strategic purpose.  A small German contingent dispatched to support the Italian attack on Egypt that autumn would probably have sufficed to expel Britain from the Middle East; Malta could easily have been taken.  Such humiliations would have dealt heavy blows to the credibility of Churchill’s policy of fighting on.

      As it was, however, the Luftwaffe’s clumsy offensive posed the one challenge which Britain was well-placed to repel.  The British army and people were not obliged to confront the Wehrmacht on their beaches and in their fields- a clash which would probably have ended ignomiously.   The prime minister merely required their acquiescence, while the country was defended by a few hundred RAF pilots and- more importantly though less conspicuously- by the formidable might of the Royal Navy’s ships at sea.   The prime minister’s exalting leadership secured public support for his defiance of the logic of Hitlerian triumph, even when cities began to burn and civilians to die’.
 
    On France’s role in the war: ‘Even allowing for the significant role of French troops in the final campaigns in north-west Europe, the statistical fact remains that Vichy’s armies and domestic security forces made a more numerous contribution to Axis interests than those Frenchmen who later joined the Gaullists, other Resistance groups or Eisenhower’s armies provided to the allied cause.   Most French people persuaded themselves in 1940 that the Petain regime constituted a lawful government; however uncomfortably, they indulged its rule until the eve of liberation.  Once defeat in 1940 had denied the French a heroic role in the struggle against Nazism, many remained confused for the remainder of the war about the least ignoble part their nation might play’.
 
    On Britain’s war with Rommel in the desert: ‘the war in North African engaged only a handful of British and imperial divisions, while most of Churchill’s army stayed at home.  This was partly to provide security against invasion, partly for lack of weapons and equipment, partly owing to shortage of shipping to move and supply troops overseas.  The clashes between desert armies were little more significant in determining the outcome of the global conflict than the tournaments between bands of French and English knights which provided entre’actes during the Hundred Years’ War.    But the North African contest caught the imagination of the western world, and achieved immense symbolic significance in the minds of the British people.  It became what will surely prove to have been history’s last campaign fought overseas between European powers attempting to advance European objectives’.
 
 
   On the 1941 invasion of Russia: ‘It did not occur to Hitler, after his victories in the West, that it might be more difficult to overcome a brutalized society, inured to suffering, than democracies such as France and Britain, in which moderation and respect for human life were deemed virtues’.
 
       On the allied relationship: ‘The Grand Alliance, the phrase with which Churchill ennobled the wartime relationship of Britain, the United States and Soviet Union, was always a grand charade; it was a necessary fiction to pretend that the three powers fought the war as a shared enterprise directed towards common purposes.  
 
      ‘In Britain and America, confidence that our parents and grandparents were fighting ‘the good war’ is so deeply ingrained that we often forget that people in many countries adopted more equivocal attitudes;  colonial subjects, and above all India’s four hundred millions, saw little merit in the defeat of the Axis if they continued to endure British suzerainty.   Many Frenchmen fought vigorously against the allies.  In Yugoslavia, rival factions were far more strongly committed to waging civil war against each other than to advancing the interests of either the allies or the Axis.    Large numbers of Stalin’s subjects embraced the opportunity offered by German occupation to take up arms against a hated Moscow regime.  None of this implies doubt that the allied cause deserved to triumph, but should emphasise the fact that Churchill and Roosevelt did not have all the best tunes’.   
 
          On the Soviet war effort:  ‘It was probably true that only Russians could have borne and achieved what they did in the face of the 1941 catastrophe; it was less plausible to attribute this to the nobility of communist society.  Until Barbarossa, Stalin sought to make common cause with Hitler, albeit to attain different objectives.   Even when Russia became joined with the democracies to achieve the defeat of Nazism, Stalin pursued his quest for a Soviet empire, domination and oppression of hundreds of millions of people, with absolute single-mindedness and ultimate success.   Whatever the merits of the Russian people’s struggle to expel the invaders from their country, Stalin’s war aims were as selfish and inimical to human liberty as those of Hitler.  Soviet conduct could be deemed less barbaric than that of the Nazis only because it embraced no single enormity to match the Holocaust.   Nonetheless, the Western allies were obliged to declare their gratitude, because Russia’s suffering and sacrifice saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of young British and American soldiers.   Even if no exalted assertion of principle- instead, only a breach between rival monsters- caused Russia to become the principal battleground of the war, it was there that the Third Reich encountered the forces that would contrive its nemesis’.   
 
     On the confusion of loyalties around the world: ‘The leaders of the Grand Alliance depicted the war as a struggle for freedom against oppression, good against evil.   In the 21st Century, few informed people even in former colonial societies doubt the merit of the allied cause, the advantage that accrued to mankind from defeat of the Axis.  But it seems essential to recognise that in many societies contemporary loyalties were confused and equivocal.   Millions of people around the world who had no love for the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini or Hirohito felt little greater enthusiasm for allied powers whose vision of liberty vanished, it seemed to their colonial subjects, at their own front doors’.
 
     On British wartime rule of India:  ‘Britain’s wartime treatment of its subject races remained humane by German or Japanese standards; there were no arbitrary executions or massacres.  But it was among the ugliest aspects of British conduct of the war, that in order to hold India, it was necessary not merely to repulse external invaders, but also to administer the country under emergency powers, as an occupied nation rather than as a willing co-belligerent.  Some of the repressive measures adopted in India were similar in kind, if not in scale, to those used by the Axis in its own subject societies.
 
 
     On the revelation that the German economy was too weak to overcome Russia: ‘In 1942, the Axis would enjoy spectacular successes.  But it is a critical historical reality, that senior functionaries of the Third Reich realised as early as December 1941 that military victory had become unattainable, because Russia remained undefeated.   Some thereafter sustained hopes that Germany might negotiate an acceptable peace.   But they, and perhaps Hitler also in the innermost recesses of his brain, knew the decisive strategic moment had passed’.
 
On the war crimes of Britain’s Soviet ally: ‘Stalin deported eastwards vast numbers of Soviet citizens from minorities whose loyalties he deemed suspect, notably Chechens and Crimean Tatars, some 3.5 million in all.  An unquantified but large proportion of these peoples died in consequence, some from typhus which broke out during their transportation.  Their sufferings, unlike those of Hitler’s victims, are scarcely recorded, but it is known that four Heroes of the Soviet Union were among the deportees; Beria’s purges spurned discrimination. Among other victims of the Soviets were 1.5 million Poles deported to Siberian exile or the gulag in 1940-41, in furtherance of Stalinist ethnic cleansing policies; at least 350,000 perished of starvation or disease, and a further thirty thousand were executed’. 
 
     On The U-Boat war: ‘Perhaps the most vivid statistic of the Battle of the Atlantic is that between 1939 and 1943 only eight per cent of slow and four per cent of fast convoys suffered attack.  Much has been written about the inadequacy of allied means to respond to the U-boat threat in the early war years; this was real enough, but German resource problems were much greater.  Hitler never understood the sea.  In the early war period, he dispersed industrial effort and steel allocations among a range of weapons systems.  He did not recognise a strategic opportunity to wage a major campaign against British Atlantic commerce until the fall of France in June 1940; U-boat construction was prioritised only in 1942-43, when allied naval strength was growing fast and the tide of the war had already turned.   Germany never gained the capability to sever Britain’s Atlantic lifeline, though amid grievous shipping losses it was hard to recognise this at the time’.  
 
     On Guadalcanal: ‘the myth of the invincibility of the Japanese Army was shattered on this island just sixty miles by thirty.  The Japanese laid bare their limitations, especially a shortage of competent commanders. Even during Japan’s victory season, while Yamashita conducted operations in Malaya with verve and skill, the campaigns in Burma and the Philippines suggested that some of his fellow-officers lacked initiative.   When defending a position, their ethic of absolute conformity to orders had its uses; but in attack, commanders often acted unimaginatively.   Man for man, the Japanese soldier was more aggressive and conditioned to hardship than his allied counterpart: British Gen.Bill Slim characterised the enemy condescendingly as ‘the greatest fighting insect in the world’; until 1945, Hirohito’s men displayed exceptional night-fighting skills.  Collectively, however, the Japanese Army had nothing like the combat power of the Wehrmacht, the Red Army- or America’s ground forces.
 
     On The Holocaust: ‘The edifice of Holocaust literature is vast, yet does not satisfactorily explain why the Nazis accepted the economic cost of embarking upon the destruction of the Jewish people, diverting scarce manpower and transport to a programme of mass murder, while the outcome of the war still hung in the balance.   The answer must lie in the deranged centrality of Jewish persecution not merely to National Socialist ideology, but to Germany’s policies throughout the global conflict.   The Nazis were always determined to exploit the licence granted to a government waging total war to fulfil objectives that otherwise posed difficulties even for a totalitarian regime.    

      ‘Even when Hitler embarked on his rampage of hemispheric conquest, the democracies found it difficult to conceive that the people of a highly-educated and long-civilised European society could fulfil their leaders’ extravagant rhetoric and implement a genocide.   Despite mounting evidence of Nazi crimes, this delusion persisted in some degree until 1945 and even for some time afterwards’.
 
      On war crimes trials in 1945: ‘Only a tiny fraction of those guilty of war crimes were ever indicted, partly because the allies had no stomach for the scale of executions, numbering several hundreds of thousands, which would have been necessary had strict justice been enforced against every Axis murderer.  Less than a thousand retributive executions took place.  Many convicted mass killers served jail sentences of only a few years, or even escaped by paying a fine of fifty almost worthless Reich marks.  The Germans and Japanese were not entirely mistaken in regarding the international war crimes trials which took place in 1945-46 as ‘victors’ justice’.   Some British and Americans, and many Russians, were guilty of offences under international law, the killing of prisoners notable among them, yet very few faced even courts martial.   To have been on the winning side sufficed to secure amnesty; few allied war crimes were even acknowledged.  British submarine commander ‘Skip’ Myer, for instance, who in 1941 distressed even some of his own crew by insisting that German soldiers struggling in the Mediterranean after the sinking of their caiques should be machine-gunned, was awarded a Victoria Cross and eventually became an admiral.  American, Canadian and British troops who routinely shot snipers and Waffen SS prisoners on the battlefield, usually in supposed retaliation for similar enemy actions, went unindicted.  The Nuremburg and Tokyo trials and sentences represented not injustice, but partial justice’.
 
     On casualties:  ‘An average of 27,000 people perished each day between September 1939 and August 1945 as a consequence of the global conflict. The Soviet Union suffered 65% of all allied military deaths; China 23%; Yugoslavia 3%; the US and UK 2% each; France and Poland 1% each.   About 8% of all Germans died, compared with 2% of Chinese, 3.44% of Dutch people, 6.67% of Yugoslavs, 4% of Greeks, 1.35% of French, 3.78% of Japanese, 0.94% of British and 0.32% of Americans.  ‘95% of all German soldiers killed in the war perished on the Eastern front or in Soviet captivity’. 
 
My story emphasises bottom-up views and experiences, the voices of little people rather than big ones; I have written extensively elsewhere about the warlords of 1939-45.
 
On the outcome of the Second World War: ‘Within the vast compass of the struggle, some individuals scaled summits of courage and nobility, while others plumbed depths of evil, in a fashion that compels the awe of posterity.   Among citizens of modern democracies to whom serious hardship and collective peril are unknown, the tribulations which hundreds of millions endured between 1939 and 1945 are almost beyond comprehension.   Almost all those who participated, nations and individuals alike, made moral compromises.   It is impossible to dignify the struggle as an unalloyed contest between good and evil, nor rationally to celebrate an experience, and even an outcome, which imposed such misery upon so many.  Allied victory did not bring universal peace, prosperity, justice or freedom; it brought merely a portion of those things to some fraction of those who had taken part.  All that seems certain is that allied victory saved the world from a much worse fate that would have followed the triumph of Germany and Japan.  With this knowledge, seekers after virtue and truth must be content’.     

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bloodandfire
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
History With a Human Face
Reviewed in the United States on June 30, 2019
I want to preface this review by saying that this is the first comprehensive WWII history book that I''ve read. I am not in a position to question Max Hastings'' through-line on WWII history. There''s a lot about this book that I liked, while there were some things... See more
I want to preface this review by saying that this is the first comprehensive WWII history book that I''ve read. I am not in a position to question Max Hastings'' through-line on WWII history.

There''s a lot about this book that I liked, while there were some things that left me wanting more.

To start with the positive, Max Hastings is a pretty good writer. At no point in reading the book did I feel like his style was getting in the way of communicating info. He maintains an almost conversational tone throughout the book.

It''s not uncommon in academia for historians to want to try to "objectively" lay out a history, and allow it to "speak for itself". Max Hastings is clearly a person with opinions and I appreciated reading what he had to say. Hastings has strong opinions about the effectiveness of various generals. He was not afraid to give his opinion about the efficacy of fighting certain battles. Hastings openly speculates, on myriad occasions, about whether, had an alternate decision been made, WWII may have played out in a different way. He willingly dives into the moral ambiguities of war. Hastings at times describes an almost post-moral world For example, Nazi Germany sought to enslave and commit genocide against the Jews, carried out an intentional campaign of starving the countries they conquered in order to keep German citizens fed, bombed British civilian targets, and initiated a campaign of battle against Russia that included starving Russians, raping and killing civilians, and killing untold numbers of Russian soldier POW''s. With that context, how do you weigh the scales in the also atrocious, rape-filled conquest of Nazi Germany by Russia at the end of the war? Max Hastings even describes an instance where Russian soldiers located an old hospital outside of Berlin (Wedding) that housed 800 Jewish inmates "in desperate physical condition." The Russian soldiers raped the Jewish women. Hastings indicates that the Allies probably wouldn''t have won WWII without Russia. At a minimum, had the Russians not fought the Germans as they had, the U.S. death toll of soldiers would have been innumerably greater.

The glue holding this history together is Hastings well-curated dispersal of 1st person, largely contemporaneous accounts of people''s involvement in different aspects of the war.

Hastings book did leave me wanting in a few areas.

First, while Hastings does briefly explain how the ghosts of WWI informed the hesitance of leaders to want to engage against Germany in WWII (and, ironically, created the circumstances that allowed for the flowering of another world war), he provides the reader with almost no information about post WWI life, and how Hitler was able to obtain and expand his power. I feel like I need to read another history book just to get a better grasp on this issue. The book contains little information on the culture of "appeasement" and the conditions that allowed that culture to take root in Europe after WWI.

Second, I feel a bit ripped off in not getting a chapter on how the Nazi''s/Hitler/Goebbel used propaganda to obtain and consolidate popular support in Germany prior to WWII and maintain it during the war. Hastings only dedicates a few sentences to this issue in his book. While I don''t know a great deal about this issue, it seems to have played a major role in spurring the stalwartness of both Nazi soldiers and German civilians prior to and during the war, and helps to explain why the Nazi''s continued to fight on, even when the writing was on the wall that they were going to lose.

Third, the book feels a bit rushed towards the end. For example, Hastings provides some interesting and persuasive opinions about the U.S.''s use of the atom bomb on Japan. Yet he spends less than a page discussing the 2 actual atom bomb drops. While he catalogs the death toll, he does not describe the horrendous long-term physical tolls (radiation poisoning, increased cancer rate, etc) or environmental tolls of those drops. This omission seems a bit tone deaf to me, as, by this time in the book, Hastings had literally provided 100''s of lengthy first-hand accounts of war and the aftermath of many less consequential military strikes.

Fourth, the book did not seek to provide enough information regarding the aftermath of war. We learn very little about the Nuremberg trials or how decisions were made to attempt to bring Nazi''s to justice. We do not learn how surviving European Jews navigated Europe and/or obtained the means to have Israel as a homeland and move there after the war. While a paragraph is devoted to Israel, it provides only the most perfunctory information. We receive very little information about the form that "truth and reconciliation" did or didn''t take in Germany after the war. We do not learn how German and Japanese civilians navigated their lives in the aftermath of their devastating loss of the war. We do not receive any information about how WWII led to NATO, or how WWII informs the "world order" in the 21st century. We don''t receive much information about the post-war partition of Europe or the implications of a divided Berlin for the post WWI world order. While I understand that each of those subjects could potentially be their own book, I think a 1 or 2 chapter summary of these issues would have improved the book a lot.

When I was writing this review I was waffling a bit between a 3 and a 4. But, as someone new to this area of history, I think that Hasting''s insights into the war bring it alive to the point where a 3 would be too low.
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Jim Mac
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The author''s title is hard to improve upon
Reviewed in the United States on September 27, 2016
I''m in my 80s and began reading about the War before I grew up and served in the Korean War. Over the years I''ve read, learned from and admired numerous book about WWII. This book is the best WWII history I''ve read in over 20 years. The breath of the war that it covers is... See more
I''m in my 80s and began reading about the War before I grew up and served in the Korean War. Over the years I''ve read, learned from and admired numerous book about WWII. This book is the best WWII history I''ve read in over 20 years. The breath of the war that it covers is extraordinary and greater than any other that I''ve read. Moreover, the author never fails to include individuals both from the military and civilian life and their words help to bring readers like me closer to them, to their achievements and their sufferings. I''ve never read another WWII book that covers almost all of the countries that fought or suffered during the war.
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Ken Margolin
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A tedious read
Reviewed in the United States on August 11, 2020
In his 651 page tome, "Inferno The World at War 1939 - 1945, Max Hastings does the impossible - he makes World War II boring, or at least reading about it, a slog. I have read many World War II histories, and seeing the adulatory reviews, was excited to read Hastings''... See more
In his 651 page tome, "Inferno The World at War 1939 - 1945, Max Hastings does the impossible - he makes World War II boring, or at least reading about it, a slog. I have read many World War II histories, and seeing the adulatory reviews, was excited to read Hastings'' latest effort. There is no debating the obviously massive amount of work and scholarship he put into the book, and that should be praised. Rather than "balanced and elegantly written, " as the Associated Press described Hastings'' prose, I would describe it as clinical and detached. His descriptions of historic battles, even the horror of the Holocaust, seem somehow bloodless. There is at times, a smugness to Hastings'' writing. He is enamored of the German Wermacht, commenting a number of times on their tactical and fighting skills, while at the same time minimizing the skill of American soldiers, and those of his own country England. I cannot say whether or not his assessments are correct, but his style brings to mind an image of a pipe smoking academic in his ivory tower, knowingly judging the acts of people caught in unimaginably difficult circumstances. Bizarrely, as Hastings ends his book writing about the post-war, he notes not the Marshall Plan or the wonder that Germany and Japan are now America''s allies. Rather, Hastings suggests that the creation of the State of Israel was illegitimate, and ignoring the Jews'' historic connection to their land, opines that "Widespread bitterness persists that the Western powers assauged their own guilt about the wartime fate of the Jews by making a geat historic gesture in lands identified by Muslims as rightfully Arab." Hastings'' book, with its many controversial opinions, undoubtedly adds to the scholarly research about World War II. I would prefer anything written by Stephen Ambrose, Rick Atkinson, James Hornfischer, or Ian Toll.
17 people found this helpful
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Mac McCormick III
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Great Look at the Human Cost of WW2
Reviewed in the United States on April 3, 2018
I wasn''t sure what to expect from a one-volume history of World War II but it turns out that this really isn''t a conventional history of the war. Instead of writing about the chronology of the war or battles, Hastings writes about the human experience of the war. He writes... See more
I wasn''t sure what to expect from a one-volume history of World War II but it turns out that this really isn''t a conventional history of the war. Instead of writing about the chronology of the war or battles, Hastings writes about the human experience of the war. He writes about what soldiers, sailors, and airmen experienced as well as what civilians experienced. A recurring theme is the cost of the war in the east versus the cost of the war in the west. Often, World War II histories seem to gloss over things the Allies did wrong and mistakes they made, but Hastings is also balanced and honest. He points out that while the Axis were guilty of war crimes, the Allies'' reputation was lily white either. This is a book that, in my opinion, should be required reading on the war because it lays out the human cost of World War II and puts the war in perspective.
31 people found this helpful
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Dr. Philip J. Kinsler
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Unique virtues, unfortunate failings
Reviewed in the United States on June 17, 2013
There are extensive reviews of this book already, I''ll add just a few comments. What I found to be the unique contributions of the book was its extensive use of the first person accounts of soldiers, ordinary townspeople, lower rank officers, etc. This gave an important... See more
There are extensive reviews of this book already, I''ll add just a few comments. What I found to be the unique contributions of the book was its extensive use of the first person accounts of soldiers, ordinary townspeople, lower rank officers, etc. This gave an important flavor of what the war was like for those who experienced it. However, Hastings suffers greatly from hindsight bias. He repeatedly uses phrases such as "it should have been obvious that" for example, Japan had been defeated already and there was no reason for the Philippine campaign. The Japanese didn''t seem to know that, as, even after the atomic bombs, large numbers of their generals and soldiers in China wanted to continue the war. The book is filled with such off-hand, judgmental comments taking points of view that could not have been known to the people engaged in the war at the time. Hastings is also dismissive, with one sentence back-hands, of many generals. He is scathing in his treatment of MacArthur, admittedly a troublesome figure, but not the incompetent Hastings makes him out to be. This is one of Hastings "should have knowns..." the US should have known that the campaign through what is now Indonesia was "unnecessary." One can almost hear Hastings sneer. He is similarly dismissive of, for example, Rommel, who he routinely berates as having no interest in logistics. He never provides data to back up these one sentence condemnations. This writer has seen extensive cable traffic from Rommel, in other works, pleading for oil, planes, tanks--the logistical support he needed. Hastings dismisses this in a sentence.

Read it for the human interest contributions. Don''t take Hastings judgments of the worth of various military campaigns or officers too seriously.
135 people found this helpful
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Rich
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Review: Inferno (Max Hastings)
Reviewed in the United States on June 16, 2021
In this review, I will describe the highlights of Inferno. This is a well written book on World War II describing the good, bad, and downright ugly aspects of World War II on both the European and Asian-Pacific fronts. The material not only covers the events, key people,... See more
In this review, I will describe the highlights of Inferno. This is a well written book on World War II describing the good, bad, and downright ugly aspects of World War II on both the European and Asian-Pacific fronts. The material not only covers the events, key people, battles, military strategies and tactics, and political forces, but is especially vivid and excels in covering the personal aspects of individual soldiers and civilians on both sides of the war. It also covers the blunders and brilliance of the various military commanders and the decisions made by high level civilians leaders and why they made them.

No country in Europe, Russia, or in Asia was ready militarily or psychologically for Germany''s blitzkrieg and Japan''s onslaughts and this was further aggravated by general denial, disbelief, and shock. This made for easy Axis victories early on in the war on both fronts. These conditions gave the Wehrmacht and Japanese army, their navies, and air forces a great deal of victories, momentum, motivation, and prestige early during the war.

It took about two years before the Allies got their act together and started becoming an effective fighting force. US economic and industrial might was a vital factor in changing the direction of the war in favor of the Allies. The Japanese knew before they bombed Pearl Harbor they could not endure a protracted effort against the US. The Germans sensed defeat sometime around 1942-43 especially after the Allies landed in Normandy (June 1944) and the Wehrmacht failed to take Stalingrad (Feb 1943). The war turned for Japan around 1942-43 (defeats at New Guinea 1942 and Solomon Islands 1943). Italy never did want a war and was never a serious threat. The viciousness of this war is beyond words; ineffable.

This is a good read and is a treasure chest of valuable information. The book discusses a good sprinkling of unusual topics not mentioned in this review. The material is well researched and documented. If you like to read about World War II, this book belongs in your library. I end this with a loss of words and wonder how all this ugliness happened; and why. Unfathomable.

Rich
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5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very informative
Reviewed in the United States on August 21, 2019
Personally I didn''t quite understand who all the players were in WWII and their interactions. I didn''t know that Japan and Nazi Germany were co-conspirators and communicated and plotted continually. I knew England was highly involved but was surprised to see how many... See more
Personally I didn''t quite understand who all the players were in WWII and their interactions. I didn''t know that Japan and Nazi Germany were co-conspirators and communicated and plotted continually. I knew England was highly involved but was surprised to see how many states under English rule they had to deal with and try to protect and defend. And the reasons the US got involved considering national politics and national support at the time. I didn''t know the entire interaction between the US, England and Russia and the allied effort to stop Nazi Germany. It was surprising to discover how ruthless Stalin was to his own people during this time. And way more than this did I discover. I think this is a pretty comprehensive book that made me more aware of the times during the late 30s and mid-40s. It is well written, appears to be factual, and explains things in an understandable manner. I would recommend this book.
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navyblue77
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Best WWII Narrative
Reviewed in the United States on July 20, 2020
Crafting a significant story around a trivial phrase, “all hell broke loose,” Max Hastings pulled off an impressive literary feat – a strategic narrative of World War II told from the bottom-up by “the voices of the little people and not the big ones” (xviii). As Hastings... See more
Crafting a significant story around a trivial phrase, “all hell broke loose,” Max Hastings pulled off an impressive literary feat – a strategic narrative of World War II told from the bottom-up by “the voices of the little people and not the big ones” (xviii). As Hastings notes in his introduction, Inferno is about the human experience of common men and women who fought, lived, died, and suffered through the war. Prior to reading Inferno, I had a good “big picture” understanding of WWII. What was missing, however, was Hastings vast, first-hand accounts of the combatants and the civilians who experience the war. The understanding of the toll on civilians -- Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese, Indians, and Holocaust victims – was particularly sobering.
Inferno is refreshingly bereft of the great men, their momentous political and military decisions and the grand campaigns of the war. Of the great men, Hastings provides only his assessment, often stinging, of their performance as leaders. They are not the protagonists of his narrative and they provide only the strategic backdrop against which normal human beings experienced the war. For example, Hastings notes the presence of Admirals Fletcher and Nagumo at the Battle of Midway in 1942, but the story of the combat itself is told through the experience of the sailors and airman who did the fighting and dying. The author uses this formula masterfully throughout the book moving seamlessly between the big picture in each theater of operation and the mass of civilian and military humanity in the picture.
Hastings is unambiguously ecumenical in his treatment of relative contributions and suffering of the warring powers. Even the casual reader will note the difference in scale of the war on the Eastern Front compared to all other European and Pacific theaters of operation. Between 1941 and 1943, the Soviet Union was fighting 80% of the German military. So, while the Americans and British battled 23 German divisions in North Africa and Italy, the Soviets fought against 177 divisions on the Eastern Front. Even after D-Day, the Soviets did the lion’s share of the ground combat until the end of the war. Likewise, Hastings points out the almost incomprehensible number of Soviet military and civilian wartime deaths – 27 million people, 15 percent of their pre-war population.
The author also provides an interesting counterpoint to the notion of the “good war.” For the hundreds of millions of inhabitants in British and French colonies there was nothing good about WWII. Most did not understand what they and their colonial masters were fighting for or against. Many who did understand the Allies cause distained Axis ideologies. That distain, however, did not necessarily translate into fighting to preserve British and French dominion over them. Many, in fact, took up arms and allied themselves with the Japanese against their former colonial masters. Hastings also recounts the little-known tragedy of the 1943-44 Bengal famine in which 1-3 million died from British racism and benign neglect of the Raj.
If there is a miss in Inferno -- and it is not a big one -- it is in Hastings’ assessment of the war’s leaders. The author seems unreasonably harsh on his countrymen, somewhat less severe on the Americans and unnecessarily adoring of the Soviets. That said, however, there is much to like in Inferno.
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JRF
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A magisterial look at the realities of total war
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 6, 2016
In other books, Max Hastings has focused on particular parts of World War II. This one covers the whole conflict, and does so very convincingly. As well as describing the key battles, the author deals extensively with the human side of the conflict. For me, this was the...See more
In other books, Max Hastings has focused on particular parts of World War II. This one covers the whole conflict, and does so very convincingly. As well as describing the key battles, the author deals extensively with the human side of the conflict. For me, this was the most valuable aspect of the book, bringing much greater understanding of (for example) the full implications of newsreel footage showing refugees trying to lead their families and possessions to safety along overcrowded roads subject to merciless strafing from the air. Another key area covered very well is the full savagery of the conflict on the Eastern front, with Soviet losses being massively greater than those suffered by the Western allies in other theatres. Other theatres of war are also described in a new light, questioning for example the need to take Pacific islands such as Okinawa at enormous human cost when Japan was in effect already beaten. The author always makes a clear case for his sometimes controversial conclusions. This book is not an easy read, but a necessary one.
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Keiran McAllister
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Mr Hastings at his best.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 26, 2021
I have read more second world war books than most people. I''m getting on a bit now and have been reading about WW2 since ever I can remember. This one ranks well in my top ten of that war. Why? Well, Max Hastings is a journalist, and as such writes fluently and his prose is...See more
I have read more second world war books than most people. I''m getting on a bit now and have been reading about WW2 since ever I can remember. This one ranks well in my top ten of that war. Why? Well, Max Hastings is a journalist, and as such writes fluently and his prose is easy to read. Then he includes the human stories as endured by actual people that were there. Then he sums up what he thinks and to me it usually makes sense. I have read quite a lot of Mr Hastings other books. I have enjoyed this style of history writing in all his books. In this book Mr Hastings has made the huge event in our history that WW2 was. accessible to the general reader. I would give it 6 stars and more for that reason alone. Personally I have read in much greater detail many of the events and actions that took place in WW2. But it is still refreshing to read a broader brush stroke in the form of a general history. For any starter with this war here is where you should start. Finally, I have no idea if Mr Hastings ever reads these reviews, but if he does a big thank you for all your work. If you could cover WW1 like this I would be most grateful!!
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Glyndower
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great One Volume History
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 3, 2020
Max Hastings is, together with Anthony Beevor (to whose work he refers), one of the two best military historians writing today. This a readable one volume history of WW2 and includes some illuminating evidence from individuals (especially civilians) and a myth-free...See more
Max Hastings is, together with Anthony Beevor (to whose work he refers), one of the two best military historians writing today. This a readable one volume history of WW2 and includes some illuminating evidence from individuals (especially civilians) and a myth-free reassessment of military leaders especially the frightful Patton, the incompetent MacArthur and the egotisitical Montgomery. It is not afraid to recognise Allied atrocities such as the systematic rapes committed by French colonial and Soviet troops alongside the better know Axis horrors. It also presents a more accurate view of Japanese sctions and the military and national leaders responsible most of whopm escaped punishment, Hirohito in particular, who should have been hanged but was kept in his position by MacArthur and the Americans. My one complaint that should be addressed in future editions is the referencing. As an academic I favour numbered footnotes rather than endnotes. Endnotes exist but are not numbered making it irksome to check references. I would also like to see an appendix briefly detailing the fate of those who contributed their memories, the deaths of military figures are often mentioned but the civilians rarely. Overall another great book by Hastings.
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Vasily Pugh
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
As near to a definitive book on WWII as you are likely to get.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 18, 2020
I bought this as a paperback when it was first released and, seeing it on offer on Kindle, thought I had to get it again. A balanced, informative and often exhaustive account, Hastings writes fairly and without a need for modern revisionism. He is a historian that states...See more
I bought this as a paperback when it was first released and, seeing it on offer on Kindle, thought I had to get it again. A balanced, informative and often exhaustive account, Hastings writes fairly and without a need for modern revisionism. He is a historian that states certain uncomfortable, politically incorrect facts about the horrors of war and the fact that all countries and races have some dark moments in their past. That said, he doesn''t try to equate anything with the Rape of Nanjing or Final Solution - the modern trend of whataboutism often tries to say that allied crimes - and they certainly existed - could be compared to the aforementioned which is an egregious statement. The book discusses the many innocent and naive lives caught up in the horrors, but also briefly touches on the conscientious objectors whose allegiance to their Christian beliefs meant they would not fight in the war. This last point is welcome as the secular world we live in now would quite happily forget the bravery this took too. All in all, this is a tremendous book written by one of the great historians of our time.
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Ivan
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
WWII - warts and all
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 22, 2016
A most interesting book that does not avoid bringing to light some disturbing aspects of the war. For example: Thirty thousand British deserters were estimated by some informed senior officers to be at liberty in Italy in 1944-45, the equivalent of two divisions, and about...See more
A most interesting book that does not avoid bringing to light some disturbing aspects of the war. For example: Thirty thousand British deserters were estimated by some informed senior officers to be at liberty in Italy in 1944-45, the equivalent of two divisions, and about that half that number of Americans. In Normandy a Waffen-SS officer was baffled to observe British infantry advancing behind their tanks in Normandy on June 18th, strolling, hands in pockets, rifles slung on their shoulders, cigarettes between their lips. The commanding officer of a British infantry battalion said: on an average in a platoon of 25, five will do their best...and fifteen will follow a lead. The rest will be useless. This applies to ther whole infantry corps, and if the junior officers and NCOs will not go, the situation is pretty bad What also makes the book are the numerous extracts from personal letters of the combatants. It is among the best that I have read on WWII, warts and all.
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