Beevor (D-Day, 2009, etc.) joins the ranks of other contemporary British historians to tackle the entire war in one volume—e.g., Andrew Roberts (The Storm of War) and Gordon Corrigan (The Second World War).
All three books move chronologically, with Roberts grouping by driving themes (“Onslaught, Climacteric, Retribution”), Corrigan by military theaters (the Russian, the Asian and so on) and Beevor by more numerous, geographically detailed conflicts. The result here can be stultifying in its richness of detail, but Beevor makes blazingly vivid the sense of mass upheaval and grief prevalent in all parts of the world. The author’s coverage of the East Asian conflicts is masterful, and he emphasizes early on the key skirmish in August 1939 between Soviet commander Georgi Zhukov’s forces and the Japanese at Nomonhan in Outer Mongolia, in which the Soviets repulsed the Japanese in an appalling massacre. Stalin received Zhukov as a hero, while the Japanese made the portentous non-aggression pact with Stalin just before Operation Barbarossa and moved instead against France, the Netherlands, Britain and the U.S. Navy. Beevor’s knowledge of Crete, occupied Paris, Stalingrad and Berlin infuses these segments with particular nuance, though some readers may wish he had devoted more space to each. Throughout, the author remains cognizant of the brutalization of civilians, including the systematic rape of women. In his chapter on the Nazi extermination camps, he focuses on the account of Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, to demonstrate how ordinary the day-to-day horror had become. Eisenhower’s decision not to take Berlin—too many casualties—was “the correct decision even if for the wrong reason,” Beevor writes, because Stalin would never have allowed it. While the author hurriedly wraps up the endgame, the majority of the narrative is a deeply enlightening experience.
A work of vast research, depth and insight—perhaps too vast for some readers.