You'll never think of WW II as ``the good war'' again after reading Ponting's catalogue of catastrophic mistakes and horrific atrocities committed by political and military leaders on all sides. In his ninth book, British historian Ponting (Univ. of Swansea, Wales; A Green History of the World, 1992, etc.) offers his own interpretation of the war's big issues. Eschewing military history, he instead provides weighty, chapter-length examinations of nine ``common themes'' and discusses ``how the various belligerents (and neutrals) responded to the common problems.'' This analysis leaves out individual personalities and battles and zeroes in on broad struggles, such as the homefront, the neutral nations, technology, overall strategy, civilians, and the effects of occupation and liberation. Ponting marshals plenty of evidence (all of which, unfortunately for the student of history, is unfootnoted) to show that the WW II ``was probably the most brutal war fought in modern times.'' The brunt of that brutality, he points out more than once, came on the eastern front during the almost unimaginatively murderous German invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent Russian counterattack. Ponting makes a strong case that ``the overwhelming importance of material superiority'' of the Allies was the key to the defeat of both Germany and Japan. In addition, the author offers several against- the-grain arguments, including his contention that Hitler's fatal invasion of Russia was ``highly logical''; that technological advances were not as decisive in the war's outcome as commonly believed; that the overwhelming majority of people in German and Japanese occupied countries were neither collaborators nor resisters; that the importance of anti-German resistance has been ``overemphasized''; and that liberation was not exactly liberating for the people in many Eastern European and Asian countries. A refreshingly unromantic view of a war that all too often is remembered in sanitized form.