A World War II history by Hastings (Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940–1945, 2010, etc.) may seem like a tautology, but readers familiar with his previous books will expect an enthralling account of his favorite subject. They will not be disappointed.
This time, the author emphasizes personal experiences as well as his often squirm-inducing opinions. Most startling—but not really controversial—he maintains that the Wehrmacht outclassed all other armies. The Allies, including the Soviets, never won a battle without vast superiority in men and material. However, he writes, the democracies were smarter. American industry operated more efficiently, took better advantage of science and paid more attention to logistics. German and Japanese troops regularly starved and rationed ammunition. In addition, U.S. intelligence services performed superbly, the enemies’ dreadfully. Readers will perk up at Hastings’ claim that Hitler’s second greatest mistake, after invading Russia, was launching the Battle of Britain. If he had allowed Britain to stew for months after its humiliating defeat, Churchill would have had great difficulty sustaining national morale or fending off pressure to make a peace, which would have eliminated not only Britain but America as a threat. Most general histories sprinkle their pages with anecdotes, but Hastings has this down to a science. He employs numerous specialists, delving into Russian and Italian archives and personally tracking down obscure, vivid, often painful stories from the usual combatants as well as Poles, Bengalese, Chinese and Japanese.
Excellent general WWII accounts abound—including those by historical superstars such as Stephen Ambrose and John Keegan—but Hastings is matchless.