Having written a long, quirky, often astute history of the post–World War era in The Atlantic and Its Enemies (2010), British historian Stone moves back in time to deliver a much shorter, entertaining history of the war itself.
The Allies may have won World War I, but they made a mess of the peace, humiliating Germany and, almost without thinking, Japan, a former ally. The Depression unsettled everyone, and while the democracies turned inward, belligerent militarists took power in Germany and Japan, prepared for war and then attacked. Both won dazzling victories at first, behaved barbarically throughout, foolishly overextended themselves and lost. Stone does not quarrel with the traditional allotment of credit for Allied victory (British stubbornness, American production, Russian blood), and he makes the usual point that Germany and Japan possessed superior soldiers but incompetent governments. Their industries were poorly organized compared to America’s and Britain’s, and neither understood modern, technological war. Allied navies and air forces had demolished their counterparts years before the 1945 surrender. First-rate writers (Keegan, Hastings and Beevor, among others) have covered World War II at length, so there seems little need for a book that describes a complex series of worldwide campaigns in 160 pages, but Stone does a fine job. Novices will receive a painless introduction, but educated readers should not pass up the highly opinionated prologue and epilogue and the author’s trademark acerbic commentary throughout.
Stone’s well-known conservatism is on display mostly in his greater praise of America and contempt for the Soviet Union, so readers of all stripes may roll their eyes, but they will find plenty to ponder.