World War II as worldwide wrestling, in which four quite different but evenly matched champs gird up for the knockout.
British documentary producer and writer Berthon and researcher Potts know what makes for effective dramatization: strong characters doing amazing blood-spattered things, as Hitler, FDR, Churchill and Stalin surely did. Good TV does not always yield good history, though, and this book labors under the unstated sense that the four leaders fought the battle single-handedly, with Mussolini popping in for a cameo from time to time and old Hideki Tojo left out of the fun altogether; just so, Allied leaders such as Omar Bradley and Charles de Gaulle might as well have sat it out, for all the mention they’re given. The great-man approach has, of course, proven effective in introducing young readers to history, but this is a adult book, and adult readers deserve more complexity. And though complexity is sparingly offered here, it’s clear that Berthon and Potts have reserves of it: They know, for instance, that Hitler and Stalin signed their infamous non-aggression pact because each was afraid of being attacked by the other—and each thought he had fooled the other, and each rather admired the other all the while. The authors offer excellent coverage, too, of the slights, blunders and jealousies that so characterized the Allies that Hitler once boasted that their alliance would fall apart. One telling moment comes early on, when a pleading envoy promised that Britain would recognize Soviet sovereignty over the Baltic states if only they would switch to the Allied cause, while another moment comes very late, when Stalin professes great anger at being nicknamed “Uncle Joe” and wins a few more concessions from FDR and Churchill in the bargain.
Still, one wants a little more recognition that there were millions of soldiers and civilians involved. Reasonably good as a big-picture overview, except that the picture is so much bigger.