A magisterial, hypnotically detailed tactical narrative of WWII, with the competing military, political, and social histories of the maelstrom writ large—yet comprehensibly presented.
Coauthors Murray (Senior Fellow/Institute for Defense Analysis) and Millett (Military History/Ohio State Univ.) spent decades on their research, and the result is an essential plurality of understanding that allows them to consider the military strategies (and underlying realities) of the various Allied and Axis nations. Intentionally or otherwise, this book occupies ground distinct from Stephen Ambrose’s popular books, in that they focus much less on the personalized experiences of the soldier and more on the significant strategies, decisions, and movements of governments and generals (and the corresponding actions of the many individual naval, combat, and bomber units, and sundry partisan and espionage triumphs) which, taken together, form the artificial patchwork of industrialized devastation we think of as “the war.” Surprisingly, this “globalized” perspective does not produce abstract or diffuse results, but allows the authors to present a nuanced panorama of scarce information and unique interpretations. Offering equal weight to both the European and Pacific theaters, and connecting the complex, sometimes counterproductive Allied campaigns and the Axis military actions and ideology with the weight of human tragedy and societal disruption fomented in the occupied nations (and especially the Eastern Front), Murray and Millet allow one to simultaneously understand a distant historical event as technological warfare and as the 20th century’s cruel pivot. Broad canvas notwithstanding, the authors wisely rely upon important (and often obscure) primary sources, including combatant and survivor recollections, to add thoughtprovoking dialogues to the survey. And their inclusion of political and social interpretation clarifies the mystery of whole peoples’ motivation towards a “total war” that demolished peoples and national entities.
Strongly written with the stern clarity of senior historians, this is a spellbinding history: the reader will hear the whine of the bombers and see the guttering lights of Europe, and find this rich assemblage of horror and destiny hard to set down.