Book reviews from The Free Lance-Star.
Bringing war to life
By Peggy Carlson
The Free Lance-Star
AS THE generation that lived through World War II passes on, the rest of us are resigned to learning about it from books, newsreels, oral histories, letters, photos and more. Veteran author and correspondent Max Hastings has a great knack for distilling a mass of information into an immensely readable presentation, offering analysis and insight, along with facts.
“Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945,” is now available in paperback. Focusing on the human face of the war, it deserves a place of honor in the library of anyone interested in World War II. Writing without a trace of romanticism and often with a dose of irony, Hastings makes the hellish period come to life in a vivid way, sometimes thrilling and sometimes sickening, but always gripping.
The events are framed by the human experience, and Hastings offers multiple perspectives: British, American, French, Japanese, German, Polish and Russian.
Each chapter is a self-contained unit, highlighting a specific aspect or area of
the war. They are arranged chronologically, but needn’t be read in order to make sense.
Hastings writes about the fall of Poland and France; Britain’s lonely stance against Germany; America’s reluctance to go to war; the rise of militarism in Japan; Hitler’s plans for conquest and much more. The chapters about the Eastern Front, “Barbarossa” and “Moscow Saved, Leningrad Starved,” are painful. Hastings aptly describes the situation as “a grapple between rival monsters,” the Germans and the Russians; and the treachery, tenacity and barbarity of both sides is incomprehensible.
The war’s big events and places are in this book—Poland overrun, the fall of France, blitzkrieg, Midway, Battle of Britain, fighting in Finland and Norway, Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor, Anzio, Coral Sea, D–Day, Bataan—as well as the “little” events—children separated from parents, wives searching desperately for food and firewood, young boys conscripted into military service, homes destroyed and lives forever changed.
Hastings concludes with “Victors and Vanquished,” a masterful analysis of what the inferno of World War II had wrought. He concludes: “It is impossible to dignify the struggle as an unalloyed contest between good and evil All that seems certain is that Allied victory saved the world from a much worse fate than would have followed the triumph of Germany and Japan, With this knowledge, seekers after virtue and truth must be content.”
Peggy Carlson is on the newsroom staff of The Free Lance–Star
INFERNO: THE WORLD AT WAR, 1939–1945
By Max Hastings
(Knopf, $17.95, 500 pp.)
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