Monday, October 16, 2006

Best single volume book on the Second World War

Finding a good book that covers the entire Second World War is difficult. Yes you can read multi-volume studies like Churchill's, but a world class single volume has remained lacking. The subject is so giant it is hard to encompass. Ideally you would read deeply in the subjects that interest you. For most people, a single volume will give them the overview they need to understand what happened.

A War To Be Won by Williamson Murray and Allan Millett is the most worthwhile single volume history of the Second World War I have encountered. Let me list its virtues. For one it is accessible. Rather than descending into jargon, acronyms or unit designations, the authors write for the reasonably informed reader. They also provide a detailed appendix with terminology and concepts. For another it is well balanced. All areas of the war receive coverage. Many books slight the Russian war for example, but here the core role of the Soviets is clear. Some of the books that give the Soviets their due denigrate the contribution of the Western Allies, but not this one. Another high point is the analysis and point of view the authors bring. Too many histories merely relate what happened. With a topic as large as WW2, it is hard to not simply rattle off facts. The authors nicely situate battles and decisions in the strategic context, so you can get an idea what was a good idea and what was not. The authors are also unafraid of making judgements. Omar Bradley, for example, gets a rather scathing verdict. If you want to learn more about the war but find the rows and rows of books available to be daunting then this should fit the bill.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Keegan's The Second World War is not bad, although it tends toward a textbook approach at times. I'm glad to hear AWTBW is good - it has been sitting on my bookshelf for some time.