Saturday, August 6, 2011

World War II The Definitive Visual History

World War II was the largest and most destructive war in history. It shaped the world my generation grew up in, and only now are its long shadows receding. Like any hugely complex historical event. World War n is hard to describe in print. Some brilliant scholars have managed, using impressionistic strokes, to sketch out its major features in relatively few pages, although, perhaps inevitably, their purposeful lines obscure its finer detail. Others have concentrated on specific aspects: shelves groan beneath books on, say, Normandy or the fighting in North Africa. Many Western authors, writing in the chill of the Cold War, failed to recognize the pivotal importance of the Eastern Front, just as Russian historians, preoccupied with their own "Great Patriotic War," did not do justice to the Western Allies' efforts. In short, although there is now almost no aspect of the war that is not explored, it remains difficult to find an over-arching history of the conflict, unconstrained by national horizon or the rigid limitations of size and space, aimed at the general reader and properly supported, as such a history must be, by maps and illustrations. I warmly commend this book because it provides exactly that accessible survey that has long been missing. It recognizes that this war flared up out of the embers of the previous one, and does not simply pay proper attention to the dangerous legacy of World War I in Europe, but assesses the effect of Japan's dissatisfaction with the fruits of its own participation. For instance events in China, too often neglected, are properly considered here. Both the war's causes, at one end, and its consequences, at the other, are viewed in the round, embedding the conflict in its broader context.