So it occurred to me that I’ve never actually read a history of World War II. In recent years, as I became more interested in modern history, I’ve read about the buildup to WW1, WW1 and the interwar period, and the post-WW2 period, but I just kinda skipped right over WW2 itself. So I looked around for recommendations for a reasonably up-to-date general overview of the war, and settled on Max Hastings’ Inferno.
It very much does what it sets out to do, give a comprehensive and comprehensible high-level view of the war in all its theaters and fronts, colored with enough first-person detail to keep it from becoming dry, but not so detailed that you get caught looking at trees instead of forests. It’s absolutely the sort of book that’s meant to be a “first” book on the topic, giving you enough context to plug in more narrowly-focused books on any topic that particularly interests you. So kudos on that front.
The biggest negative is… maybe not actually a negative, in context. Specifically, it’s that this is a very conventional book. The Winston Churchill we see here is man of resolve and willpower, with just a soupcon of racist shitbaggery; the dropping of the atomic bomb is justified with ease; maybe the most daringly revisionist view it holds is that Douglas MacArthur was a vainglorious fool who got a lot of people killed for no good reason. And so it’d be nice to read a book that’s maybe a bit more thoughtful about topics like that, but honestly I’ve always found it useful to know the conventional wisdom before you start reading the things that push back against it, so a conventional history at this level isn’t bad at all.
Recommended to anyone who has a high school level knowledge of WW2, and wants to know just a wee bit more.