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The Second World War


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About the Author

Sir Martin Gilbert was knighted in 1995 for services to British history and international relations. Among his many books are The Righteous (0-8050-6260-2), The Holocaust (0-8050-0348-7), The Day the War Ended (0-8050-4735-2), and Churchill: A Life (0-8050-2396-8). He lives in London, England.


This masterful account of history's most destructive conflict explains the purpose and interrelationship of the major campaigns of the war and their effect on soldiers and civilians alike. Though the military aspect is told with noteworthy clarity and narrative power, most impressive is Gilbert's presentation of World War II as primarily a matter of organized evil and mass madness, a deadly virus originating in Berlin and Tokyo that infected victims on a global scale. That it was ``the last good war'' is a saying made dramatically comprehensible in the sections describing the opposition to the Axis. The scope of the book is astonishingly broad, ranging smoothly from Himmler's ``human stud-farms'' (dedicated to producing pure Aryans) to the importance of the Burma campaign, from a comparison of Nazi treatment of Jews and Japanese treatment of Filipinos to the SS doctrine that mercy was officially considered a crime. Gilbert is the author of the acclaimed eight-volume official Winston Churchill biography. Photos. (Nov.)

Though few one-volume histories of World War II have been published in the last ten years, the 50th anniversary of the war's start has inspired new works: Gilbert's book and John Keegan's The Second World War (reviewed in this issue, p. 102) are two of them. Gilbert's is less a battle history than Keegan's. For Gilbert (biographer of Churchill and Holocaust historian, author of the massive The Holocaust, LJ 2/1/86) the movements of armies and the decisions of statesmen were ultimately the consequences of Nazi and Japanese racial policies. Thus the struggles and fates of Axis victims are essential to the complete history of war, which inflicted such unprecedented suffering on innocent parties. Gilbert uses this perspective to present the war from an original angle. Accounts of campaigns and conferences are directly juxtaposed to descriptions of atrocities and resistance. Gilbert draws his human interest not from battlefields and home fronts, as do most histories of the war, but from concentration camps and ghettoes. In so doing he reminds us that World War II was a ``good war,'' because it was fought against tyrannies that perpetuated obscenities as a matter of principle. Recommended for all collections.-- Dennis E. Showalter, Colorado Coll., Colorado Springs

"Surprisingly effective in reminding us that World War II was more than a series of battles and feats of arms."

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