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World War II involved tens of millions of soldiers and cost sixty million lives—an average of twentyseven thousand a day. For 35 years, Max Hastings has researched and written about different aspects of the war. Now, for the first time, he gives us a magnificent, singlevolume history of the entire war.
Through his strikingly detailed stories of everyday people—of soldiers, sailors, and airmen; British housewives and Indian peasants; SS killers and the citizens of Leningrad, some of whom resorted to cannibalism during the two year siege; Japanese suicide pilots and American carrier crews—Hastings provides a singularly intimate portrait of the world at war. He simultaneously traces the major developments—Hitler’s refusal to retreat from the Soviet Union until it was too late, Stalin’s ruthlessness in using his greater population to wear down the German army, Churchill’s leadership in the dark days of 1940 and 1941, Roosevelt’s steady hand before and after the United States entered the war—and puts them in real human context.
Hastings also illuminates some of the darker and less explored regions under the war’s penumbra, including the conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland, during which the Finns fiercely and surprisingly resisted Stalin’s invading Red Army, and the Bengal famine in 1943 and 1944, when at least one million people died in what turned out to be, in Nehru’s words, “the final epitaph of British rule” in India.
Remarkably informed and wide-ranging, Inferno is both elegantly written and cogently argued. Above all, it is a new and essential understanding of one of the greatest and bloodiest events of the 20th century.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Mike From Mesa on 02-05-12
A different kind of history
This is one of many books that I have read about The Second World War over the years. I have read enough books about this period that I almost did not buy this one, but I found Mr Hastings' approach very fresh and very different. Instead of following battles through army and division movements Mr Hastings decided to follow the flow of the war through individual diaries and letters. This approach made the period much more personal for me and taught me, as no other book did, what the war was like for those who had to live through it. I was and have remained impressed by his presentation of the war.
I also appreciated his global prospective. Here I read about the battles in the lesser battlefields of the war - Burma, India, China and so on. Previously I had to read books such as Stillwell And The American Experience In China to find much about what was going on outside of Europe and The Pacific.
Balanced against the positives I feel the need to mention some negatives.
1) Mr Hastings keeps referring to all information gained by breaking the enemy codes as Ultra in spite of the fact that the effort to break and utilize the German codes was known as Ultra and the effort to break and utilize the Japanese codes was known as Magic. Thus Mr Hastings refers to the information that helped the US win the Battle Of Midway as Ultra even though this information came directly from Magic. Similarly all such pacific intercepts are incorrectly referred to as Ultra. Perhaps this is a British term, but it is annoying for anyone who knows the history of the Magic intercepts.
2) There is at least one reference to action taking place in 1952 instead of 1942. I do not have the print version of this book so I am not sure if the print is wrong or the reader just made a mistake. 1952, of course, was 7 years after the end of the war.
3) There is one passage in the spoken book that refers to 40,000 US soldiers lost during a battle when, from the content, it is clear that it was German soldiers who were lost.
There are a couple of other items of this sort. But the book is so well done and the diary and letters so revealing of what was happening, that it was easy to overlook them in rating this book. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this period of time and is not concerned with specific troop movements.
63 of 64 people found this review helpful
By BB on 01-21-12
A masterful and moving human panorama
Max Hastings' ability to find first-person accounts and integrate them into his narrative has always been one of his outstanding talents, and in "Inferno," he has the chance to do this on a global scale. I listened to this immediately after Andrew Robert's "The Storm of War," and the two books are remarkably complementary: Roberts provides a better-organized narrative, while Hastings provides countless memorable snapshots of the human cost of the war. Hastings does not skimp on covering the full range of events and theatres, and manages to include dozens of lesser-known aspects, such as the siege of Budapest in 1944 and the magnitude of Japanese war crimes in China. Ralph Cosham's narration has a certain hesitant quality that took a little getting used to, but in the end, it seemed perfect for the text. I certainly hope that Audible will acquire Hastings' other works, such as "Overlord," "Armageddon," and "Retribution."
19 of 19 people found this review helpful