Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945

Max Hastings. Knopf, $35 (752p) ISBN 978-0-307-27359-8
Hastings continues a recent substantial body of general audience writing on WWII (Armageddon; Retribution,) in this equally well-researched and well-presented account focusing on the conflict’s human dimension, looking at both soldiers and civilians, members of both Allies and Axis. For millions of ordinary people the war was “hell let loose,” imposing, at the least, drastic change and, at worst, incomprehensible horror—60 million died. Participants assembled the “vast jigsaw puzzle” of war with the pieces they had and made sense of it in terms of their own circumstances. Hastings succeeds admirably in synthesizing the results in a globe-girdling context from Guadalcanal to the Dnieper River. He establishes, in some sense, the temporary nature of war—that soldiers seldom lost their identity as civilians in uniform, and civilians counted the days until normality returned. That mind-set determined the war’s nature: structured by mass participation and institutional effectiveness. In Russia, for instance, the German invasion led to “a surge of popular enthusiasm” to support Russia, followed rapidly by despair and men trying to evade the draft. As Hastings makes clear, the war’s impact also outlasted the conflict: for decades people judged one another by their wartime behavior; for many the psychological impact of the horrors never left them. Illus., maps. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/08/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
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