cover image Blood and Ruins: The Last Imperial War, 1931–1945

Blood and Ruins: The Last Imperial War, 1931–1945

Richard Overy. Viking, $35 (1,152p) ISBN 978-0-670-02516-9

University of Exeter historian Overy (The Morbid Age) delivers a dazzling if overstuffed reassessment of WWII. Characterizing the conflict as a clash between ambitious and resentful upstarts (Germany, Italy, Japan) that sought to expropriate territory from more venerable empires (Britain, France, Russia, China), Overy details the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, Italian campaigns in Libya and Ethiopia, and the swift fall of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France, before crediting Allied victories at Guadalcanal, El Alamein, and Stalingrad in 1942 with turning the tide of the war. He praises the Normandy landings and subsequent sweep across France and into Germany as “the high point of Anglo-American achievement during the war,” and dramatically details the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Soviet Army’s sweep into Manchuria. Overy then turns his attention to larger themes, including the economics of warfare, the impact of new technologies, and the efficacy of European resistance movements. Some of these discussions—about the conduct of civil defense, for example—grow tedious, and a chapter documenting “crimes and atrocities” committed by both sides of the conflict is more numbing than enlightening. Still, Overy’s reframing of WWII as the last gasp of imperialism is astute and incisive. WWII buffs should consider this a must-read. (Apr.)