Gilbert, the official biographer of Churchill and one of the most prolific historians alive, aspires to be the Livy of our age. His history of the century is, literally, a chronicle--the chapters are named for years (or, during the peak of WWII, for parts of years). Noting that ""for virtually every episode mentioned in these pages, usually in a short paragraph, a complete volume could be written,"" Gilbert makes no claim to offer any new interpretation of events. Instead, he gives readers an overview of the policies of governments, the movements of armies and the havoc brought down on civilian populations. Given the years covered, the book is essentially a history of WWII; Gilbert even shows how subsequent events--the triumph of Chinese Communists, the establishment of Israel, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the emergence of independent nations in Africa--were all, to some degree, continuations or direct consequences of WWII. By no stretch of the imagination is this a cultural or social history, but Gilbert salts his text with eclectic references to the fabric of everyday life in America and Europe. The first chapter, for instance, after covering Stalin's purges and Hitler's consolidation of power, concludes somewhat abruptly with this clause: ""...and in the United States the Ritz cracker was introduced."" Based on the first two volumes, it's fair to say that Gilbert's history of the century is an exemplary work of what might be called narrative reference. As a basic primer on major events and as a springboard toward further historical reading, his fluid book of years is invaluable. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999 Release date: 02/01/1999 Genre: Nonfiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.