Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943

Keith Lowe, Author . Simon & Schuster $30 (430p) ISBN 978-0-7432-6900-1

Freelance author Lowe presents the 1943 Hamburg firestorm raids as a case study in WWII's defining characteristic: the tension between desire to destroy at random and will to restrain that desire. Historically inclined to the liberal and socialist Left, Hamburg complied with the Nazi New Order, but didn't celebrate it. The city was also a major industrial center and legitimate target—especially given the Allied belief that air attacks could make war shorter and less destructive. Lowe vividly describes the death, destruction and accompanying horrors, such as blocks of people being sucked into the firestorms. He's at pains to show the airmen's lack of triumphalism, after suffering heavy losses in attacking the well-defended target. But when he says that Hamburg is regarded as a byword for horror, he seems to mean in Germany—Europe has not developed much sympathy for the tribulations of the Third Reich. He's on even shakier ground arguing that Britons and Americans developed a "legacy of guilt" for the bombing, and positioning the later years of the combined bomber offensive on a continuum with the Holocaust, because neither distinguished between combatants and civilians. Nevertheless, this balanced and evocative analysis makes a provocative contribution to moral studies of the air war over Germany. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/09/2007
Release date: 06/01/2007
Paperback - 430 pages - 978-0-7432-6901-8
Ebook - 416 pages - 978-1-4165-4596-5
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-14-102018-1
Paperback - 439 pages - 978-0-241-96424-8
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