The book jacket describes the war as history's most dramatic event, but there's very little drama in this lavishly illustrated, informative but rarely incisive survey. Military historians Willmott and Messenger and journalist Cross provide a comprehensive account of the war's major campaigns and diplomatic initiatives, highlighted with brief sidebars on innumerable special topics (from the Holocaust to war movies) and a wealth of helpful timelines and color maps. Unfortunately, their broad but shallow treatment lacks the interpretive framework that would shape the fortunes of war into a comprehensible story. Their observations on the Allied and Axis war economies and the resulting disparity in numbers and supplies are well-chosen but scattered throughout the book in small asides, so that this decisive aspect of the war remains in the background. Other controversies, like Eisenhower's""Broad Front"" strategy in northwest Europe, the divided American command strategy in the Pacific and the effectiveness and morality of the Allied bombing campaigns against German and Japanese cities, are touched on but hardly explored. The primary text is largely a dry narrative of military operations, with the provisioning of pathos and atmospherics left to the hundreds of photos of ravaged towns and exhausted soldiers; weapons buffs, at least, will derive some pleasure from the many color portraits, complete with performance specs, of the contending armies' airplanes, tanks and rifles. While useful as a barebones chronicle of the war and a compendium of associated lore and visuals, the book lacks the sort of focus and insight that would transform the conflict's pageant of devastation and woe into meaningful history.
Reviewed on: 09/06/2004 Release date: 09/01/2004 Genre: Nonfiction