Since I’m in the military and a history junkie (I even have a bachelor’s degree in history), I jumped on the chance to review The Second World War by Antony Beevor when it was offered. When it arrived in the mail, I was actually a little intimidated. It’s over 800 pages, and it has some weight to it. I still stepped forward to give it my best shot, and I’m extremely glad that I did. This book is incredibly easy to read and a great resource.
Right now, a quick internet search can provide you with all the dates and names that you could ever need. Answering a WWII trivia question is never more than a few key strokes away. What is much more difficult to find, however, are the stories that go behind the dates and names. The real human stories are what separate trivia from history. Antony Beevor does an amazing job of telling those stories. Instead of just telling you what happened, he tells you why it happened and how it affected everything else.
It didn’t take me very long to get hooked on this book. In fact, the introduction pretty much did the job. There, Beevor tells you the story of a man named Yang Kyoungjong. He was Korean and over the course of the war, he managed to fight for the Japanese, Soviet, and German armies (against his will in each case) before finally being captured by American paratroopers. It’s an absolutely amazing story, but the kicker is that it’s an amazing story that I had never heard before. I consider myself to be pretty knowledgeable when it comes to history, but I had no idea that being conscripted into three different armies was even a possibility, much less that a person had done it and actually managed to survive. It blew my mind, and the book had its talons in me before I even started the first chapter. It’s a great example of the “stories” that Beevor relates in the book.
There are a couple other things that I really enjoyed about the book. The first is the viewpoint. As Americans, we sometimes look at WWII as a conflict where we teamed up with England to fight the Germans while single-handedly defeating Japan in the Pacific. In reality, the war was much more global than that. This book isn’t written from an American point of view or a British point of view. It is written from a global viewpoint. All of the conflicts that comprised WWII are in this book. The battles between Japan and China are there. The Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland is included. There are entire stretches of the book that have nothing to do with the United States, and it makes you realize how big this war really was. It was so much bigger than D-Day or the Battle of Midway, and it’s great to know that.
The other thing that I really enjoy is that the book goes in roughly chronologically order. There’s another general belief that once the war in Europe was over, we turned our eyes to the Pacific and Japan. In reality, both fronts were raging at the same time, and this book shows you that. You get a much better sense of how stretched the world’s armies and navies really were. It’s awe-inspiring how incredibly large the conflict really was.
This is a terrific book for all levels. If you consider yourself a hard-core WWII junkie, this book will fill in all of the gaps in your knowledge. If you don’t really know much about the war, you can learn everything you would want to know right here. It’s an incredibly easy read, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you breeze through it. If you want to actually know the history of World War II instead of just knowing trivia about it, you need to pick up this book. You will not regret it.