For a beginner, this book is a no-brainer. It, in fact, provides an ideal springboard to other, far more comprehensive ‘histories’
So much has been written about the Second World War that one could be forgiven for wondering if another sweeping history of humanity’s second greatest folly of the 20th Century were required. It is, if you’ve only recently discovered a taste for the historical convulsions that sent the world into upheaval from 1938 to 1945.
Antony Beevor’s book is certainly not the best on the subject. For that you will have to experience the literary nous of Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart’s History of the Second World War. Sir Hart, of course, had the advantage of actually interviewing German generals at the Nuremberg Trials. It was these interviews that spawned his other great book, The Other Side of the Hill. After him, the considerable talents of Max Hastings, Cornelius Ryan, Stephen Eambrose, Richard Overy and Beevor himself have filled in the genocidal tapestry of World War 2.
So why has Beevor just released another comprehensive history? If you’ve read Hart’s History, then it’s unlikely you’ll find this book better. Beevor traverses all three major theatres of the war (Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific) skimming the surface and providing a superficial canvas of the global conflict. For a beginner, this book is a no-brainer. It, in fact, provides an ideal springboard to other, far more intricate and comprehensive ‘histories’.
But where Beevor’s ‘history’ does separate itself from the crowded field is in his insights into the role of China in the conflict. The contribution of Chiang Kai-shek’s ill-equipped Chinese Nationalists in tying up a large number of Japanese soldiers has for far too long been ignored. Beevor is also one of the few to highlight the Battle for Kohima on April 6, 1944 where the 4th Royal West Kents, the locally-raised Assam Rifles, and a detachment of Rajputs faced down the bulk of Japanese General Mutagachi’s 15th Army. Mutagachi, who wrongly believed that Subhas Chandra Bose’s so-called Indian National Army was on its way to aid him, was confident of overcoming such a small force defending Kohima. But while Bose was floundering, Mutagachi faced soldiers who fought doggedly.
The now-forgotten Battle of Garrison Hill saw the defenders encircled and facing Japanese attacks. The Indian and British defenders were eventually relieved when the British 2nd Division broke through the Japanese lines. “Our backs were to the wall, and we were going to sell our lives as expensively as we could,” wrote the company commander of the West Kents. And that they certainly did.
It is these stunning vignettes that make Beevor’s book a must-read for the history amateur. The more-experienced military buff may not necessarily be rushing out to buy it.
- The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer
- History of the Second World War by BH Liddell Hart
- The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan
- D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Stephen E Ambrose
- Why the Allies won by Richard Overy
Name: The Second World War
Author: Antony Beevor
Publisher: Hachette India