Review – Inferno: The World at War (1939-45) by Max Hastings
As a leading World War II historian, Max Hastings has taken the monumental task of looking at World War II on a personal global scale. In Max Hastings new book, Inferno: The World at War (1939-45) he uses personal eyewitness accounts of the horrors of the war. Vernon Bogdanor of the New Statesman reviewed Hastings new book (Originally titled All Hell Let Loose: The World at War (1939-45))
The Second World War was the most terrible event in human history, killing roughly 60million people, most of them non-combatants, an average of about 27,000 for each day of the war. More people were slaughtered by their fellow human beings than ever before. A vast number of books has been written about the war. Is there anything new to say? Perhaps not, but this does not mean that the task of the historian has been completed. The challenge is to seek to understand this catastrophe. No doubt we will never fully understand some aspects of it, in particular the Holocaust. Nevertheless, the historian must do his best.
Max Hastings has studied the war for 35 years and has written eight previous books on specific episodes such as the Battle of Britain and D-Day, as well as a volume on Winston Churchill as war leader. Inferno is an attempt to describe not only the high politics of strategy, but also the experiences of ordinary people involved in the conflict, and what the war meant to those caught up in it. Henry James once described the Victorian novel as a large, loose and baggy monster. This book is also a large, loose and baggy monster, as it must be if it is to comprehend such vastly different experiences as those of the British housewife, the German Panzer officer in occupied territory, the Soviet peasant, the Japanese kamikaze pilot and the Polish soldier who, after fighting bravely on the Allied side, found himself an exile in his own country when it came under communist rule.