Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Gerhard Weinberg)

A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

Gerhard Weinberg’s A World at Arms is a vital possession for every World War 2 and alternate history buff. Every significant event in a conflict that Weinberg sees and treats as a storm that enveloped every country in the world; even Uruguay and Mexico are indexed and details supplied. Weinberg does a great job of weaving developments on obscure fronts (Finland, Sub-Saharan Africa, India) and the behaviour of neutrals (Sweden, Turkey, Portugal) into the general narrative. He is particularly good on Soviet-Japanese relations and his use of Japanese diplomatic sources commenting on the war in Europe is fascinating.

In general the tone is dispassionate, although there are occasional flashes of well-deserved scorn for the Axis and their apologists. For example, he repeatedly derides the supposed "success" of Germanys aerial rearmament in the 1930s, by pointing out that Germany was eventually bombed to bits—a detail that does not need to be repeated in each summary of developments in the air war.

The book sticks mostly to grand strategy and doesn’t try to recreate the experience of the war, either on the battlefield or the home front. It also eschews biographical sketches of the major figures, perhaps assuming that they are already sufficiently familiar. Use of memorable quotations (such as Churchill’s matchless oratory) would have lent more colour and spark to the narrative.

My biggest quibble with the book is maps. The publisher has generally produced a very handsome volume, but the maps are tucked into the back rather than interspersed with the text. Moreover, they are few in number, difficult to read, and lacking in detail.

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