A Short History Of World War II, by DK Publishing
This book is not really a short history. Its original title was World War II: The Definitive Visual History, and if that is not a perfect title either (it is rather presumptuous to call something a definitive history, after all), it at least gives some clue of the nature of this book and its use of pictures to convey information rather than a lot of text. Admittedly, this book still contains a fair amount of text, being more than 500 pages long. But because it aims to provide a context for World War II that includes the lead-up to the war as well as some of the things that happened after the war (including the beginning stages of the Cold War) and covers subsidiary theaters as well, the book is clearly about as short as it could be and retain any sort of scholarly value whatsoever as a secondary text. While it is by no means a perfect book–it is far too pro-Communist, for example, when dealing with China and the Soviet Union–it is certainly a worthwhile book to read as well as to critique. The authors of the book show a great interest in military technology and these sections are certainly welcome.
This book is divided into nine large chapters that take up together about 550 pages of material. The first chapter of the book looks at the lead-up to the war (1), starting with World War and including the Berlin Olympics and the Spanish Civil War as well as Japan’s invasion of Manchuria and the Chinese Civil War. After that there is a discussion of the outbreak of War in Europe in 1939 (2) along with the Winter War. This leads to a look at Germany triumphant in 1940 with its conquest of most of the rest of Western Europe (3) and Italy’s entrance into the war. This is followed by a discussion of the widening war in 1941 as warfare expands to Africa and the Pacific Islands and Russia as Germany and Japan attack new targets to bring new nations into the fighting (4). In 1942 we see the shifting balance as Japan and Germany reach their peak and the war turns around in North Africa (5). After that the Allies start to turn the tide in the Pacific, Russia, and Atlantic while also invading Italy (6). This leads to overwhelming force being directed by 1944 as the Allies liberate France and start to liberate Burma and the Philippines (7). The end of war comes in 1945 (8) with the victories in Europe and Asia, and the book continue to discuss the aftermath from 1946-1950 as World War II bleeds into the Cold War (9).
World War II is immensely complicated, and this book does a good job at showing why this was the case. While the book is certainly not deep, it is broad enough that the beginning reader on World War II history can get a sense of the personalities involved on various sides of the war as well as the struggle between political goals and military realities, and even the fateful way that Germany’s supposed breakthroughs were delayed so much that they were of no effect. The author also notes certain aspects of Cold War and realpolitik concerns that led to decisions that others might not have appreciated so much, such as the decision not to try Warner von Braun of any crimes for his use of concentration camp slave labor because of his rocketry expertise that was useful for NASA. If the authors of this book go out of their way in trying to discredit Hitler’s anti-Communism by making a reudcto at Hitlerium fallacy, the complications between the allies are clear enough and the sensitive reader can pick up on the attempt that Germany in particular made to divide the Allies on ideological grounds. Alas, since they had declared war on both the Soviet Union and the United States there really was little they could expect as far as their propaganda efforts.