The author of The Second World War on reading to shed light on a global cataclysm.
Historian Antony Beevor has established himself as one of our era’s most important writers on World War II in books like Stalingrad, D-Day and The Fall of Berlin, 1945. His latest work — perhaps his most ambitious to date — is titled simply The Second World War, and alternates a tight focus on individual moments with a bird’s-eye view of one of the modern era’s turning points. This week, Anthony Beevor points us to three favorites that illuminate that momentous conflict from perspectives both familiar and surprising.
By Timothy Snyder
“Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin is the most important work of history for years. Snyder shows what really took place between 1930 and 1945 in the Baltic States, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. From the Stalinist famines to the death marches of 1945 and the mass ethnic cleansing, these borderlands were the focus of both Stalin’s and Hitler’s ideological obsessions. This work of passionate honesty is superbly researched and beautifully written.”
By Vasily Grossman
“The War and Peace of Stalinism and the Great Patriotic War. This deliberate act of literary homage to Tolstoy uses the Battle of Stalingrad in the place of the Battle of Borodino and there are several parallels in construction. But the characters and the terrible dilemmas they face when confronted by the moral distortions of the system are entirely the product of the ‘wolfhound age’ as Mandelstam called it. Grossman, who had spent more time at the front than any other writer, accumulated stories, incidents, and extraordinarily powerful vignettes in his notebooks for use in his novels later.”
By Joseph Heller
“This is probably the most devastating satire ever written about the lunacy of war and military bureaucracy. The novel, set in Italy towards the end of the Second World War, is a triumph of construction, with its fiendishly unbreakable circle of counter-logic, as the US bomber squadron is sent on more and more missions by ambitious officers, trying to exceed their objectives.”