World War Two: A Short History

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Overview

After the Great War, the United States and the nations of Europe longed for a lasting peace. As far as they were concerned, they had just experienced “the war to end all wars.” Over 15 million lay dead, and much of Europe had been reduced to rubble. The possibility of another such conflict was practically unthinkable. And yet within two decades of the signing of the Versailles Treaty, war broke out once again, on such a cataclysmic scale that it would forever transform ...

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World War Two: A Short History

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Overview

After the Great War, the United States and the nations of Europe longed for a lasting peace. As far as they were concerned, they had just experienced “the war to end all wars.” Over 15 million lay dead, and much of Europe had been reduced to rubble. The possibility of another such conflict was practically unthinkable. And yet within two decades of the signing of the Versailles Treaty, war broke out once again, on such a cataclysmic scale that it would forever transform international geopolitics.

In World War Two, Norman Stone—one of the greatest living historians of the twentieth century—provides an unprecedentedly concise, utterly authoritative account of the deadliest war of human history. Over 60 million people perished in World War Two, and the story of how the conflict roared to life from the ashes of the Great War is shocking, tragic, and also completely preventable in hindsight. The peace that Europe so craved after World War I hinged on European stability—but by demanding a massive indemnity from Germany in order to keep it from rearming, the Allies prevented Germany from recovering from the trauma of the Great War. The results, as Stone shows, were disastrous.

Riding a tide of popular desperation and resentment, Adolf Hitler soared to power in Germany, and promptly made good on his promises to return the country to its former strength. He reinvigorated the German economy by rearming at a breakneck pace, then muscled his way into neighboring countries under a variety of pretenses, all while intensifying his campaign of anti-Semitic terror and forming a fascist bloc with the totalitarian regimes in Japan and Italy. His gamble was that the Allies, still shaken from the previous war, would not attempt to stop him—and for a time, he was right.

Britain and France’s eventual decision to declare war on Germany following the invasion of Poland in 1939 was utterly irrational, argues Stone—but then again, Hitler had driven the world insane. He had bullied all of Europe into giving him his way, and in doing so he had backed the victors of the Great War into a corner. Driven as much by a sense of outrage as anything else, the British leapt into the conflict; the French, fearing for their security, joined in. In time, and for their own unique reasons, the Americans and Soviets would enter the fray on the side of the Allies, as well. And so the conflagration spread across the globe, fanned by political and racial ideologies even more poisonous, and weaponry even more destructive, than those that had ravaged Europe in the previous war. Stone leads his reader through the inexorable escalation, savage climax, and mournful denouement of this sprawling conflict, providing along the way encapsulated accounts of the crucial battles of the war, from El Alamein, Stalingrad, and Midway to Anzio, Saipan, and Normandy. By the time World War Two had finally burned itself out in the capitals of Germany and Japan, the victors were already beginning to feel the chill of the oncoming Cold War—a new sort of conflict, and one defined by the hitherto unseen devastation the globe had just experienced.

With astonishing aplomb, Norman Stone traces the causes, course, and conclusion of this epic war. A stunning achievement, World War Two is a work of history of which only Norman Stone is capable. Brisk yet profound, pithy but endlessly informative, it is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the twentieth century and its most defining conflict.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this slim volume, British historian and former Cambridge lecturer Stone (World War One) attempts to deliver an overview of WWII, beginning with its post–Great War origins, working through the conflict on multiple fronts, and skipping to its final, formal end with the 1991 German peace treaty. Operating under the theory that overly harsh sanctions on Germany following the previous war sparked the start of the next, Stone spends little time on the subject before moving on; though he does examine the volatile political landscape between wars, it's mostly in passing. With chapters devoted to the rise of Germany, the struggle between Germany and Russia, the North African campaign, and various aspects of Allied efforts, this work hits the highlights of the war, but fails to provide in-depth analysis. The author moves from one topic to the next at breakneck speed, relentlessly throwing out names and facts along the way. Additionally, Stone's presentation is wordy and convoluted—it might work at a lectern, but here it's awkward and often confusing. Too short to be comprehensive, and too dense to be an easy read, Stone's book might serve, at best, as a springboard for further exploration of other sources. 10 b&w photos, 3 maps. Agent: Caroline Michel, Peters Fraser & Dunlop. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Having written a long, quirky, often astute history of the post–World War era in The Atlantic and Its Enemies (2010), British historian Stone moves back in time to deliver a much shorter, entertaining history of the war itself. The Allies may have won World War I, but they made a mess of the peace, humiliating Germany and, almost without thinking, Japan, a former ally. The Depression unsettled everyone, and while the democracies turned inward, belligerent militarists took power in Germany and Japan, prepared for war and then attacked. Both won dazzling victories at first, behaved barbarically throughout, foolishly overextended themselves and lost. Stone does not quarrel with the traditional allotment of credit for Allied victory (British stubbornness, American production, Russian blood), and he makes the usual point that Germany and Japan possessed superior soldiers but incompetent governments. Their industries were poorly organized compared to America's and Britain's, and neither understood modern, technological war. Allied navies and air forces had demolished their counterparts years before the 1945 surrender. First-rate writers (Keegan, Hastings and Beevor, among others) have covered World War II at length, so there seems little need for a book that describes a complex series of worldwide campaigns in 160 pages, but Stone does a fine job. Novices will receive a painless introduction, but educated readers should not pass up the highly opinionated prologue and epilogue and the author's trademark acerbic commentary throughout. Stone's well-known conservatism is on display mostly in his greater praise of America and contempt for the Soviet Union, so readers of all stripes may roll their eyes, but they will find plenty to ponder.
From the Publisher
"Novices will receive a painless introduction, but educated readers should not pass up the highly opinionated prologue and epilogue and the author's trademark acerbic commentary throughout." —-Kirkus
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465013722
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/8/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 948,679
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Norman Stone has taught at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Bilkent, where he is now Director of the Turkish-Russian Center. Stone is the author of World War One, The Eastern Front, 1914-1917 (winner of the Wolfson Prize), and Europe Transformed.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2013

    A good book for beginners.

    I bought this book for my 13 year old granddaughter to introduce her to this time in history. It's an easy read. He's a bit English centered and weak on the Battle of the Atlantic, but good overall. If you have someone who wonders what Pearl Harbor is, this is the book to start them off on.

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