Summary and Info
This is a panoramic, nuanced, and deft treatment of an all too familiar subject, WW-II. In one of the rarest and most refreshing presentations of history I have ever seen, this author takes "looking at the big picture" about as seriously as it can be taken, and then gives us the unique benefits of a grand tour of a history we thought we already knew everything there was to know.
Even the strategy class at the National War College did not have such a singular laser like focus on the "big picture" as did this author. His primary concern and his unit of analysis in this narrative was "World War-II history as an organic historical whole." Said somewhat differently, although all of the familiar personalities and events that appear routinely in other versions of WW-II history - often as the very centerpiece of those stories - are included here, no matter how big they may be, here they are allowed to make only cameo appearances. Big events and big personalities are just never allowed to overwhelm or get in the way of the larger purpose of telling an integrated story. Big ticket items are never allowed to dominate an analysis whose job is to weave together the various disparate parts into an integrated whole that is larger than the sum of the parts.
If that was the author's goal, then he accomplished it admirably.
Taking advantage of recently declassified documents added immense value in rounding out the details of an already rich and robust picture. The author used these new revelations like an artist uses various tints on his palette, to add color in the proper places to his narrative and to give surprises to his analysis backed up with extensive citations. But again, even here, the author continues to maintain the same sense of balance and proportion as he introduces new and important information on economic, political, diplomatic, intelligence and even military dimensions: On the surface these all seemed like so many innocent facts, separate strains to be covered in proportion to their value in telling the larger story, a story that to the bitter end of all 900 pages, remained "tightly integrated" and always larger than the sum of any of its component parts.
This resolute focus on the bigger picture did not mean however, that Weinberg's presentation was dull, or predictable or even academic or pedantic, just the opposite in fact. This sweeping story is chocked full of surprising revelations, twists and spins that altogether constitute interesting side trips paved with new facts, yet they are all carefully woven into the fabric of the overall narrative.
As but one such example among many, the author gives appropriate time and space to the quality of the planning and strategic thinking abilities of the leaders of the Axis powers. This point is not only interesting, but raises knew questions about Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini and their respective general staffs as being only slightly better than flawed strategic thinkers and planners. With several examples of a kind of endemic "groupthink," that at least up through 1944 had afflicted the general staffs of the axis powers, the author reveals them all as having been "rank" amateur thinkers, virtually asleep at the switch: sleep waking through some of the major decisions of the war. All were revealed as just as likely as not, to see and accept the sounder strategic choices often recommended by their smarter but lower echelon staffs. Not only did this erratic, capricious inability to see good choices lead to colossal mistakes, mistakes that the weaker Allied forces exploited repeatedly, but they also raise new questions about the thinness of the margin the Allied forces actually had in winning the war. Clearly, a great deal of Allied success hinged on the whims of the Axis leaders colossal mistakes. Had they made better choices in even just a few of the botched cases, and had we not had the superior intelligence that revealed them doing so at the time, we may not have won the war.
Seeing the war as an integrated whole picture is an entirely new experience and vantage point for the reader, a new height from which to view all of the strains of a familiar subject as they come together. What a memory aid! What a way to stimulate the mind! What a template for future storytelling! Easily five stars.
More About the Author
Gerhard Ludwig Weinberg (born 1 January 1928) is a German-born American diplomatic and military historian noted for his studies in the history of World War II.
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