RogerBW's Blog

The Battle for History, John Keegan 12 November 2017

This short book is a survey of histories of the Second World War.

Keegan argues that there is no single definitive history of the conflict (something that's probably still true twenty years later), and divides the bulk of the book into five sections: overall histories, biographies, specific campaigns, specialist subjects such as cryptography and economics, and occupation and resistance. In each he lists the books he recommends, and a few well-known ones that he doesn't, in the context of a high-level overview of the topic.

But it's actually chapter one that I found most interesting, dealing with controversies: Taylor's suggestion that the war happened by accident as Hitler didn't expect Britain to defend Poland, the possibility of American foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack, but more interestingly why Churchill deployed British forces to the Middle East, how much good the various resistance movements might have done with more supply, and whether there was any point at all to area bombing of Germany.

Keegan clearly has strong opinions and doesn't always justify them as well as he might, but his writing is persuasive and always enjoyable. He even makes a point in favour of David Irving, whose Hitler's War he rates as an excellent piece of research even if it's also somewhat hagiographic.

The book is possibly a little outdated now, but it's still a useful guide to available material.

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