World War II: The Definitive Visual History (Book Review)

Veterans Day is a time to remember and celebrate the men and women who fought (and even died) to protect the freedoms that make the USA a great nation. Most of us know war veterans who service in the armed forces in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, or the recent military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But fewer of us have a relationship with a living veteran of World War 2 (1939-1945). Veterans of WW2 are aging and dying at a rapid rate. The war that was waged in theaters across the globe against the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan (and smaller nations that allied with them) will soon fall out of the category of living history and into history. Within perhaps a generation no one will remain to give account of what it was like to live through the years of WW2. Therefore it is incumbent upon the next generation to educate ourselves and subsequent generations on history and lessons that WW2 can teach us. A book that is suited to the task for education and remembrance, both in written and pictorial form is publisher DK’s beautiful book World War II: The Definitive Visual History. This stunning coffee table book is a great place to start for a museum-like tour of WW2. Contributors include Charles Messenger, Jonathan Bastable, R.G. Grant, Michael Kerrigan, Robin Cross, Ann Kramer, and Sally Regan. Richard Holmes served as Editorial Consultant. All are recognized experts on WW2 history.

From the back cover:

The most destructive and world-shattering conflict of all time is brought vividly to life in this powerful, engaging, and visually stunning book. World War II: The Definitive Visual History looks at this epic war from every angle, tracing the course of military, strategic, and political events across the globe, and documenting the experiences of combatants and civilians. Packed with authoritative information and compelling images, this book provides a true understanding of the war that changed the world.

What makes DK’s WW2 book different from other history books that I’ve seen is that it devotes considerable attention to the Soviet perspective on the war against Germany. Most WW2 history written for Americans seem to focus on the Western Front in Europe and the Pacific Theater. Such a method of writing history gives most Americans the impression that Hitler was primarily defeated by the Western Allies (primarily the USA, Great Britain, and the free French resistance). But any careful storyteller of WW2 must give the USSR its just due in shouldering the brunt of fighting the majority of Nazi forces in the east.

Ignoring or downplaying the USSR’s role in defeating Germany, including the selective forgetting that the Russians suffered by far the most casualties in WW2, is troublesome. For one, it inflates the Western democracies’ national sense of pride. The West must recognize that it could not have defeated Hitler’s Germany without the contributions of communist Russia. This is a humble pill to swallow, but it goes down easier now that the Soviet Union and communism in Eastern Europe have fallen. Moreover, it makes the history of the Cold War in the latter half of the 20th century incomprehensible. If we minimize the USSR’s contributions in WW2, there is no way to sufficiently explain how the Allied Powers turned against one another within a matter of a few years. NATO and the Warsaw Pact were a direct result of Soviet communistic aggression that immediately followed the end of WW2.

DK’ WW2 contains nine chapters. The first chapter (The Seeds of War 1914-1938) provide needed background explaining how the winds of change blowing after the end of World War 1 created the environment for another worldwide conflict. The last chapter (Aftermath 1946-1950) detail the first post-war years, covering refugees, recrimination, restitution, rebirth of nations, end of empires, and the birth pangs of the Cold War. Each chapter provides an introduction to the time period covered (one year each for chapters 2-8; 1939-1945) and a timeline of important events. The book is structured into 2-page articles or features, with several photos supplementing each article with a “living history” feel. Eyewitness accounts, important character profiles, maps of troop movements, and museum-like artifact displays pepper the narrative.

 As with all DK books, the visual presentation is of the highest quality. The only contributor who didn’t do his job flawlessly was the copy-editor. I found numerous typos and grammatical errors scattered throughout the book. It seems DK was too quick to go to press before the copy was ready. But with this minor quibble with the quality of the book, I heartily recommend DK’s World War II: The Definitive Visual History for WW2 buffs and anyone who wants to learn about this supremely important period of world history.

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2 Responses to World War II: The Definitive Visual History (Book Review)

  1. Would you consider this book appropriate for a 10 year old interested in WWII? Or is it too graphic?

  2. Perhaps not too graphic, but too adult. I would recommend the kid version of the book: World War II Eyewitness published by DK.

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