The Cambridge History of the Second World War

Book Review

By Richard Brown, published 19th October 2015

The Cambridge History of the Second World War: Volume 1, Fighting the War by John Ferris and Evan Mawdsley (eds.)
(Cambridge University Press), 2015

804pp., £ 99.99, hard, ISBN 978-1-107-03892-9
Richard J. B. Bosworth and Joseph A. Maiolo, (eds.),
The Cambridge History of the Second World War: Volume 1I, Politics and Ideology

(Cambridge University Press), 2015
701pp., £99.99, hard, ISBN 978-1-107-03407-5

The Cambridge History of the Second World War is an authoritative new account of the conflict that unfolded between 1939 and 1945. With contributions from a team of leading historians, the three volumes adopt a transnational approach to offer a comprehensive, global analysis of the military, political, sociological, economic and cultural aspects of the war. Not reviewed here, Volume 3 considers the war as an economic, social and cultural event, exploring how entire nations mobilized their economies and populations and dealt with the catastrophic losses that followed. The volumes conclude by considering the lasting impact of World War Two and the memory of war across different cultures of commemoration.

The military events of the Second World War have been the subject of historical debate from since 1945 and fighting was the essential determinant of victory or defeat. In Volume 1 of the Cambridge History of the Second World War a team of twenty-five leading historians offer a comprehensive and authoritative new account of the war's military and strategic history. Part I examines the military cultures and strategic objectives of the eight major powers involved. Part II surveys the course of the war in its key theatres across the world, and assesses why one side or the other prevailed there. Part III considers, in a comparative way, key aspects of military activity, including planning, intelligence and organisation of troops and matérial as well as guerrilla fighting and treatment of prisoners of war.

War is often described as an extension of politics by violent means. Volume 2 of the Cambridge History of the Second World War examines the relationship between ideology and politics in the war's origins, dynamics and consequences. Part I examines the ideologies of the combatants and shows how the war can be understood as a struggle of words, ideas and values with the rival powers expressing divergent claims to justice and controlling news from the front in order to sustain moral and influence international opinion. Part II looks at politics from the perspective of pre-war and wartime diplomacy as well as examining the way in which neutrals were treated and behaved. The volume concludes by assessing the impact of states, politics and ideology on the fate of individuals as occupied and liberated peoples, collaborators and resistors and as British and French colonial subjects.