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The Second World Wars

How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won


Victor Davis Hanson (View Bio)
Hardcover: Basic Books, 2017.

The Second World Wars

This is a definitive account of World War II by America’s preeminent military historian.

World War II was the most lethal conflict in human history. Never before had a war been fought on so many diverse landscapes and in so many different ways, from rocket attacks in London to jungle fighting in Burma to armor strikes in Libya.

The Second World Wars examines how combat unfolded in the air, at sea, and on land to show how distinct conflicts among disparate combatants coalesced into one interconnected global war. Drawing on 3,000 years of military history, Victor Davis Hanson argues that despite its novel industrial barbarity, neither the war’s origins nor its geography were unusual. Nor was its ultimate outcome surprising. The Axis powers were well prepared to win limited border conflicts, but once they blundered into global war, they had no hope of victory.

An authoritative new history of astonishing breadth, The Second World Wars offers a stunning reinterpretation of history’s deadliest conflict.

"The Second World Wars is a monumental, riveting, and illuminating reappraisal of the first–and hopefully the last–truly global conflict, full of exceptional insights from one of America’s greatest living historians. Victor Davis Hanson’s account provides an exceptional retrospective on the wars in which a staggering 60 million people perished before the Allies prevailed." — General David Petraeus (US Army, Ret.), former commander of the Surge in Iraq, US Central Command, and coalition forces in Afghanistan and former Director of the CIA

"As anyone familiar with Victor Davis Hanson’s writing would expect, his new, exhaustively researched summary of World War II comes from a novel angle and is a very stimulating and original work. The war is not approached chronologically, and its origins are only cursorily summarized, but it is examined thematically, as if by a scanner or ultrasound from different perspectives. Thus, the plural title Second World Wars and the subtitle How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. The component analyses are grouped in the vast categories of Ideas, Air, Water, Earth, Fire, People, and Ends. This technique produces, from early on, an extensive variety of surprising facts that are very informative and will enhance the knowledge even of people who are already well read on the subject…. The greatest strengths of this very fine book are in the comparative weapons and logistical assessments and the evaluations of strategic alternatives…. The perceptions of resource allocation in this book are also brilliant and original…. It is a brilliant and very original and readable work by a great military historian." — Conrad Black, The New Criterion

"Not just another account of World War II, but a thoughtful overview of the battles that were ‘emblematic of the larger themes of how the respective belligerents made wise and foolish choices about why, how, and where to fight the war.’ According to veteran military historian and Hoover Institution senior fellow Hanson, the war began during the 1930s as a series of fairly straightforward border conflicts—e.g., Germany versus its neighbors, Japan versus China. Suddenly, in 1941, as the result of poor decisions around the world, it exploded into a global conflict that the so-far-victorious Axis Powers were guaranteed to lose. Beginning with its cause, Hanson dismisses the time-honored denunciation of the Treaty of Versailles, which was softer than the peace Germany imposed on France in 1871 or the Soviet Union in 1918. It was the humiliation that nagged. Neither Germany nor Japan was endangered or impoverished; both believed that their honor had been slighted and that their racially superior citizens deserved better than their decadent neighbors. ‘The irrational proved just as much a catalyst for war as the desire to gain materially at someone else’s expense,’ writes the author. Four long chapters on weapons deliver a few jolts. Everyone knows that infantry wins wars, but Hanson maintains that strategic bombing probably persuaded Japan to surrender. High-tech weapons—the B-29, proximity fuse, and atomic bomb—unquestionably helped the Allies. Vaunted German technology (rockets, jet planes, guided missiles) merely wasted money. Unique in its 50 million to 80 million deaths—the great majority of which were civilians and included far more Allied than Axis soldiers—and worldwide extent, WWII broke no rules. Hyperaggression and ruthlessness win battles; resources and stubbornness carry the day. An ingenious, always provocative analysis of history’s most lethal war." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Victor Hanson adopts a unique style in The Second World Wars. Rather than tracing chronology, this accomplished historian organizes his account by themes…that show how common aspects of the war emerged and developed. This unusual approach yields new insights about long-familiar events, making his experiments ingenious and successful. Hanson’s themes include ideas, people, and surprisingly, the four elements. Within each he compares the varying styles and experiences of the war’s major combatants…. These analyses are extremely rewarding…. Hanson’s assessments are remarkably deep and insightful…. Excellent comparisons of Allied and Axis forces and fighting styles." — Thomas Mullen, America in WWII Magazine

"If you think there is nothing more to be said about World War II, then you haven't read Victor Davis Hanson's The Second World Wars. Hanson displays an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the conflict, ranging from land to sea to air, and from grand strategy to infantry tactics, to analyze what happened and why. Page after page, he produces dazzling insights informed by his deep knowledge of military history going all the way back to ancient Greece. The Second World Wars is compulsively readable." — Max Boot, author of Invisible Armies

"I couldn't put it down. It is rare to encounter a view of the war from the multiple perspectives of the six powers, three on each side, who were the prime combatants, in the elemental theaters of sea and air and land. The analysis is excellent. The Second World Wars is a major work of historical narrative and deserves to meet readers receptive to its riches." — David Lehman, author of Sinatra’s Century

"Victor Davis Hanson has delivered another masterpiece—this time a monumental history of World War II, surpassing all prior attempts at a comprehensive accounting of that cataclysm. Ranging from the deserts of North Africa to the islands of the Pacific, Hanson brings to bear a massive arsenal of insights to illuminate how strategy, culture, industry, and leadership shaped battlefield events and doomed the Axis empires." — Mark Moyar, author of Oppose Any Foe

"Victor Hanson’s comprehensive account of World War II is a wonder. Where others have supplied a narrative, he provides analysis. He explores the war’s origins; the role played in its conduct by airpower, sea power, infantry, tanks, artillery, industry, and generalship; and the reasons why the Allies won and the Axis lost. This is an eye-opener and a page-turner." — Paul A. Rahe, author of The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta

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