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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.

A “Best Book of 2017”—Kirkus Reviews

"Essential reading, as is everything he writes, but few works of history better capture the enormous scope of its subject. Combining an expert account of strategy and tactics on all sides with clear and adept analysis of the role of politics and economics and technological innovation, of manufacturing, supply, and logistics, it captures the overwhelming scale of this greatest of human conflicts.... This is history at its most sweeping." — Wilfred McClay, The Claremont Review

"A new classic.... It is the contention of Victor Davis Hanson’s profoundly-researched, extraordinarily well-written, and insightful book that if Hitler had managed to keep the struggle as a European War rather than allowing it to career out into a World War II, then the Nazis would have undoubtedly won.… Approached thematically, the war(s) are subjected to a penetrating but non-chronological analysis. This is therefore a history, rather than a narrative, of World War II.… Hanson supports his theories with a rich panoply of examples drawn from many other historical periods well beyond the 20th century…. So while acknowledging that the Second World Wars were uniquely destructive and costly in terms of human life, Hanson anchors them into other conflicts. … There is a moral core to this book that is as important and powerful as the military insights it gives…. Hanson’s depiction of what was in 1939 essentially a series of localized border conflicts that got wildly out of control, and which by 1943 meant that the Axis Powers had no hope of victory, is sustained with a welter of scholarly supporting evidence." — Andrew Roberts, Claremont Review of Books  (Read the full review)

"The general reader, as well as the more scholarly specialist, will feel grateful to Victor Davis Hanson for sharing his insights into the complexities of a war that still has much to teach us. The Second World Wars is scholarly popular history at its very best, offering as it does a brilliant overview of the war. It is also full of fascinating detail…. Animated by mastery of both strategy and the ordnance with which strategy is carried out, not to mention the often unedifying psychology of war, Hanson’s book is a summing up that only an historian of great learning and perspicacity could have produced. That the author draws on his enviable knowledge of the military experience of ancient Greece and Rome gives his analysis of the missteps and oversights of his twentieth-century subjects critical perspective. Hanson has a dazzling command of the details and sweep of ancient history." — Edward Short, City Journal  (Read the full review)

"The Second World Wars takes an unusual approach to its subject. The book is not a chronological retelling of the conflict but a high-altitude, statistics-saturated overview of the dynamics and constraints that shaped it…. Hanson’s deeply researched and detailed military analyses are fascinating. The Second World Wars confines itself to the latter subject, with spectacular results…. The book revolves around a question highly relevant to our own brewing confrontation with North Korea: Why, and how, do weaker nations convince themselves, against all evidence to the contrary, that they are capable of defeating stronger ones?... With an extraordinary array of facts and statistics, the book offers an account of the fatalism of war." — Joshua Rothman, “Page-Turner,” The New Yorker  (Read the full review)

"Prepare yourself to be astonished. The more you know about WWII, the greater will be your astonishment. The Second World Wars demonstrates once again that VDH is a constantly renewing American national treasure who continues to go from strength to strength." — Robert Curry, The Claremont Review of Books

"Hanson is a writer who crunches not only numbers but the text itself. He has a gift for brevity, exactness, and clarity. Invariably he brings the wisdom of a lifetime of scholarship, plus his natural intelligence, to bear on judgments about strategy, causes, leadership, and results. The Second World Wars is a fine book, rich in both facts and ideas. It is a triumph for an author/historian with a clear vision, the necessary imagination, and the intellect to explain the past to us on a vast canvas, with clarity, a sense of values, and common sense." — Jim Delmont, Omaha Dispatch

"The Second World Wars is an outstanding work of historical interpretation…. Hanson’s background as a classicist and historian of the ancient world enables him to place World War II in a broader historical context, one stressing war’s ‘eternal elements.’ These include such factors as the balance of power, deterrence, surprise, and preemption; victory achieved by defeating, humiliating, and occupying one’s enemy; the ability of one side or the other to learn rapidly from its mistakes; and the importance of geography…. It is impossible to do justice to such a magnificent book in a short review. Given the vast quantities of ink expended on accounts of this great conflict, one would think that there was not much more left to say. Hanson proves that this belief is wrong. His fresh examination of World War II cements his reputation as a military historian of the first order." — Mackubin Thomas Owens, National Review  (Read the full review)

"The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson is breathtakingly magisterial: How can Mr. Hanson make so much we thought we knew so fresh and original?" — Karl Rove, The Wall Street Journal

"Lively and proactive, full of the kind of novel perceptions that can make a familiar subject interesting again…. Hanson is most original and enjoyable when he uses his professional background in ancient history to illuminate 20th-century war." — Thomas E. Ricks, The New York Times Book Review

"The unique and enlightening thing about Hanson's book is his focus on two things: resolve, political and societal, and then the national resources and industrial capabilities of the belligerents, key to a successful war effort…. Churchill proved that men do make a difference in history. What is playing out now because of aggressive socialism and bellicose Islam could end badly if mistakes leading up to WWII are repeated. Hanson's book gives us a vivid reminder – the book is a heavyweight, and you will benefit from hefting it." — John Dale Dunn, American Thinker

"The Second World Wars is written in an energetic and engaging style. Mr. Hanson provides more than enough interesting and original points to make this book essential reading." — Antony Beevor, The Wall Street Journal

"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

"Hanson provides a concise, readable and well-researched volume on World War II. It is an excellent starting point for those who know nothing about World War II, and a fresh look at the war for those knowledgeable about it." — Galveston County Daily News

"Hanson has written another well-researched and fascinating book. For the experienced reader of World War II history this is an intriguing book that goes off the beaten path of a typical one-volume history to expose some worthwhile new ground and does an excellent job of placing World War II in the historical context of global conflict." — Jerry Lenaburg, New York Journal of books

"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

"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: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World

"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

"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

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