Books and Arts;Book review;The second world war;
Counting the cost;
Two British historians analyse the 20th century’s worst conflict.
All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945. By Max Hastings.
The Second World War. By Antony Beevor.
History is full of wars that were bloodier than the second world war. As a proportion of the population, more people were killed during the An Lushan rebellion in eighth-century China, for example, or by the Thirty Years War in 17th-century central Europe. But the sheer magnitude of the human tragedy of the second world war puts it in a class of its own, and its relative closeness to the present day makes claims on the collective memory that more remote horrors cannot.
The statistics of the war are almost mind-numbing. Estimates differ, but up to 70m people died as a direct consequence of the fighting between 1939 and 1945, about two-thirds of them non-combatants, making it in absolute terms the deadliest conflict ever. Nearly one in ten Germans died and 30% of their army. About 15m Chinese perished and 27m Soviets. Squeezed between two totalitarian neighbours, Poland lost 16% of its population, about half of them Jews who were part of Hitler’s final solution. On average, nearly 30,000 people were being killed every day.
Partly because it is so hard to grasp what these numbers mean, recent historians have tended to concentrate on particular theatres or aspects of the war with an emphasis on trying to describe what it was like for the human beings caught up in it. Both Antony Beevor and Max Hastings are distinguished exemplars of this approach. Mr Hastings has written books on Britain’s strategic bombing campaign, the Allied invasion of Normandy and the battles for Germany and Japan in the closing stages of the war. With several books already under his belt, Mr Beevor became known in 1998 for his epic account of the siege of Stalingrad, and went on to produce accounts of D-Day and the fall of Berlin. Now both writers have tried something different: single-volume narrative histories of the entire war. In doing so, they are following in the footsteps of Andrew Roberts and Michael Burleigh, who made similar attempts in, respectively, 2009 and 2010.
在一定程度上，人们很难明白这些数字意味着什么，所以最近的历史学家往往特别关注二战的某些战区或层面，致力于将亲身经历二战的人眼中的二战呈现给读者。安东尼•比弗（Antony Beevor）和马克斯•哈斯丁（Max Hastings）都是这方面的典范。马克斯•哈斯丁已著有多本作品，内容涉及英国的战略轰炸、盟军的诺曼底联合登陆以及战争末期德日两国的战役。安东尼•比弗同样也写了几本书。1998年，他笔下的围攻斯大林格勒令人印象深刻，他也因此闻名于世，之后他又写了关于诺曼底登陆日及攻克柏林的书。现在两位作家尝试了不同的写作方式，即跟随安德卤•罗伯特（Andrew Roberts）和迈克•伯利（Michael Burleigh）的脚步：以单卷本的方式讲述整个二战史。这两位作家分别在2009年和2010年尝试用单卷本写二战史。
Mr Hastings got there before Mr Beevor. “All Hell Let Loose” was published seven months ago (it is now out in paperback) to justifiably rave reviews.