November 09, 2019

I know we'll meet again some sunny day

A lightning review of The Storm of War by Andrew Roberts (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

I first heard of Andrew Roberts and The Storm of War back around 2011, when the book was new and theologian Albert Mohler interviewed him for his podcast, Thinking in Public, in which he called The Storm of War "the finest one-volume history of World War II I've ever read." I borrowed the public library's copy, which for some reason was hard to find in the stacks; it took a few weeks for the library to locate it and put it on hold for me. Unfortunately, at the time I was only able to read the first few chapters, but it was enough to whet my appetite, and I finally committed to reading it cover-to-cover for this year's Science Fiction-Free September.

Unfortunately, in the intervening eight years, the library had (again?) lost or discarded its copy. I know Roberts is a reputed and popular historian, but I wouldn't have thought he was steal-this-book popular. Fortunately, I was able to obtain another before September was over. Little did I know it would take me the rest of September, all of October, and the first week of November to finish it—and at a shade over 700 pages, it's long, but not that long. Chalk it up to relatively little contiguous free time for committed reading. (I do miss those hour-long rides to work on the bus.)

The Storm of War is, I would say, semi-chronological in its arrangement: each chapter covers a major campaign or facet of the war: the Battle of Britain, the Holocaust, the battle in the Pacific, and so forth, in rough chronological order. Not being an avid reader of history books, I don't know if this is the norm or just Roberts' particular method of presentation. To an extent, it made the book feel a little bit non-linear. But with a topic as extensive as WWII, could it have been done any other way?

The central character of the book is, not surprisingly, Adolf Hitler. Roberts portrays his handling of the war as that of an inept dilettante. Amongst "Corporal Hitler's" major blunders were halting the advance on Dunkirk (thus allowing the British Expeditionary Force to evacuate), launching Operation Barbarossa against Russia (and underestimating the ferocity with which the Russians would defend the Motherland), declaring war against the United States following Pearl Harbor, and remaining committed to a "stand or die" policy that prevented his generals from making strategic retreats. Of course, had Hitler not been a doctrinaire National Socialist, he may not have started World War II at all—but, then again, maybe he would have won it. It was his commitment to Nazi ideology that was responsible for many of his blunders.

All in all, though, an engaging read, even if it did take up more of my time than I anticipated. I'd read Roberts again: his recent biography of Churchill, Churchill: Walking with Destiny, looks interesting.