The second volume of James Holland's three-volume history of the "the war in the West" begins where the first one, The Rise of Germany leaves off, with Germany launching Operation Barbarossa, their massive invasion of the Soviet Union. It's a fitting starting point, as it means an adjustment to Holland's coverage of the war. Holland's series is best described as "the war the British waged against Germany," as it concentrates against the campaigns waged by Britain and her allies against the Nazi regime. This made the first volume a straightforward account of the main theaters of the war in Europe from September 1939 to June 1941, which covered all of the key events involving the major combatants.
Though the focus of Holland's coverage remains the same, the parameters of his subject have changed in this volume. The opening of the Eastern Front heralded a widening of the war, with Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union followed less than six months later by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and their conquest of the European colonies in Southeast Asia. To his credit, Holland does not neglect this, as throughout the text he acknowledges how the developments in these theaters impacted the Western campaigns. Yet even by addressing events in those theaters in passing only there are points at which Holland's narrative seems on the verge of slipping from his control, as the sheer scope of what he is covering -- which includes the campaigns in North Africa, the Atlantic, and in the skies of western and central Europe, as well as the economic context of the war effort -- often forces him to bounce around to address developments in multiple theaters. To his credit, Holland manages to stay on top of it, yet the disjointedness of his narrative compared to the previous volume is more evident.
Nevertheless, this shouldn't overshadow the overall merits of Holland's book. Overall he maintains the high quality of description and deft interweaving of analysis with personal narratives that capture the individual experiences of a vast war. That he will conclude his series in the third volume while offering the same degree of detail as he did about the North Africa campaign for the invasions of Sicily, Italy, and France, as well as the increasing bombing campaign and its collective toll upon Germany is an open question, yet one the answer to which I already look forward to reading.
With Ken Burns's new documentary on the Vietnam War premiering tonight, the New York Times had one of their editors publish a list of twenty books on the Vietnam War. It's pretty solid -- most of the key classics are there, as well as a couple of the newer books -- so if you're looking to read up on the topic du jour this is a good place to start.
This is an encyclopedic book in the best sense of the term. Richard S. Faulkner's goal is to provide readers with a comprehensive social history of the men who served with the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, one that covers everything from their enlistment to their discharge. To address their service in all their particulars is a daunting task requiring mastering an enormous body of material, yet Faulkner succeeds admirably in addressing nearly every imaginable aspect of it. The result serves not only as a wide-ranging account of the varied experiences of the "doughboys" but as a reference that readers will be able to turn to for an introduction to various details they might want to learn. For these reasons, it is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the U.S. military or the First World War, one that is unlikely to be bettered in terms of its thoroughness and insight.