Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The History Buff's Guide To World War II - Thomas R. Flagel

   2012; 350 pages.  Full Title : The History Buff’s Guide to World War II – Top Ten Rankings of the Best, Worst, Largest, and Most Lethal People and Events of World War II.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Non-Fiction; Military History; Lists.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Do you love to read non-fiction books about World War 2, but find they often bog down into hundreds of pages of military minutiae?  If so, you’ll find Thomas R. Flagel’s book refreshingly enjoyable.

    Or do you prefer some “light reading”, such as a book of “Top Ten” lists, but find them often just too silly?  Is it really necessary to read a list of ten different Eskimo worlds for snow?  If you’re yearning to learn something meaningful from a bunch of Top Ten lists, you’ll find this book pleasurably enlightening.

    Are you tired of the American-centric view of history, and wonder if there’s more to World War 2 than just Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the Atomic Bomb, then The History Buff’s Guide to World War II will deepen your understanding of global history.

    Finally, if you only read genres like Romance, or Sci-Fi, or Murder-Mystery, then …um… well, then this book isn’t for you.  But it will still broaden your literary horizons, so why not give it a try?

What’s To Like...
    As the title states, the target audience here are history buffs, of which I am a proud member.  Thomas R. Flagel presumes you have at least a basic understanding of the players and events of World War 2, and aims to give the reader a better understanding of the causes, the decisions, and the cost of the conflict.

    To do so, the author employs a “Top Ten List" template, which I found to be an original approach to the subject matter.  At first glance, it would seem to be an awkward fit, but it works nicely here, due in no small part to the fact that each of the ten “items” on every list is accompanied by several paragraphs justifying its inclusion in the list.  Moreover, each entry is has a fascinating piece of trivia appended to it.  One example : “For each citizen of the Axis, the United States had three artillery shells.  There  were enough bullets made worldwide to shoot every living person on the planet forty times.”  (loc. 1336)

    My favorite lists (and yours will probably be quite different) were :
         “Wars Before The War” (1)
        “Songs” (44)
        “Worst Military Commanders” (53)
        “Military Blunders” (57) and
        “Popular Myths and Misconceptions” (70)

    I was impressed by the objectivity and ‘balance’ in Thomas R. Flagel’s writing.  The war may have begun on December 7th for the USA, but for Europeans, it started two or more years earlier, when Hitler commenced grabbing chunks of Austria and Czechoslovakia.  And for those in the Far East, the horrors of war commenced in 1937, with the invasion by Japan of China and Manchuria.

 Kewlest New Word ...
Lebensraum (n., proper) : the territory that a state or nations believes is needed for its natural development; literally, “living space”.

    Compared to other eras, this frequency of unrest was relatively standard.  What had changed by the twentieth century was the volume and tempo of armed conflicts because the “art of war” was giving way to science.
    In less than a lifetime, battleships tripled in size.  The largest artillery shells grew from the weight of a man to the weight of an automobile, from a maximum range of two miles to more than fifty.  Aircraft evolved from puttering mobile machine guns to deafening heavy bombers.  This onslaught of “progress” provoked a haunting fear that warfare was spiraling out of control.  (loc. 93)

    From Denmark to Spain, pressed tight against the meandering Atlantic coastline, stood the wall to Hitler’s Fortress Europe: bunkers, trenches, pillboxes, siege guns, machine-gun nests, barbed wire, thousands of antitank and antiship obstacles, and five million mines.  The defensive perimeter ran more than seventeen hundred miles, equivalent to the distance from Boston to Denver.  It required three years and half a million workers to erect, and it was the largest construction project ever attempted since the Great Wall of China.  It was also almost completely useless.  (loc. 3493)

Kindle Details…
    The Kindle version of The History Buff’s Guide To World War II sells for $9.99 at Amazon, which seems a bit steep to me.  Heck, the paperback version is less than $2 more, costing $11.73.  There are two other books in the series, dealing with the Civil War and the US Presidents, and they too sell for $9.99.

“God is always on the side with the biggest battalions.”  (loc. 3831 )
    There are some weaknesses, most of which are only applicable to the Kindle version.  Thomas Flagel has included a bunch of neat WW2 photos, but they are incredibly small on the Kindle Fire.  However, if you access Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, you’ll see that they are full-sized in the paperback version.  There were also some annoying page-to-page glitches; this too is Kindle’s fault.

    The last 20% of the book is nothing more than copious amounts of notes, which is NBD on the Kindle, but is not very tree-friendly for the “real” books.  I recognize those notes are a necessity for any non-fiction history book because there will always be puffed-up nitpickers looking to find anything and everything to disagree with.  But really, who reads the notes?  Couldn’t they just as easily be placed online, with a link for the nitpickers?

    Finally, while I was thoroughly entertained for most of the book, the last few lists just kinda pootered out for me.  Specifically, the 10 Best Books about WW2 (and no, the author doesn’t include his own), the 10 best Historic Sites (and what hotels to stay at when visiting them), and the last list, “Ways To Get Involved”.  OTOH, the “Top Ten Movies About WW2” was an absolute delight.  We readers are a fickle lot.

    8½ Stars.  Subtract 2 Stars is you're a tea-bagger who only likes reading history after Glen Beck or Bill O'Really has rewritten it.

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