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Synopsis

After the Great War, the United States and the nations of Europe longed for a lasting peace. As far as they were concerned, they had just experienced “the war to end all wars.” Over 15 million lay dead, and much of Europe had been reduced to rubble. The possibility of another such conflict was practically unthinkable. And yet within two decades of the signing of the Versailles Treaty, war broke out once again, on such a cataclysmic scale that it would forever transform international geopolitics.

In World War Two, Norman Stone—one of the greatest living historians of the twentieth century—provides an unprecedentedly concise, utterly authoritative account of the deadliest war of human history. Over 60 million people perished in World War Two, and the story of how the conflict roared to life from the ashes of the Great War is shocking, tragic, and also completely preventable in hindsight. The peace that Europe so craved after World War I hinged on European stability—but by demanding a massive indemnity from Germany in order to keep it from rearming, the Allies prevented Germany from recovering from the trauma of the Great War. The results, as Stone shows, were disastrous.

Riding a tide of popular desperation and resentment, Adolf Hitler soared to power in Germany, and promptly made good on his promises to return the country to its former strength. He reinvigorated the German economy by rearming at a breakneck pace, then muscled his way into neighboring countries under a variety of pretenses, all while intensifying his campaign of anti-Semitic terror and forming a fascist bloc with the totalitarian regimes in Japan and Italy. His gamble was that the Allies, still shaken from the previous war, would not attempt to stop him—and for a time, he was right. 

Britain and France’s eventual decision to declare war on Germany following the invasion of Poland in 1939 was utterly irrational, argues Stone—but then again, Hitler had driven the world insane. He had bullied all of Europe into giving him his way, and in doing so he had backed the victors of the Great War into a corner. Driven as much by a sense of outrage as anything else, the British leapt into the conflict; the French, fearing for their security, joined in. In time, and for their own unique reasons, the Americans and Soviets would enter the fray on the side of the Allies, as well. And so the conflagration spread across the globe, fanned by political and racial ideologies even more poisonous, and weaponry even more destructive, than those that had ravaged Europe in the previous war. Stone leads his reader through the inexorable escalation, savage climax, and mournful denouement of this sprawling conflict, providing along the way encapsulated accounts of the crucial battles of the war, from El Alamein, Stalingrad, and Midway to Anzio, Saipan, and Normandy. By the time World War Two had finally burned itself out in the capitals of Germany and Japan, the victors were already beginning to feel the chill of the oncoming Cold War—a new sort of conflict, and one defined by the hitherto unseen devastation the globe had just experienced.

With astonishing aplomb, Norman Stone traces the causes, course, and conclusion of this epic war. A stunning achievement, World War Two is a work of history of which only Norman Stone is capable. Brisk yet profound, pithy but endlessly informative, it is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the twentieth century and its most defining conflict.

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