Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Cataclysm: Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars

Cataclysm: Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars

National Review

I have always found Victor Davis Hanson to be one of the most insightful historians of warfare, whether he was specifically discussing ancient wars, as he did in The Western Way of War (1989) and A War Like No Other (2005), or addressing the broader question of Western civilization and war, as he did in Carnage and Culture (2001). In addition, he is a master of clear prose. His books are a pleasure to read.

Nonetheless, I was a little apprehensive when asked to review The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won (Basic, 720 pp., $40). I wondered whether perhaps this was a bridge too far, the case of a gifted historian’s addressing a topic beyond his acknowledged area of expertise (the Greeks and Romans). I had seen this before. Some years ago, I was invited to review a book on the American Civil War by the marvelous military historian John Keegan. To my great sorrow, this book by a man I greatly admired was dreadful. It pained me to write a negative review. In addition, I thought that the organization of the book — chapters focused on large issues rather than presenting a chronological narrative — might result in a disjointed account of the great struggle.

I needn’t have worried. The Second World Wars is an outstanding work of historical interpretation. It is not an operational history of the war: Hanson does not provide extended accounts of military campaigns. It focuses instead on the decisions about why, how, and where to fight the war, the diverse methods of warfare employed by the belligerents, and how the investments and strategies of each side led to victory or defeat.

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