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It is hard to comprehend how many books were written on such significant topic as the World War II. Every year books that cover the World War II are published by various publishers in different languages. So what is so special about the World War II: A Very Short Introduction?
First, it was written by Gerhard Ludwig Weinberg, a recognized authority on the World War II and the history of the Nazi Germany. Weinberg is the Professor Emeritus of History that has taught at faculties of the Michigan, Kentucky, and Carolina Universities. The questions addressed in the book were not very often discussed previously, as the author states in the introduction (Weinberg, World War II 3); Weinberg examines Germany’s responsibility for World War II, the reasons behind the eventual victory of the Allies, as well as the transformations the war has brought to the countries that took part in the war.
Profile of the Book
To write a short introduction to such a momentous event as World War II, one should have accurate knowledge of historical events that preceded and followed this war. Weinberg demonstrates an excellent understanding of the origins and the course of the war, although he presents them very briefly due to the format of the book. The first chapter is devoted to the post-World War I years and provides a detailed description of the historical processes that later influenced the beginning of the World War II (redrawn national boundaries, arranged plebiscites throughout Europe, mandates and rearranging of the former German colonies). However, some of the raised questions demand a more detailed observation to provide the reader with the information crucial for understanding the origins of World War II (e.g., the role of League of Nations and the American Policy of Isolationism in the war). More precise observation is delivered by the author on the invasion of Poland, as well as Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The war between Japan and China is also described by the author. The final chapters of the book cover the inventions and transformations in medical and technical fields and the victory of the Allies in 1945. Although not complete and sometimes missing clarifying notes, overall the order of the chapters, as well as their content, is logically structured and able to provide new pieces of information even to those closely familiar with the topic.
Weinberg’s Interpretation of the War
In his interpretation of the war, Weinberg shows persistent logic and clear view of the connections between the aims and ambitions of every war participant. However, since the book does not use any references to back up the content, the author should have tried to imply, and not state: “it became clear to Hitler that preparations could not be advanced quickly enough…” (Weinberg, World War II 52). Nevertheless, such statements are rare to find in the book, and most of the time Weinberg discusses the events using a formal, objective approach. To support the explanations and reflections, several maps are presented in the book. School students may find them hard to comprehend, but it is perfectly suitable for undergraduate students who need to refresh their knowledge or want to go through the history of World War II without an abundance of details and wide descriptions of every battle. The author focuses on the key events of World War II but does not attempt a deeper analysis of the events. It is not clear, however, if the author was limited by the format of the series or he did not aim to provide deep explanations at all.
The Context of the Events
The context of the events in the book is probably the best part of it. Weinberg religiously inspects the wider context of the World War II, recalling various invasions and military plans, colonies’ role in the war, technical and medical achievements of the belligerents. Germany’s advancement in technologies may be unclear to some of the readers: the author dissects Germany’s research during the Holocaust in labor camps and gives a clear explanation on some medical advances of the Third Reich. The role of Finland, Romania and other countries in Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union is not disregarded, as well as diplomatic relationships between Germany and the Soviets between and during the invasion of Poland. The impact of the war between Japan and China is often briefly explained in other history books, but Weinberg dedicates a separate chapter to this event. The victory of the Allies does not gain that much attention, but considering how many articles and books were written on it, it could also be regarded as an advantage of the book. Weinberg refuses to paraphrase the events described by him in his other books (A World at Arms 102). Instead, he prefers to focus on other matters.
However, the description of the World War II is still quite shallow and facile in some of the chapters. For example, the author states that “the vast majority of Germans supported the regime up until the last weeks of the war” (Weinberg, World War II 99), but does not explain why or how it happened. Nor does he explicitly address the impact of reparations on the economy of Germany, although they were directly linked to Hitler’s rise to power.
Omissions and Style
It should be probably clear to the reader that the author did not try to fit as many details as he could into ‘a short introduction’, but rather present the main events and provide new, curious details about them if possible. Weinberg may have skipped preparation details about the invasion of Poland or the Soviets, and he had certainly omitted the process that preceded the establishment of the League of Nations. Instead, he focused on a precise description of the Treaty of Versailles and its impact on Germany and the outbreak of the war: “enforcement was left to the countries… most weakened by the war” (Weinberg, World War II 9). Therefore, some omissions do not appear to be crucial.
World War II: A Very Short Introduction is written in a formal, academic style. While some readers may criticize the book for being too formal, I believe that it is a good example of how a history book should be written: facts presented without emotional engagement, analyzed as objectively as possible, giving the reader an opportunity to form an independent opinion. Weinberg might have allowed himself to judge some of the events, but this weakness is covered by other advantages of the book mentioned above.
The book World War II: A Very Short Introduction is a good example of how an event as enormous as World War II can be described and discussed on less than 200 pages. While the author omits some details that could be useful to the reader and does not use any references at all, the book fits perfectly to the other historical literature as a brief guide to the premises, key events, and impacts of the war on the belligerents’ soldiers and citizens. It can be helpful both to experienced historians and to college students who have only begun their study.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.
—. World War II: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2014. Print.