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Which WW2 book should I start with?

Discussion in 'WWII Books & Publications' started by blbarclay, Feb 19, 2017.

  1. blbarclay

    blbarclay New Member

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    I'm a total newbie, and currently know very little about WW2. I don't know what piqued my interest, but I'd like to develop a good understanding of the events that occurred from beginning to end.

    To begin with, I'm more interested in the general overview, in particularly the political side, rather than in depth knowledge of what it was like to be a soldier.

    Which of the following should I start with, or is there a better option?

    The Second World War - Beevor
    History of the Second World War - Hart
    Killing the Rising Sun - O'Reilly & Dugard
    The Second World War: A Complete History - Gilbert
    The Holocaust - Gilbert
    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - Shirer & Rosenbaum
    A World at Arms: A Global History of World War 2 - Weinberg
    Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 - Hastings

    Thanks in advance!
     
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  2. SDP

    SDP recruit

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    Not sure whether it's available in your location but the TV series "World at War", first broadcast back in the 1970's(?) would be a good place to start. Excellent documentary style and brilliant, clear narration.

    Edit: there is a wiki page and the series has been released on DVD etc including a recent reissue/remastering. DVD available in U.K., USA etc etc
     
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  3. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    None of the "complete histories" fo into the level of detail I now like so I haven't picked them up recently, but the ones I recall:
    Schirer is a very interesting book but not a good staring point if you want the whole war as he skips a lot of key subjects.
    Liddel Hart is not bad but a bit dated (and you have to put up with his somewhat bloated ego), it also attempts to look at all theaters of operations which some of the other books you lost don't.
    I probably read both Hastings an Beevor but no longer remember them and I usually don't like Beevor, he has a tendency to "write for his public" rather than as an historian.

    As a "from zero" starter I would probably recommend starting with an atlas, the Penguin ones were great though I don't remember if there was a WW2 specific one. Starting from maps is a great way of getting the "big picture" and gives you the framework to place more in depth books.
     
  4. Medievalarmy

    Medievalarmy recruit

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    World war 2 is more or less of a continuation of world war 1. If that is the case then, I'd start with general overview type of books on world war 1.
     
  5. KJ Jr

    KJ Jr Well-Known Member Patron  

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    I guess in the philosophical sense yes. The concessions that were made by Germany set the table for political turmoil and for a National Socialist takeover. The seeds were there, but the totalitarian nature of Germany's rule and aggression towards innocents and enhanced mobility rendered it formidable.

    My point is when beginning a study of the Second World War you, IMO, should begin with the rise of the NSDAP or the conflict in the far East.

    Shirer will give you a good start as well as Hastings to get a feel for the foundations of the war.

    Be careful though, once you embed yourself in the history, it never let's you go :)
     
  6. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Hastings is a very readable overview.
    Style before content sometimes, but unlikely to put anyone new to the subject off.

    I'd second SDP's suggestion as well.
    The World At War series might be the best route in for an overview. Made at exactly the right time to a high standard, some bits missing due to secrecy and some since revised, but overall remarkably solid.
     
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  7. Mussolini

    Mussolini Gaming Guru WW2|ORG Editor

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    I second (or third) 'The World at War' Documentary.

    I believe my father bought it for me for my 16th birthday back in the day (on VHS) and I may look into buying it again now if they have it on DVD/Blu-Ray. Very good, broken into 'chapters' and I believe all the footage in it is all historical.
     
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  8. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

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    Gerhard Weinberg's A World at Arms would be a good choice. I keep coming back to it after nearly twenty years.
     
  9. SDP

    SDP recruit

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    I think it is especially good because the series was made at a time when 'documentaries were documentaries', there was no such thing as confusing docudramas and before everything got similarly confused by computer generated graphics, colourisation of film footage and infernal reenactors. As we all know, WW2 was fought in black and white and when people spoke properly.
     
  10. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Oh Great! Now you guys have gone and got me started watching the series again. Looks like Youtube has most of the episodes.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3H0K0Afk20

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k929f5TeoKM
     
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  11. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Whatever you do, please stay away from this egregious, conspiracy-ridden, right-wing extremist nonsense. This is, quite truly and without being sarcastic, "fake history", written for a specific audience and for a specific agenda, which has nothing to do with "real history".
     
  12. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Seconded!

    If you want to read about the end of the Pacific War, I would recommend Richard B. Frank's "Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire"
     
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  13. Gromit801

    Gromit801 Member

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    Winston Churchill's History of the Second World War is a good start. Yes, there's an occasional error, but it gives you good insight as things happened at the time. Good coverage of politics as well.
     
  14. blbarclay

    blbarclay New Member

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    Thanks for the responses guys. Will definitely watch WAW series.

    What's the best overall book on WW1? Was thinking of getting The First World War: A Complete History by Gilbert.
     
  15. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I agree 100%. None of O'Reilly's books is worth reading, unless you're a masochist.
     
  16. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    The World at War as has been said is the best war documentary ever made for TV...being made in the 70s, many (most) people involved were still alive and were interviewed. It begins before the war to give the audience a good overview. Cant beat it.
     
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  17. Sloniksp

    Sloniksp Ставка

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    For a look at what life and experience was like in WW1 I would recommend All Quiet on the Western Front. Written by a vet (Remarque) really brings the conflict home to the reader. Still one of my all time favorites.
     
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  18. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    For WW1 Liddell Hart would be my choice though I'm a lot less well read on that war, I believe it's his best book.
    Churchill is ...... Churchill the man knows how to write extremely readable prose and obviously has a lot of insight into some of the big decision making, but as a beginner's book it has two drawbacks, it's long and basically it's a memoir and like all memoirs it's centered on the author's POV.
     
  19. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

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    To echo the above - The World At War is superb and, most unusually, actually seems to improve with age. The only - understandable - weak point is that Ultra wasn't revealed until after it was completed.

    As for the one-volume histories, probably the most accurate, up-to-date and reasonably unbiased is Weinberg's 'A World At Arms' which includes a good further-reading list at the end.

    There are many single-volume WW1 histories ; if I were starting afresh I'd probably go for John Keegan's one.
     
  20. KJ Jr

    KJ Jr Well-Known Member Patron  

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    I second that
     

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