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All Hell Let Loose: The World at War…

All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945 (2011)

by Max Hastings

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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    A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II by Gerhard L. Weinberg (stellarexplorer)
    stellarexplorer: A global perspective, big picture as opposed to in-the-trenches, if you'll pardon the anachronistic metaphor. Masterful.

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
This book is a huge expression of what war means, particularly from the point of view of the soldier.

Million of soldiers of every nacionality were involved in II World War. The more interesting thing of this book are the letters they wrote to families, friends, love ones. Through them we can see the outstanding sufferings of those who took part in the different fronts of Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Italy, South-East of Asia, Pacific, Guinea.

Those letters show us the real face of the war, away from geo-politics, leaderships, generals and so on. How one american soldier in the forests of Guinea, thinking about what he intended to do once back home, he said that the first thing would be to flush the toilet a full day, to hear that particular sound only. How another one started driving in circles after having lost his hand in a attack so happy he was, because he was to go back home.

How it was a kind o hierarchy among the injuries, ranking first those who lost a leg and last, those with injuries in the colon. How the Soviet Union soldiers had to wait for some mate to be killed to take his weapon in turn and carry on the fight,because there were more soldiers than rifles. How german soldiers, about to die of hunger and freeze and receiving news from home about strategic bombing in the cities, still believed in their cause.

That is the truly experience of the war that this book describes so well.

What I like less in this book is the way that tells us about the goodness or the evil of the allied leaders, political and military, depending of the countries they belong to, giving a partial opinion from my point of view.

It seems that the supreme goodness was in the British side, a bit less but a lot of it, in the American side; all the leadership a evil in the Soviet Union side, fifty-fifty in France and so on. Too much partiality from my point of view.

Anyway, the great value of the book are the letters that soldiers of the fronts sent. I think the book could have been subtitled: "II World War through the postal correspondence of soldiers".
  cortazar | Aug 9, 2014 |
A huge and hugely impressive and moving book, 'All Hell Let Loose' is a concise and precise, but detailed and passion-filled history of the war years of the Second World War. The book is a rivetingly fresh look at a period I thought I knew something about. It challenged me and it has - certainly - rewarded me with increased understanding both of the situation and for those who had to try and survive it. On both sides.

Max Hastings never loses sight of his objective; to put into words an experience that which most ordinary people found indescribable. Explaining how the title came about, he writes; "Many resorted to a cliché: 'All hell broke loose.' Because the phrase is commonplace in eyewitness descriptions of battles, air raids, massacres and ship sinkings, later generations are tempted to shrug at it's banality. Yet in an important sense the words capture the essence of what the struggle meant to hundreds of millions of people, plucked from peaceful, ordered existences to face ordeals that in many cases lasted for years, and for at least sixty millions were terminated by death."

As hinted at above, you will get a thorough and nuanced idea of what the Second World War was actually like to live through for people like you and me. The leaders do get a look in here, and grand stratagems are discussed and illustrated, but it is the even-handed perspective with which he discusses how the war irreversably affected the lives of the ordinary person that shines through. Everyone who was forced to endure it, suffered. Some more than others, some like to say, but thankfully Max Hastings has the rationality to see through the modern cynical smokescreen: "It would have been insulting to invite a hungry Frenchman, or even an English housewife weary of the monotony of rations, to consider that in besieged Leningrad starving people were eating each other, while in West Bengal they were selling their daughters. Few people who endured the Luftwaffe's 1940-41 blitz on London would be comforted by knowledge that the German and Japanese peoples would later face losses from Allied bombing many times greater, together with unparalleled devastation."

We mostly all know the rough outline of the conflict. Our background and up-bringing makes us think we know who the good guys were, who the bad guys were. This book doesn't attempt to change that overall 'big picture', but by giving us provocative examples of how it was to be a participant or an 'active participant', willingly or un-willingly, we are challenged to come away with a much more thought-provoking image of what really went on.

But my over-riding impression from the first two-thirds and one of the main impressions I came away from the book with; is how un-prepared, amateurish and even cynical we 'victors' were before and during the first phases, wherever in the world 'we' were at the outbreak of conflict. Then even going towards the eventual victory over Nazi Germany and Japan, we often did our best to attempt the snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory. Rather than entering the conflict determined, sure and with a grand strategy that would lead us inexorably on the path to justice and victory, I got the impression we could be said to have often relied on the other side making worse lash-ups of it than we did.

History and histories will always be written by the victors, but this book is a lot more objective than that might lead you to expect. Arrogance, broken promises, cynicism, fumbling, bumbling, incompetence, unreliability, naivity, it's all here and revealed in detail - on both sides. And who had to deal with all the shit? People like your parents and mine. As he points out: "Combatants fared better than civilians: around three-quarters of all those who perished were unarmed victims rather than active participants in the struggle."

The final chapter is brilliantly perfect. One of the best pieces of concise writing I can ever remember reading. It gathers together most of the big themes explored throughout the book and discusses them in a riviting and incredibly moving way: "It is impossible to dignify the struggle as an unalloyed contest between good and evil, nor rationally to celebrate an experience, and even an outcome, which imposed such misery on so many."

I never thought I would be so moved by a history of something I thought I knew so much about. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's a brilliant book, I'm sorry I came to the end of it, I'm glad I didn't have to live through it. ( )
  Speesh | Mar 29, 2014 |
This is the most harrowing account of WWII that I've ever read. It's good. But be ready for it.
  rioux | Mar 10, 2014 |
This is truly an outstanding book. Quite unlike any other history of the Second World War for, as the dust jacket claims, it "describes the course of events during the war, but focuses chiefly upon human experience". Gosh, what an experience, too, with vignettes on the RAF's raid on the Ruhr dams, the horror of Arctic Convoys, desert tank combat and jungle clashes. It is the testimony of those who were there, whether fighting or not, on the Home Front or overseas. Max Hastings suggests that the Royal Navy and the US Navy were their countries' outstanding fighting services and, from such an outstanding writer on the Second World War, this is high praise and well considered. For me, the last few chapters are the most important - Victims, Europe becomes a Battlefield, Japan: Defying Fate, Germany Besieged, The Fall of the Third Reich, Japan Prostrate, Victors and Vanquished. ( )
1 vote lestermay | Feb 19, 2014 |
An absolutely great one volume account of the Second World War. In the introduction Hastings states that rather then state the common known if there was something little known he chose to reveal that information rather than what is widely known regarding the conflict. In this I think it serves those who know WWII intimately. His writing style is smooth and easy to digest. Personally for those interested in the conflict I would read Antony Beevors treatment of the War first, and then Max Hastings volume to flesh it out. ( )
  Luftwaffe_Flak | Feb 7, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
..something compellingly different—"Inferno," a panoramic social history that not only recounts the military action with admirable thoroughness, crispness and energy but also tells the story of the people who suffered in the war, combatants and civilians alike. A vivid and opinionated book, distinguished by poignant and illuminating letters, diary entries and personal experiences of combatants and civilians on both sides.

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Max Hastingsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carlsen, Arne-CarstenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlsen, CarstenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlsen, JorunnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A monumental work that shows us at once the truly global reach of World War II, and its deeply personal consequences. Hastings simultaneously traces the major developments and puts them into real human context. He also explores some of the darker and less explored regions of the war's penumbra, including the conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland; and the Bengal famine in 1943 and 1944.… (more)

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