Needed: suggestions for reading on World War II
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A more literary approach might be some of Thomas Mann's writings during the war, like The coming victory of democracy. He wrote (or spoke, as some of these writings are actually speeches) for a general American audience, and won't give as many facts about the war, but will give more of the flavor of what was going on and why.
Some of Winston Churchill's writings can give a flavor of both - he is an excellent writer, clearly wanted to reach a general audience, and throws in personal knowledge and insight that is engaging in itself. Churchill's writing reaches just about everyone.
Let me put it this way. The person was surprised to learn that Hitler and Pearl Harbor were both World War II. She is basically clueless about the sort of thing you would think anyone would have picked up along the way to reaching their mid-'30s, even if they did go to a lousy school (and I'm not sure she did, just that she didn't pay much attention).
I'm looking for the sort of book that would give the kind of basic information that would taught in, say, a 9th- or 10th grade class.
She wants to remedy this deficiency, and I'm trying to find something that will help her.
If she really wants to remedy a poor experience in high school history, perhaps the best bet would be a full US history survey. I frequently turn to my copy of Eric Foner's survey text Give Me Liberty!. Then there is the ever-popular A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
By the way, the European war against Hitler's Germany and the Pacific War against Japan were quite separate. The imperial ambitions of Germany and Japan were distinct and only the US really fought in both campaigns. So failing to connect Hitler and Pearl Harbor is perhaps not the sign of ignorance that it might first seem.
eromsted, your point is well taken, and I don't know if the person in question lives/was educated in the US, but if she was, I do find it quite surprising that she didn't associate Hitler and Pearl Harbor with WWII. In fact, I would think these are the two topics people in the US are MOST likely to connect with WWII (without necessarily knowing much about them beyond the names), and I would be less surprised if she didn't know any details about them, or about other topics, such as imperial ambitions, etc.
"IGNATIEFF: In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?
HOBSBAWM: This is the sort of academic question to which an answer is simply not possible...I don't actually know that it has any bearing on the history that I have written. If I were to give you a retrospective answer which is not the answer of a historian, I would have said, 'Probably not.'
HOBSBAWM: Because in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing. Now the point is, looking back as an historian, I would say that the sacrifices made by the Russian people were probably only marginally worthwhile. The sacrifices were enormous; they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I'm looking back at it now and I'm saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I'm not sure.
IGNATIEFF: What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?
Really? That might come as a surprise to the Burma Star Association.