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The Second World War (Six Volume Boxed Set) [Paperback]

Winston Churchill , John Keegan
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 9 1986 Second World War

The definitive, Nobel Prize–winning history of World War II, universally acknowledged as a magnificent historical reconstruction and an enduring work of literature


From Britain's darkest and finest hour to the great alliance and ultimate victory, the Second World War remains the most pivotal event of the twentieth century. Winston Churchill was not only the war's greatest leader, he was the free world's singularly eloquent voice of defiance in the face of Nazi tyranny, and it's that voice that animates this six-volume history. Remarkable both for its sweep and for its sense of personal involvement, it begins with The Gathering Storm; moves on to Their Finest Hour, The Grand Alliance, The Hinge of Fate, and Closing the Ring; and concludes with Triumph and Tragedy.

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"After the end of the World War of 1914 there was a deep conviction and almost universal hope that peace would reign in the world. This heart's desire of all the peoples could easily have been gained by steadfastness in righteous convictions, and by reasonable common sense and prudence."
But we all know that's not what happened. As Britain's prime minister for most of the Second World War, Winston Churchill--whose career had to that point already encompassed the roles of military historian and civil servant with a proficiency in both that few others could claim--had a unique perspective on the conflict, and as soon as he left office in 1945, he began to set that perspective down on paper. To measure the importance of The Second World War, it is worth remembering that there are no parallel accounts from either of the other Allied leaders, Roosevelt and Stalin. We have in this multivolume work an account that contains both comprehensive sweep and intimate detail. Almost anybody who compiles a list of such works ranks it highly among the nonfiction books of the 20th century.

In the opening volume, The Gathering Storm, Churchill tracks the erosion of the shaky peace brokered at the end of the First World War, followed by the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and their gradual spread from beyond Germany's borders to most of the European continent. Churchill foresaw the coming crisis and made his opinion known quite clearly throughout the latter '30s, and this book concludes on a vindicating note, with his appointment in May 1940 as prime minister, after which he recalls that "I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial."

Their Finest Hour concerns itself with 1940. France falls, and England is left to face the German menace alone. Soon London is under siege from the air--and Churchill has a few stories of his own experiences during the Blitz to share--but they persevere to the end of what Churchill calls "the most splendid, as it was the most deadly, year in our long English and British history." They press on in The Grand Alliance, liberating Ethiopia from the Italians and lending support to Greece. Then, when Hitler reneges on his non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union (the very signing of which had proved Stalin and his commissars "the most completely outwitted bunglers of the Second World War"), the Allied team begins to coalesce. The bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese makes the participation of the United States in the war official, and this is of "the greatest joy" to Churchill: "How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end no man could tell, nor did I at that moment care. Once again in our long island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious."

But as the fourth volume, The Hinge of Fate, reveals, success would not happen overnight. The Japanese military still held strong positions in the Pacific theater, and Rommel's tank corps were on the offensive in Africa. After a string of military defeats, Churchill's opponents in Parliament introduced a motion for a censure vote; this was handily defeated, and victory secured in Africa, then Italy. By this time, Churchill had met separately with both Roosevelt and Stalin; the second half of volume 5, Closing the Ring, brings the three of them together for the first time at the November 1943 conference in Teheran. This book closes on the eve of D-day: "All the ships were at sea. We had the mastery of the oceans and of the air. The Hitler tyranny was doomed."

And so, in the concluding volume, Triumph and Tragedy, the Allies push across Europe and take the fight to Berlin. President Roosevelt's death shortly before final victory against Germany affected Churchill deeply, "as if I had been struck a physical blow," and he would later regret not attending the funeral and meeting Harry Truman then, instead of at the Potsdam conference after Germany's defeat. Churchill himself would not be there for the conclusion to the war against Japan; in July of 1945, a general election in Britain brought in a Labor government (or, as he refers to them, "Socialists"), and he resigned immediately, for "the verdict of the electors had been so overwhelmingly expressed that I did not wish to remain even for an hour responsible for their affairs."

About the Author

Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965) has been called by historians "the man of the twentieth century." Prime Minister of Great Britain (1940-1945), Churchill won the Nobel prize for literature in 1953.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The stuff of heroes March 19 2003
The man was absolutely amazing - switching parties, positions, ideologies, a painter, a traveler, a politician and most of all, a leader of his beloved Britain. He served his country well at numerous positions from the Admiralty to MP (from multiple areas and multiple parties) to 10 Downing Street. But most of all, he is known by his unflagging strength and brilliant, fortifying speeches during WWII.
Today he is quoted by those who think intervention is the only sound policy in response to potential terror. He was prescient in his warnings about the necessity of confronting evil but the nation turned its head (and suffered the consequences). This account, in his inimitable style, is a masterly work. He traces the reasons for conflict, the beginnings, the internal political machinations, the movers and shakers, the battles, the trials and the final push.
The work succeeds on three levels: Historical, literary and personal. It should be required reading for students today who would learn more history between these pages than in any boring class. Again and again he stresses that the past must be studied if future errors are to be avoided and that past actions determine/predicate future activities. For him, it was easy to see the logical outcome of Hitler's ever-spreading land grab. His old-fashioned morality spoke to him, telling him that it was quite silly to expect rulers who terrorize their own people to uphold internation laws of civility.
In the end, he issued a warning about Soviet Russia who he had always regarded with contempt. His "iron curtain" reference became an everyday term for the next fifty years. Buy these works for someone you care about - or give yourself a treat.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate history lesson on WW II Feb. 24 2003
Most people have the feeling that Winston Churchill won a nobel prize. Since Churchill was the 1st minister of the United Kingdom during most of the Second World War, it's natural for them to think CHurchill won the Nobel Peace Prize for achievements during the war. That's not the truth. Churchill won the Nobel Prize for LITERATURE in 1953, accordingly to the Scandinavian institution, "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values".
Among the books that granted Churchill the Nobel Prize is "The second world war". This book is a history lesson about WWII. Even if it's more than 1000 pages in length, it's never a tedious reading, even if it becomes very dense at some parts.
Churchill was always in the center of the war, as a politician. "The second world war" is a book about the War's politics. All the motives and reasons behind the war are toroughly explained, as well as all the war's developments during the toughest six years in the history of humanity.
Being a book mostly about politics, I felt at some times the lack of battle field scenes; being a book mostly about the war in Europe and northern Africa, I felt I wanted more information about the war in the Pacific. But it's undertandable that "The second world war" doesn't go very deep in these subjects, because Churchill writes mostly about what he was part of, so much so that in Brazil the title of this book is "Memoirs of the second world war". And that's what it is: Churchill's memories of what he was part of during WWII.
So, it's not a complete book about the war, and it couldn't possibly be, but it's a fundamental book for readers to understand the war in a political way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 STARS AREN'T ENOUGH April 27 2002
By A Customer
Sheesh - difficult to read? Perhaps one should try "WWII FOR DUMMIES"!
This is an awsesome, detailed, and superbly documented historical work. By it's very nature it can't be light or entertaining. In a certain sense it's a reference book for future professional historians that want to improve their understanding of the 20th century. The author delves into a myriad of topics along the way; invariably with penetrating insights and a unique writing style. The average person doesn't really need to read it cover to cover. Most of the chapters can stand alone. The documentation isn't overly important to the narrative.
The work also has great uniqueness and originality. No other world leader wrote a detailed memoir of their war experiences, let alone an overarching history of it. No one else had the perspective on the war that Churchill did. And like all major wars, it was unique, never to be duplicated in the history of the world.
In regard to errors, I wonder how many of you bozos have saved the world from a power mad, genocidal, megalomaniacal dictator without making an error? Sheesh.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Beyond Words -- Required Reading Aug. 26 2003
It must have taken me darn near a year to read all six volumes in this work. They're inconceivably great. They're certainly not fast reading (as evidenced by how long it took for me to complete the set), but they're truly awe inspiring. As I read through the work, the same thing kept running through my head: if it weren't for this man (Winston Churchill), we'd all be speaking German right now. There's no doubt about it. It's amazing that this set doesn't form the reading for a required course for every person in America. I don't know about the education system in Britain, but if it's not required reading there, something has truly gone wrong with that country. I can't stress enough how much I mean it when I say: "you MUST read these works."
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great work of history by a Great Man who shaped that history
I have read the first 2 books in this collection and have the third sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. Read more
Published on July 18 2007 by Aaron Donnelly
3.0 out of 5 stars Sir Winston spins history & covers his derriere
It amazes me that this collection of wartime memoirs continues to be held up as an example of Great History & Great Literature. Read more
Published on June 2 2004 by chefdevergue
5.0 out of 5 stars The number one book on leadership in time of war
The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill is THE work on the conflict. Churchill's graceful command of the English language, his personal role in the conduct of the war, and... Read more
Published on May 17 2004 by Chuck DeVore
5.0 out of 5 stars The whole story, by someone who was privy to it all
All the histories I've ever read of the war, were written by people who, either studied the war, or participated in it, and would write from memory. Read more
Published on March 22 2003 by Amateur curmudgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars A priceless piece of history, a must read series of books.
I wholeheartedly recommend this series of books Volume 1 through 6. It is a story about a nation and its representatives as they stood against adversity and defeat. Read more
Published on Sept. 29 2001 by David Mills
3.0 out of 5 stars The Words Don't Fit the Pictures
The Second World War is a story that will never grow cold. This was a historical drama on a massive scale and all those who participated in that titanic struggle have an assured... Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2001 by Captain Cook
3.0 out of 5 stars The Words Don't Fit the Pictures
The Second World War is a story that will never grow cold. This was a historical drama on a massive scale and all those who participated in the titanic struggle have an assured... Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2001 by Captain Cook
5.0 out of 5 stars literature and history at its finest
A masterpiece of world literature. Anyone remotely interested in twentieth century history should read Churchill's accounts of WWI and WWII. Read more
Published on Aug. 9 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Sir Winston at his Best
Truly an amazing account of the Second World War by one of its principal actors, and an absolute must-read for those who are looking to understand the events that took place during... Read more
Published on May 7 2001
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