PositiveThe Wall Street JournalRich in social and cultural details that bring the era to life, 1939 makes use of a range of eyewitness testimony and contemporary assessments of public opinion, which together illuminate the variety of individual experience within a historic moment in international affairs ... this produces a cohesive effect, allowing Mr. Taylor to keep up the momentum of a much-told story—the coming of the European war—while conveying a powerful sense of what it felt like to watch the precipice approach ... By letting readers into the mental worlds of those dancing (and dining, reading, holiday-making) on the edge 81 years ago, Mr. Taylor makes us reflect on our own diversions and distractions amid the predicaments we now face.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis is a familiar story but Mr. Nagorski tells it well. He makes the conventional point that, when push came to shove, Stalin, unlike Hitler, was sensible enough to know when to leave war to the generals—at least those who had survived his purges. The author underplays, however, Stalin’s cunning ... Mr. Nagorski keeps the focus at a high level, on the men—Roosevelt, Churchill, but above all Hitler and Stalin—who directed the great powers at war. The benefit of this restricted cast is that Mr. Nagorski is able to keep up the pace of the narrative while showing how global conflict was interconnected ... Only when Mr. Nagorski turns to the Axis offensive into the Soviet Union does he explore more deeply the firsthand experiences of servicemen and civilians on both sides. Their testimony heightens the drama and strengthens his argument that the failure to take Moscow in late 1941 marked the point at which Germany lost the war. There is something to this, though the author also makes clear that, as far as Hitler was concerned, the war was sure to be lost in any case unless the Soviet Union was invaded.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThis story is well known ... Nonetheless, Mr. Beevor retells it well, drawing on recent scholarship that has deepened our understanding of many topics (including intelligence and radio communications) related to the campaign. There were actually several interlinked battles proceeding simultaneously, and Mr. Beevor conveys a clear sense of what was happening in each fight and the knock-on consequences for the others. What’s more, the compressed time scale and limited strategic scope of Market Garden ideally suit the author’s testimony-rich approach ... Many readers will enjoy his vivid descriptions of combat, but these leave little room to dissect the cultural, technological or geographic factors that determined the fighting and how it was remembered. Given Mr. Beevor’s experience working with firsthand accounts, no one could be better placed to explore these topics. Had he done so, The Battle of Arnhem might have challenged readers to think about how we know what happens in war. It would have been all the more enthralling as a result.