Book review: The World War II Bookshelf


This is a book review of a book on book reviews. Now, before you skip reading the rest of this review, reflect on why James F Dunnigan wrote it: “The World War II Bookshelf is full of information about books you may not have read, or even heard of.

But if you want to really understand World War II, these are the books that can fill in the gaps in your knowledge of the largest and bloodiest war ever fought,” the author writes in his introduction..” He adds: “You’re probably wondering why, if these books are so important, they aren’t all best sellers. Well, some of them are, but just as it isn’t unusual for it to take years – sometimes decades – to gauge the historical importance of events, this can also be the case with books that describe these events.”

Subtitled Fifty must-read books, Dunnigan divides the titles he chose into five groups: those dealing with the “big picture”, including John Keegan’s The Battle for History and Churchill’s The Second World War. Next he tackles the war in Europe and the Middle East, including Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe, Vladimir Peniakoff’s Popski’s Private Army and Max Hastings’ Overlord.

Dunnigan, then moves to Russia, selecting Alexander Werth’s Russia at War, GF Krivosheev’s Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the 20th Century (which put Russia’s World War Two losses at 30 MILLION) and David M Glantz & Jonathan M House’s When Titan’s Clashed: How the Red Army stopped Hitler. Space is next devoted to the war in the Pacific where titles reflecting the US and Japanese views, including Saburo Ienaga’s The Pacific War and Samuel Eliot Morison’s classic Two Ocean War. The last part of the book, except for an appendix that punts two of Dunnigan’s own books on the last World War (making for 52 books), deals with larger issues and includes The United States Strategic Bombing Survey and titles on spies, secret armies and what we now call special forces.
“You’ll note that I’ve included … few biographies or accounts of the experiences of individual soldiers. Nor are there many volumes dedicated to individual battles and campaigns. These have largely been omitted because, given a list of only fifty books about a war this large, the greater issues need to be understood first. Remember, to truly understand the war these are (according to Dunnigan) the ‘must read’ books, not the ones that are merely easier to get through or more alluring.” This dictum, of course, applies to reading in all spheres of life. If one remembers nothing else from this title, this would be it.

James F Dunnigan

The World War II Bookshelf, Fifty Must-Read Books

Citadel Press

Kensington Publishing Corporation

New York