Books recall the history of World War II
On May 8, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, marking the Allied victory in Europe and North Africa. These books shine a light on that theater of combat.
World War II Map by Map, by DK and Smithsonian Institution, 299 pages, DK hardcover, 2019
After the United States entered World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Americans listening to his fireside chats to follow along with maps as he discussed the complexities of the conflict.
Indeed, the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, includes among its exhibits a full-scale recreation of the White House Map Room where FDR retreated to receive top-secret updates and make command decisions.
Today’s readers interested in gaining a comprehensive understanding of the war will find World War II Map by Map indispensable, just as those on the home front did back then.
The worldwide scope of World War II is examined, as are the post-war years. A timeline explains the action. A succinct narrative describes the progression of events as the deadliest conflict in world history unfolded and reverberated beyond the end of hostilities.
This large-format book includes more than 100 color maps and more than 230 archival illustrations. The foreword is by octogenarian Peter Snow, and the consultant overseeing the contributors is septuagenarian Richard Overy. Both are distinguished British historians.
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, by Erik Larson, 608 pages, Crown hardcover 2020
This noteworthy account of the dark hours of World War II when England stood alone recreates with nuance and detail the time when victory over the Nazis was not assured.
Bestselling author Erik Larson’s rich portrait of Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a private and public man, his family and official circle, politicians and antagonists, deepens our understanding of the historic events that occurred between May 10, 1940, and May 10, 1941 — the time frame covered by the book.
The Splendid and the Vile employs archival materials, official histories, diaries and contemporary news reports to great effect in telling the story of courage and fortitude in the face of the unknown.
Larson explains military strategy and the state of armaments in a manner that contemporary readers can grasp. He describes in vivid detail the horrors of the night-time bombing of England and the resilience of its citizens.
The book also explores the fight for the hearts and minds of Americans to abandon the isolationism embraced by much of the public. It examines, too, the relationships among Churchill, FDR and their emissaries.
The history of the fateful year, as retold, weaves in lighthearted moments and trivial gossip, thereby creating an interesting narrative that is neither glum nor foreboding.
Larson writes of a time when the fate of the free world hung in the balance. Heroes are not perfect, but flawed. The human element is the focus of the narrative.
Destination Casablanca: Exile, Espionage, and the Battle for North Africa in World War II, by Meredith Hindley, 512 pages, Public Affairs paperback, 2019
Historian Meredith Hindley, who lives in Washington D.C., is a senior writer for the quarterly review of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Her book Destination Casablanca provides an account of the White City from the time of French entry into World War II through the historic conference that took place there between FDR and Winston Churchill in 1943.
Read about a diverse set of characters, among them De Gaulle, Eisenhower, Patton and Josephine Baker.
One, Herbert Goold, the American consul general in Casablanca, along with his wife and staff, showed courtesy and sympathy to the long lines of visa applicants who converged daily outside the consulate. He was the antithesis of a heartless bureaucrat.
Helene Benatar, a Jewish lawyer, showed selfless devotion to the refugees and internees of all denominations. Sidney Williams was the American Red Cross’ first African-American director. His Liberty Club for black GIs in Casablanca was integrated even though the Armed Forces were not.
Be inspired by these unsung heroes. Difficult times produce courageous individuals who are often forgotten by later generations.