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Reviewed by:
  • The World War Two Reader
  • Michael J. Galgano
The World War Two Reader. Edited by Gordon Martel. New York: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-22403-9. Photographs. Illustrations. Tables. Glossary. Notes. Index. Pp. xxvi, 500. $34.95.

Professor Gordon Martel of the University of Northern British Columbia gathers an impressive array of recent research completed by some of the most groundbreaking historians writing on the Second War. The nineteen essays found in this skillfully edited and presented anthology illuminate interpretations that shape and guide current scholarship. Each may be used as a model for additional research on the war and its enduring impact. The collection brings this rich scholarship to students and interested readers in a clear and accessible format.

In four well conceived sections—entitled respectively "Strategy: Failures, Shocks, and Mythologies"; "Soldiers: Ideology, Race, and Gender," "Home Fronts: People, Places, and Politics"; and "Memories: Victims, Heroes, and Controversies"—Martel arranges significant essays reprinted from leading scholarly journals and other published works, provides focused introductions, and presents substantive bibliographical essays that guide readers to additional interpretations. The collection is broad ranging in its scope and each entry is thoughtfully linked to the theme defining the particular section.

The first section addresses some of the surprises—the sudden fall of France, the mobilization for total war in Germany, and the reasons for the bombing of Hiroshima (to suggest only a few)—facing leaders involved in strategic planning and politics at the highest domestic and international levels. In the opening essay, Martin Alexander corrects earlier explanations for the fall of France and replaces them with a more complex explanation based upon French interwar culture, the enduring consequences of World War I there, and the lack of a consistent Allied strategy acceptable to French and British political leaders. Richard Overy next traces Nazi preparations for total war to 1939 when they began to systematically mobilize labor and equipment and stockpile materials. Concluding that Germany neared its goal of total mobilization by 1941, including women, he shows that they were well ahead of their enemies in this effort and not lagging behind as traditional scholarship has held. Lawrence Freedman and Saki Dockrill suggest that the degree of uncertainty surrounding the destructive quality of the atomic bomb best explains why the decision to use it was not more widely debated. Since its intended purpose was to shock the Japanese people, cities were its identified targets. [End Page 549]

Space constraints do not permit a fuller discussion of the reader's content and a brief review cannot do justice to the essays that comprise this fine anthology. Suffice it to say, it embraces a full spectrum of scholarship and examines a variety of issues. The articles explain previous scholarship on each topic, mainly, though not exclusively, concerning the war in Europe. They then develop their own arguments rooted in a range of sources. In this manner, they will stimulate students and help them see new and exciting ways to use historical evidence. The imbalance between essays detailing the war in Europe and Asia reflects the interests of current scholars and challenges their peers to explore new regions in much more depth. The present volume should appeal to scholars and students, though it is intended primarily for classroom use.

Michael J. Galgano
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, Virginia


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 549-550
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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