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Max Hastings

The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945

A-ArmageddonBy late August 1944, western Allied forces had successfully concluded the Normandy campaign—and yet World War II waged until May 1945. Putting human faces on the suffering of Anglo-American, Russian, and German civilians, troops, and commanders, Hastings offers compelling reasons why Allied forces took so long to win the war. They had greater resources, to be sure. Yet, along with poor strategic planning, mediocre training, lack of will, and a few near-fatal blunders, they were unable to exploit the Germans’ weaknesses. The Germans, by contrast, had more men and superior military tactics, skill, and determination, which allowed them to prolong their imminent defeat and wage the final, and bloodiest, year of battle.
Knopf. 584 pages. $30. ISBN: 0375414339

Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Readers get glimpses of the famous and infamous leaders—Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Hitler, Stalin—but the more telling stories are often the personal ones. It’s one thing to hear a town was destroyed, another to hear it from a woman who lived there and saw her friends repeatedly raped by Red Army soldiers." Clint O’Connor

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"In this compelling, first-rate history of the last year of World War II in Europe, Max Hastings not only renders the horrendous battles but also analyzes the reasoning behind the major decisions of the war. … Hastings’s incisive, superbly written and comprehensive book is far from a dry academic exercise." Chris Patsilelis

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Hastings convincingly argues that the Allied generals’ most serious failure was not some individual blunder like the disastrous Arnhem campaign but rather their persistent inability to exploit Germany’s military weakness. … It is a book anyone with an interest in modern warfare will want to read." James J. Sheehan

Spectator 4 of 5 Stars
"What is admirable about this sweeping and well-researched study of Europe in that fateful year is the way Hastings makes us aware of the colossal physical damage, carnage and sheer human misery that are partly attributable to that ultimatum ‘unconditional surrender.’" William Deedes

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Hastings’s] harsh judgment of the leaders does not always reflect sufficient detachment from the testimonies of his protagonists on the ground. This approach makes for lively reading, but it may provide a somewhat skewed picture of the event as a whole." Omer Bartov

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"For American readers, however, the greatest interest of Armageddon will inevitably be how the war ended in the West. … Where one may agree over the capital errors of RAF strategic bombing, and the criminal inferiority of U.S. tanks, the British footslogger was neither so bad as Mr. Hastings reckons nor his German opposite number so universally superior." Alistair Horne

Critical Summary

Drawing on untapped Russian archives, Hastings (a former war correspondent and leading military historian) rethinks the final year of World War II in this sequel to Overlord (1984), an account of the Normandy landings. He writes with authority, technical mastery, and profound sympathy for the victims of war, particularly German civilians. Although much of this story has been told before, Hastings casts new light on the war’s devastating tolls on lowly GIs, confused civilians, and commanding officers. According to a few critics, he underplays the Allied forces’ strategic errors and paints black-and-white portraits of both sides; he barely masks his disdain for the Anglo-Americans and admiration for the Wehrmacht’s professionalism. He all but ignores the war in southern Europe. But these are minor quibbles. For military buffs, Armageddon is a first-rate history.