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Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
By: 
Ben Shephard
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The Aftermath of the Second World War

A-The Long Road HomeBen Shephard is a British historian, author, and television producer known for his documentaries on the BBC. He has written two previous works of history.

The Topic: Though World War II ended in 1945, civil wars were still being fought; there was massive hyperinflation in Hungary; and millions of refugees were spread across Europe. Planners at the time knew that decisions made in the aftermath of the war would be consequential, though they could not necessarily predict how. They got some things wrong--for example, the Allies' anticipation of a global health crisis on the scale of the Great Influenza after World War I never materialized. Their initiatives in other areas, though, saved many lives and helped enshrine the concept of human rights into international law. In The Long Road Home, Ben Shephard tells the story of these planning efforts, with a particular focus on the attempts to solve the problem of the millions of people displaced by the war.
Vintage. 512 pages. $35. ISBN: 9780712600590

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"His research is exhaustive and draws equally on official documents and personal accounts such as memoirs and oral histories. ... Readers will be alternatively amazed, horrified, shocked and, occasionally, inspired." Terry Hartle

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"[You] can't read The Long Road Home without jolts of sudden relevance--whether of political frailty, electoral insularity, or from registering the basic factors, such as existing immigrant communities to join up with, that make some migrations far more successful than others. A good story or a bad one for mankind? In the end, more good than bad--but full of awful warnings." Peter Preston

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"This is an epic book, beautifully written and astonishingly well-researched. By recounting the mistakes as well as the triumphs made by the victorious Western countries in rebuilding the world out of the rubble of 1945, Mr. Shephard describes the foundations of our world today." William Shawcross

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Shephard covers the period with care, though his book can be plodding. ... [He] tells a vastly complicated story with tact and an attention to detail. Victory in Europe was hard won, but it was only the beginning." Matthew Price

Critical Summary

The most lauded aspect of Shephard's book is his ability to put aside historical hindsight and to see postwar scenarios the way the Allies and others saw them. For example, in the 1940s, the world had not yet grasped the extent of the Holocaust--the word itself had not even come into common usage--so the Jews of Europe were considered part of the "displaced people" problem. Critics also valued the way Shephard tells the story of those refugees through extensive archival research. Overall, reviewers were impressed by Shephard's work and were glad to see a historian cover this poorly understood aspect of the war. One criticism worth noting: several critics pointed out that the book should be subtitled "The Aftermath of the Second World War in Europe," since the war's considerable impact elsewhere is not considered in detail.