Blood and Ruins: Masterly overview of the ‘long’ second World War

Book review: Richard Overly’s synthesis of vast literature and sources has never been bettered

Prof Overy characterises the conflict as ‘the last imperial war’ impelled by the German, Italian and Japanese drive for territorial empires to match those of Britain and France. Photograph: Artsiom Malashenko/iStock

Prof Overy characterises the conflict as ‘the last imperial war’ impelled by the German, Italian and Japanese drive for territorial empires to match those of Britain and France. Photograph: Artsiom Malashenko/iStock

The orthodox chronology of the second World War that classifies it as a global conflict beginning with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and ending with Japan’s surrender in 1945 has fallen out of favour among historians. So, too, has the idea that the war’s primary cause was Adolf Hitler’s grab for world power.

Nowadays the preferred concept is that of a “long” second World War, with some historians dating its outbreak to Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 or its attack on China in 1937. Others frame the conflict as merely one phase in a 30-year-long European civil war that began in 1914. Equally, both world wars were followed by chaotic peace in which millions died during the course of ferocious inter-ethnic and political struggles – conflicts that lingered for decades.

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