The Second World Wars

How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won


By Victor Davis Hanson

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A "breathtakingly magisterial" account of World War II by America's preeminent military historian (Wall Street Journal)

World War II was the most lethal conflict in human history. Never before had a war been fought on so many diverse landscapes and in so many different ways, from rocket attacks in London to jungle fighting in Burma to armor strikes in Libya.

The Second World Wars examines how combat unfolded in the air, at sea, and on land to show how distinct conflicts among disparate combatants coalesced into one interconnected global war. Drawing on 3,000 years of military history, bestselling author Victor Davis Hanson argues that despite its novel industrial barbarity, neither the war's origins nor its geography were unusual. Nor was its ultimate outcome surprising. The Axis powers were well prepared to win limited border conflicts, but once they blundered into global war, they had no hope of victory.

An authoritative new history of astonishing breadth, The Second World Wars offers a stunning reinterpretation of history's deadliest conflict.



Map 1 Growth of the Third Reich, 1933–1941

Map 2 Expansion of Imperial Japan, 1932–1941

Map 3 Strategic Bombing in Europe

Map 4 Strategic Bombing in the Pacific

Map 5 The Battle of the Atlantic

Map 6 Major Naval Battles in the Mediterranean

Map 7 Major Naval Battles in the Pacific

Map 8 Blitzkrieg in France

Map 9 Soviet Advances on the Eastern Front, 1943–1944

Map 10 North African Campaigns

Map 11 Allied Advances on the Western Front, 1944

Map 12 The Fall of Germany, 1945

Map 13 Allied Advances in the Pacific Theater

Map 14 The Siege of Leningrad

Map 15 The Relative GDP of the Major Allied and Axis Powers, 1938–1945

Map 16 The Borders of Germany in 1937 and 1945


THE MORE THAN three dozen missions carried out by my father, William F. Hanson, in a B-29 bomber over Japan, were a world apart from his cousin’s experience. Victor Hanson’s war ended in a fatal May 19, 1945, rendezvous with a Nambu machine gun nest on the crest of Sugar Loaf Hill with the 6th Marine Division on Okinawa. Both fought in a way foreign to their other cousin, Robert Hanson, who worked as a logistician in Iran, ferrying American military freight to the Russians.1

All three Hansons experienced different wars from that of my maternal cousin Richard Davis. He “rolled” across France as part of Patton’s Third Army. Dick’s war in turn was unlike that of another maternal cousin, Beldon Cather. As a boy I remember an occasionally feverish Beldon on the farm as a lifelong semi-invalid, suffering neurological disabilities from serial bouts with dengue fever contracted while fighting in the Pacific. Beldon did not battle in the same manner or against the same enemies or in the same places as his brother Holt, killed while serving in combat with an artillery battalion of the Seventh Army in November 1944, and buried in France at the Epinal American Cemetery.

World War II sent the youth of American, British, German, Japanese, Italian, and Russian families across the globe in odd alliances against each other. They battled in the air, at sea, and on the ground for all sorts of expressed reasons, employing machines that were often new and fighting in ways still not fully understood, and against a variety of enemies. When the veterans of my family shared stories about their service at holiday gatherings in the early 1960s, we eavesdroppers listened to their descriptions of exotic locales and situations, wondering whether they had even fought in the same war.

They insisted that they were kindred soldiers in a shared struggle against a common evil with a variety of faces. How fighting different enemies, alongside disparate allies, in greatly different ways across the globe coalesced into one war is a paradox—and the subject of this book. Its aim is to explain why a single conflict encompassed global fighting in ways not true of most prior wars, fought in limited locales between predictable enemies and through familiar methods.

I TITLE THIS book The Second World Wars for two reasons. One, no supposedly single conflict was ever before fought in so many diverse landscapes on premises that often seemed unrelated. And, two, never had a war been fought in so many different ways—to the extent that a rocket attack on London or jungle fighting in Burma or armor strikes in Libya seemed to belong to entirely different wars.

World War II, however, began traditionally enough in 1939–1940 in Europe as a series of border conflicts exclusively between European powers, including Britain. As is true of much of European history, aggressive states attacked their perceived weaker neighbors, usually through surprise and in reliance on greater preparation and armament. By the end of 1940, what had so far seemed to be familiar European infighting had achieved a Caesarian or Napoleonic scale. But by the end of 1941, something quite cataclysmic followed: all the smaller conflicts compounded unexpectedly into a total, global war, in which the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan were soon materially outmatched, strategically unprepared, and likely to lose in catastrophic fashion. Advances in Western technology and industrialization, when married with both totalitarian zealotry and fully mobilized democratic states, also ensured that the expanded war would become lethal in a way never before seen.2

Three unexpected events explain why the border fights that had begun periodically—and sometimes ended and started again—between 1939 and 1941 were no longer seen as a series of separate wars but had coalesced and became redefined as part of what we now know as World War II in the United States, or as the Second World War in the Anglosphere. First, Germany without warning invaded its partner, the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). Second, in addition to its long war with China, Japan took on new enemies by conducting surprise attacks on the Pacific and Asian bases of Great Britain and the United States (December 7–8, 1941). Third, both Germany and Italy then declared war against the Americans (December 11, 1941).

Only these unforeseen developments in the single year of 1941 recalibrated prior regional conflicts in Europe and Asia into a continuous and now interconnected global war that drew three new powerful participants—Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States—into the two formidable alliances, with a vast array of aircraft carriers, sophisticated planes, artillery pieces, and vehicles. The new worldwide fight was rebranded as one of Germany, Italy, and Japan against Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, and China—with smaller and weaker allied states on both sides. Thus the holistic idea of a Second World War was born.3

Despite the wartime propagandas that followed, there were few common fault lines of religion, race, or geography to make sense of this confusing conflict—much less common methods of conducting the fighting. Being victims of Axis aggression, most often through unprovoked attacks, was about the only common bond that held the Allies together, a tripartite alliance that initially hinged on retaliating against Adolf Hitler and that thus dissipated months after his death almost as quickly as it had been formed.

THIS BOOK DOES not follow a strict chronological sequence. Nor does it offer a comprehensive narrative history of all the diverse theaters and campaigns of the war. Rather, it focuses on particular battles emblematic of the larger themes of how the respective belligerents made wise and foolish choices about why, how, and where to fight the war. It is not, then, an operational history of the war that provides detailed accounts of day-by-day fighting, advances, and retreats.

Instead, the book’s chapters analyze the diverse methods and effectiveness of combat—the role of civilians, industry, air power, navies, infantry, armor, siegecraft, and military leadership—to assess how these different investments and strategies led one side to win and the other to lose, and how the war’s diverse theaters, belligerents, and ways of fighting came eventually to define a single war.

A general theme also transcends the chapters: the once ascendant Axis powers were completely ill-prepared—politically, economically, and militarily—to win the global war they had blundered into during 1941. Simply killing the far greater number of soldiers and civilians over the next four years—the vast majority of them Russians, Eastern Europeans, and Chinese—never equated to destroying their enemies’ ability to make war.

I THANK MANY for help in completing this book. The Hoover Institution, Stanford University, has offered continued support since my appointment in 2003, especially from John Raisian, director emeritus, and the current director, Thomas Gilligan. I have learned a great deal on war and peace from my colleagues at Hoover, especially Peter Berkowitz, Peter Robinson, Shelby Steele, and Thomas Sowell. Eric Thomas Wakin, head of archives at Hoover, along with his staff, generously helped with assembling photographs from the trove of World War II material at Hoover. I thank Bill Nelson for drafting the maps. David Berkey, a research fellow in classics and military history at Hoover, has proven an invaluable research assistant, and I owe him considerable gratitude for his help in editing the manuscript, finding obscure books and periodicals, and bringing to my attention both facts and ideas that I otherwise would have missed. My assistant, Megan Ring, also offered timely organizational help, especially in matters of editing and bibliography.

Martin Anderson and his wife, the late Illie Anderson, generously supported my tenure as the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in classics and military history at Hoover. Each September I have spent my vacation teaching for a month as the Wayne and Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History at Hillsdale College, where over the past decade I sought to draw out my colleagues about World War II, especially President Larry Arnn and Professors Tom Connor, Mark Kalthoff, and Paul Rahe. I also thank colleague Al Phillip of Hillsdale, who has partnered with me in leading annual military history tours of Europe over the last ten years, and helped to arrange visits to many of the major World War II battlefields and cities of conflict in war-torn Europe.

My friend of over thirty years, Professor Bruce Thornton, gave me his characteristic insight about the war and literature of the 1930s. My former editor at Encounter Books, Peter Collier, kindly read a rough draft of the manuscript, and I have profited greatly from his accustomed good sense and astute editorial advice—as well as from Professor Williamson Murray, whose vast knowledge of World War II is unmatched, and who generously offered a number of insightful suggestions, saving me from a number of wrong notions. Neither is responsible for any errors that have remained. Roger and Susan Hertog have been staunch supporters, and for over a decade I have valued Roger’s sound judgment on foreign affairs and security issues, past and present.

Lara Heimert, publisher of Basic Books, inspired me to write on World War II. Otherwise, I might never have undertaken this book. I thank Roger Labrie, a senior editor at Basic; Karl Yambert, my copyeditor; and Lara, for carefully editing the manuscript and helping me to clarify my thoughts and approaches. My literary agents of three decades Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu of Writers’ Representatives, along with Lara, encouraged me to think about writing a different history of World War II; once again I am indebted to Glen and Lynn for their expertise and my link with the publishing world from the distance of rural California.

My son Bill Hanson and daughter Pauli Steinback as usual offered steady encouragement and support, especially during the sudden and shared loss of our dear Susannah, daughter and sister, whose love of the past was matched by her constant enthusiasm and advice to persevere in the present, and whose weekly calls about the progress of this book helped me to finish it. I was so fortunate to have had the love and friendship of such a kind and gentle person, even for so brief a time.

Throughout the two years of writing and research, my wife and friend, Jennifer, offered her steady guidance and good sense—and lots of ideas when walking battlefields, whether on Omaha Beach, at Bastogne, or across Sicily.

I finish this book in my sixty-third year in the farmhouse of my great-great grandmother, Lucy Anna Davis. My own more recent memories of all who have lived here before me—grandparents Rees and Georgia Davis, parents Pauline and William Hanson, siblings Alfred and Nels Hanson, and cousins Maren and Rees Nielsen—and their shared love of the land have always made it a perfect place in which to write, remember, and commemorate. It was here as a small boy that I first learned to appreciate the terrible sacrifices of World War II from the dining-room discussions of family, agrarians, neighbors, and veterans who believed that their various Second World Wars were tragic and hellish—but still worth fighting even in such faraway and often deadly places.


Selma, California

August 2017



When, where, and why did they fight?

In a war of ideas it is people who get killed.

—Stanisław Jerzy Lec1


The War in a Classical Context

SOME SIXTY MILLION people died in World War II.

On average, twenty-seven thousand people perished on each day between the invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939) and the formal surrender of Japan (September 2, 1945)—bombed, shot, stabbed, blown apart, incinerated, gassed, starved, or infected. The Axis losers killed or starved to death about 80 percent of all those who died during the war. The Allied victors largely killed Axis soldiers; the defeated Axis, mostly civilians.

More German and Russian soldiers were killed in tanks at Kursk (well over 2,000 tanks lost) than at any other battle of armor in history. The greatest loss of life of both civilians and soldiers on a single ship (9,400 fatalities) occurred when a Soviet submarine sank the German troop transport Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea in January 1945. The costliest land battle in history took place at Stalingrad; Leningrad was civilization’s most lethal siege. The death machinery of the Holocaust made past mass murdering from Attila to Tamerlane to the Aztecs seem like child’s play. The deadliest single day in military history occurred in World War II during the March 10, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo, when a hundred thousand people, perhaps many more, lost their lives. The only atomic bombs ever dropped in war immediately killed more than a hundred thousand people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki together, most of them civilians, while tens of thousands more ultimately died and were maimed from radiation exposure. World War II exhausted superlatives. Its carnage seemed to reinvent ideas of war altogether.

YET HOW, WHY, and where the war broke out were familiar factors. The sophisticated technology and totalitarian ideologies of World War II should not blind us to the fact that the conflict was fought on familiar ground in predictable climates and weather by humans whose natures were unchanged since antiquity and thus who went to war, fought, and forged a peace according to time-honored precepts. Reformulated ancient ideas of racial and cultural superiority fueled the global bloodbath between 1939 and 1945, which was ostensibly started to prove that some ideologies were better, or at least more powerful, than others. Nazi Germany certainly believed that other, supposedly inherently spiritually weaker Western nations—Britain and France in particular—had conspired since World War I to prevent the expression of naturally dominant German power. In his memoirs, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine, the German navy, after January 1943, summed up accurately the German justification for the war: “Britain went to war in 1939 because Greater Germany, growing in strength and united with Austria, was becoming a menace to British imperial and economic interests.” Notice how Doenitz’s key phrase, “Britain went to war,” assumes that the German invasion of Poland was the result of victimization and grievance and thus should not have provoked a wider war.1

By 1939, Germans had concluded that the postwar policies of the Western European nations were unfair, vindictive, and, with some tolerable sacrifices, correctible, given the rebirth of Germany under a uniquely powerful National Socialism. An unfettered Germany would establish hegemony throughout Europe, even if that effort might require dramatic changes in current borders, substantial population exchanges, and considerable deaths, though mostly of non-Germans. In time, both Fascist Italy (which had invaded both Ethiopia and Albania prior to September 1, 1939) and Japan (which had invaded China well over two years before the German attack on Poland) felt that if Hitler could take such risks—as he had throughout 1939–1941 in apparently successful fashion—then they too might take a gamble to share in the spoils. Perceived self-interest—and a sense of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides’s realist notion of honor and fear—as much as ideological affinity, explained which power entered the war, or left it, or chose to remain neutral.

World War II was conceived and fought as a characteristic Western war in which classical traditions of free markets, private property, unfettered natural inquiry, personal freedom, and a secular tradition had for centuries often translated to greater military dynamism in Europe than elsewhere. If the conflict’s unique savagery and destructiveness can only be appreciated through the lenses of twentieth-century ideology, technology, and industry, its origins and end still followed larger contours of conflict as they developed over 2,500 years of civilized history. The Western military’s essence had remained unchanged but it was now delivered at an unprecedented volume and velocity, and posed a specter of death on a massive scale. The internecine war was largely fought with weaponry and technology that were birthed in the West, although also used by Westernized powers in Asia. The atomic bombs, napalm, guided missiles, and multi-engine bombers of World War II confirmed a general truth that for over two millennia the war making of Europe and its appendages had proven brutal against the non-West, but when its savage protocols and technology were turned upon itself, the corpses mounted in an unfathomable fashion.

STARTING WARS IS far easier than ending them. Since the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) between Athens and Sparta and their allies, winning—and finishing—a war was predicated on finding ways to end an enemy’s ability to fight, whether materially or psychologically. The Axis and the Allies had radically different ideas of how the wars of World War II would eventually conclude—with the Allies sharing a far better historical appreciation of the formulas that always put a final end to conflicts. When World War II broke out in 1939, Germany did not have a serious plan for defeating any of those enemies, present or future, that were positioned well beyond its own borders. Unlike its more distant adversaries, the Third Reich had neither an adequate blue-water navy nor a strategic bombing fleet, anchored by escort fighters and heavy bombers of four engines whose extended ranges and payloads might make vulnerable the homelands of any new enemies on the horizon. Hitler did not seem to grasp that the four most populous countries or territories in the world—China, India, the Soviet Union, and the United States—were either fighting against the Axis or opposed to its agendas. Never before or since had all these peoples (well over one billion total) fought at once and on the same side.

Not even Napoleon had declared war in succession on so many great powers without any idea how to destroy their ability to make war, or, worse yet, in delusion that tactical victories would depress stronger enemies into submission. Operation Sea Lion, Germany’s envisioned invasion of Britain, remained a pipe dream—and yet it offered the only plausible way to eliminate Britain from the war that Hitler had started. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, then head of the Kriegsmarine, repeatedly warned Hitler that an amphibious invasion of Britain in 1940 was quite impossible. After explaining why the German navy was unable to transport hundreds of thousands of troops across the Channel, Raeder flatly concluded, “I could not recommend a landing in England.” After the war, Field Marshal General Wilhelm Keitel agreed that the military was not up to the task and was relieved that Hitler finally conceded as much: “I very much worried. I fully realized that we would have to undertake this invasion with small boats that were not seaworthy. Therefore, at that time I had fully agreed with the decision of the Fuehrer.” The invasion of Russia, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, would prove a rerun of the early successes of blitzkrieg in precisely the one theater where it would be nearly impossible to conduct it effectively—an operation that Raeder in hindsight claimed to have opposed, desperately but vainly advising Hitler that “under no circumstances should we go to war with Russia.”2

War’s eternal elements—a balance between powers, deterrence versus appeasement, collective security, preemption and preventive attacks, and peace brought by victory, humiliation, and occupation—still governed the conflict. As was true in most past conflicts, the publics in Axis countries, regardless of the odiousness of fascist ideology, supported the war when Germany, Italy, and Japan were deemed to be winning. Even the liberal German historian Friedrich Meinecke was caught up in the German euphoria following the sudden collapse of France in 1940: “And to have regained Strasbourg! How could a man’s heart not beat a little faster at this? After all, building up an army of millions in the space of only four years and rendering it capable of such achievements has been an astonishing and arguably the greatest and the most positive accomplishment of the Third Reich.” The classical Greek historian Thucydides, who so often focused on the Athenian public’s wild shifts in reaction to perceived battlefield victories or defeats, could not have captured any better the mercurial exhilaration at the thought of decisive military success.3

The pulse of the war also reflected another classical dictum: the winning side is the one that most rapidly learns from its mistakes, makes the necessary corrections, and most swiftly responds to new challenges—in the manner that land-power Sparta finally built a far better navy while the maritime Athenians never fielded an army clearly superior to its enemies, or the land-power Rome’s galleys finally became more effective than were the armies of the sea-power Carthage. The Anglo-Americans, for example, more quickly rectified flaws in their strategic bombing campaign—by employing longer-range fighter escorts, recalibrating targeting, integrating radar into air-defense networks, developing novel tactics, and producing more and better planes and crews—than did Germany in its bombing against Britain. America would add bombers and crews at a rate unimaginable for Germany. The result was that during six months of the Blitz (September 1940 to February 1941), the Luftwaffe, perhaps the best strategic bombing force in the world in late 1939 through mid-1940, dropped only thirty thousand tons of bombs on Britain. In contrast, in the half year between June and November 1944, Allied bombers dropped twenty times that tonnage on Germany.4

The same asymmetry was true at sea, especially in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Allied leadership made operational changes and technological improvements of surface ships and planes far more rapidly than could the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine. America adapted to repair and produce aircraft carriers and train new crews at a pace inconceivable in Japan. The Allies—including the Soviet Union on most occasions—usually avoided starting theater wars that ended in multiyear infantry quagmires. In contrast, Japan, Germany, and Italy respectively bogged down in China, the Soviet Union, and North Africa and the Balkans.

The importance of the classical geography of war is also unchanging. Ostensibly the Mediterranean should not have mattered in a twentieth-century war that broke out in Eastern Europe. The nexus of European power and influence had long ago shifted far northward, following the expansion of hostile Ottoman power into the western Mediterranean, the discovery of the New World, the Reformation, the British and French Enlightenments, and the Industrial Revolution. But the Mediterranean world connected three continents and had remained even more crucial after the completion of the Suez Canal for European transit to Asia and the Pacific. The Axis “spine” was predicated on a north-south corridor of fascist-controlled rail lines connecting ports on the Baltic with those on the Mediterranean. Without the Mediterranean, the British Empire could not easily coordinate its global commerce and communications. It was no wonder, then, that North Africa, Italy, and Greece became early battlegrounds, as did the age-old strategic stepping-stones across the Mediterranean at Crete, Malta, and Sicily that suffered either constant bombing or invasions.

British, American, Italian, and German soldiers often found themselves fortifying or destroying the Mediterranean stonework of the Romans, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, and Ottomans. Gibraltar still remained unconquerable. Without a viable plan to attack it on land and from its Iberian rear, the Axis gave up taking the fortress, as had every aggressor that had coveted it since the British annexation of 1713. That Germany and Italy would try to wage war on the Mediterranean and in North Africa without serious attempts to invade Gibraltar and Malta is a testament to their ignorance of history.5

Still other classical precedents were forgotten. Western military history showed, but was apparently again dismissed by Allied planners, that it was often difficult to start a campaign northward up the narrow backbone of the Italian Peninsula. What usually started in Sicily petered out in mid-peninsula, given the ease of defense in the narrow mountainous terrain of the Apennines with seas on both flanks. Hannibal and Napoleon alone seemed to have believed that Italy was best conquered from the north rather than the south. Nor had Europeans ever had much success trying to attack Russia from the west. Despite the grand efforts of Swedes, French, and Germans, the expanses were always too wide, the barriers too numerous, the window of good weather too brief—and the Russians were too many and too warlike on their own soil. Planes and tanks did not change those realities. Germany’s problem in particular was that its two most potent enemies, Britain and Russia, were also the hardest to reach. While Germany’s central European location was convenient for bullying the French and Eastern Europeans, its British and Russian existential enemies enjoyed both land and sea buffers from the vaunted German army.

The Allies were surprised that Hitler staged two invasions through the Ardennes in southeast Belgium. But in addition to the examples of World War I, the critically located rough terrain had been a nexus for passing armies since it was first mentioned in Caesar’s Gallic Wars


  • "The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson is breathtakingly magisterial: How can Mr. Hanson make so much we thought we knew so fresh and original?"—Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal
  • "An extraordinary array of facts and statistics, [The Second World Wars] offers an account of the fatalism of war."—New Yorker
  • "The Second World Wars is an outstanding work of historical interpretation. It is impossible to do justice to such a magnificent book in a short review. Given the vast quantities of ink expended on accounts of this great conflict, one would think that there was not much more left to say. Hanson proves that this belief is wrong. His fresh examination of World War II cements his reputation as a military historian of the first order."—National Review
  • "Lively and proactive, full of the kind of novel perceptions that can make a familiar subject interesting again."—New York Times Book Review
  • "[The Second World Wars] is written in an energetic and engaging style. Mr. Hanson provides more than enough interesting and original points to make this book essential reading. One thing becomes increasingly clear: The complex of conflicts between 1937 and 1945, because of their unprecedented reach and their death blow to colonialism, brought world history together for the first time."—Wall Street Journal
  • "Hopefully, [The Second World Wars] will become required reading for students at professional military schools as an introduction to war in the industrial age as well as to students studying how the 20th century shaped who we are today."—Washington Times
  • "In his exposition of this thesis, displaying a depth of knowledge of the period that is often simply astounding, Hanson has written what I consider to be the most important single-volume explanation of World War II since Richard Overy's Why the Allies Won (1996)-that is, for a generation."—Andrew Roberts, Claremont Review of Books
  • "Even if you feel like you've read everything and then some about World War II, you will find a huge amount in [The Second World Wars] that is new, fascinating, and enlightening. And more than that, you'll find a way of thinking about how the lowliest practicalities and logistical challenges of war are connected to the highest reaches of geopolitics that will change how you think about both. This is what a great, enduring work of military history looks like."—Yuval Levin, National Review
  • "[The Second World Wars] is a brilliant and very original and readable work by a great military historian and contemporary commentator."—New Criterion
  • "As I struggle in my office to capture Hanson's analytical tour de force in review, I can see the shelf full of books on World War II that I've read over the decades. After reading Wars, I believe I have a firmer grasp of the big picture--very big picture indeed--of how this conflict began, the various tortuous paths it took, and how it resolved the way it did than after digesting all of these other volumes. Reviewers are sometimes over-quick to label a book essential. For readers who wish to fully understand World War II, this book is."—American Spectator
  • "Dr. Hanson has written another well-researched and fascinating book. [He] does an excellent job of placing World War II in the historical context of global conflict."—New York Journal of Books
  • "In his latest work, noted military historian Victor Davis Hanson provides an utterly original account of what he terms the 'first true global conflict.'"—History Net
  • "Victor Davis Hanson's history is thematic. The war is dissected into its constituent parts, allowing the historian to examine at length aspects of the conflict that would be given short shrift in a narrative account. What is remarkable is that despite the absence of a traditional storyline the reader's attention never flags. Indeed, I have learned more in a few days with this dog-eared [book] than I have in a lifetime of interest in World War II."—Washington Free Beacon
  • "[Hanson's] unusual approach yields new insights about long-familiar events, making his experiments ingenious and successful."—America in WWII Magazine
  • "Perceptive and provocative."—American Greatness
  • "Hansen provides a concise, readable and well-researched volume on World War II. It is an excellent starting point for those who know nothing about World War II, and a fresh look at the war for those knowledgeable about it."—Galveston County's The Daily News
  • "[Hanson's] insights into the international reach of the conflict are very much worth reading, and in this book as in all his others, the reading momentum never flags."—Open Letters Monthly
  • "I loved this book. Strongly recommended."—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
  • "Hanson is a writer who crunches not only numbers but the text itself. He has a gift for brevity, exactness, and clarity. Invariably he brings the wisdom of a lifetime of scholarship, plus his natural intelligence, to bear on judgments about strategy, causes, leadership, and results. [The Second World Wars] is a fine book, rich in both facts and ideas. It is a triumph for an author/historian with a clear vision, the necessary imagination, and the intellect to explain the past to us on a vast canvas, with clarity, a sense of values, and common sense."—Omaha Dispatch
  • "[Hanson's] organizational approach allows him to isolate and highlight observations that may surprise even some well-read WWII enthusiasts."—Publishers Weekly
  • "An ingenious, always provocative analysis of history's most lethal war."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • "The Second World Wars is a monumental, riveting, and illuminating reappraisal of the first - and hopefully the last - truly global conflict, full of exceptional insights from one of America's greatest living historians. Victor Davis Hanson's account provides an exceptional retrospective on the wars in which a staggering 60 million people perished before the Allies prevailed."—General David Petraeus (US Army, Ret.), former commander of the Surge in Iraq, US Central Command, and coalition forces in Afghanistan and former Director of the CIA
  • "The Second World Wars offers an incisive tale for our age of globalization. Yet it is rooted in timeless truths. That is no surprise because Victor Davis Hanson is our greatest historian of western warfare from its origins in ancient Greece. Nobody writes military history like Hanson."—Barry Strauss, author of The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Greatest Assassination
  • "Victor Hanson's comprehensive account of World War II is a wonder. Where others have supplied a narrative, he provides analysis. He explores the war's origins; the role played in its conduct by airpower, sea power, infantry, tanks, artillery, industry, and generalship; and the reasons why the Allies won and the Axis lost. This is an eye-opener and a page-turner."—Paul A. Rahe, Hillsdale College, author of The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge
  • "I couldn't put it down. It is rare to encounter a view of the war from the multiple perspectives of the six powers, three on each side, who were the prime combatants, in the elemental theaters of sea and air and land. The analysis is excellent. The Second World Wars is a major work of historical narrative and deserves to meet readers receptive to its riches."—David Lehman, author of Sinatra's Century
  • "Victor Davis Hanson has delivered another masterpiece-this time a monumental history of World War II, surpassing all prior attempts at a comprehensive accounting of that cataclysm. Ranging from the deserts of North Africa to the islands of the Pacific, Hanson brings to bear a massive arsenal of insights to illuminate how strategy, culture, industry, and leadership shaped battlefield events and doomed the Axis empires."—Mark Moyar, author of Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America's Special Operations Forces
  • "If you think there is nothing more to be said about World War II, then you haven't read Victor Davis Hanson's The Second World Wars. Hanson displays an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the conflict, ranging from land to sea to air, and from grand strategy to infantry tactics, to analyze what happened and why. Page after page, he produces dazzling insights informed by his deep knowledge of military history going all the way back to ancient Greece. The Second World Wars is compulsively readable."—Max Boot, author of Invisible Armies, War Made New and The Savage Wars of Peace

On Sale
Jan 28, 2020
Page Count
720 pages
Basic Books

Victor Davis Hanson

About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow in military history at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a professor emeritus of classics at California State University, Fresno. He is the author of over two dozen books, including A War Like No Other, The Second World Wars, and The Dying Citizen. He lives in Selma, California. 

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