Two British military history heavyweights are to go head-to-head with epic new publications on the Second World War, reports The Times.
Anthony Beevor and Max Hastings have both been contracted by their publishers to publish 800+ page books in 2012. Beevor’s advance from his publishers is believed to be in the region of £1m. “Max and I are both great friends and great rivals,” said Beevor, whose book will be published in Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. “It’s the whole war and yes, it’s a terrifying prospect.”
Hastings is amazed that narrative military history can command such figures: “I would never have guessed when I started writing about this period more than 30 years ago that this market would still be there,” said Hastings, whose book will be published by HarperCollins.
Colin Smith, an author on Vichy France, thinks that military history has followed phases: “After the war itself, we had the heroic books, usually written by those actually in the war such as Churchill and Monty. Then we had a revisionist period, then a lack of interest with some boring military tactician books, and now a revived interest because of good writing and human stories.”
It is very encouraging to see that military history is becoming so popular once again, both to publishers and readers alike. It is very nice to see, especially as we are so far away from the war now that it is in the living memory of fewer and fewer people. And as we are living in a post-military society, where few people have served in uniform, clearly people with no experience of military service are becoming interested in what happened to their forefathers.
I must profess to being no great fan of Beevor or Hastings. Beevor’s books have sold by the truckload. I have read his books on Stalingrad, Berlin and D-Day. Whilst I enjoy his writing style, I cannot help but feel that the lack of substantial new material or hystoriography does not warrant the hype. They are clearly aimed at a general readership. Hastings’s usually offers more research-based writing, but his pugnacious style – as we might expect from a journalist – can be off-putting.
Writing a complete history of the Second World War is a tall order. These are obviously publisher-led books, as no military historian would conceive of covering 6 years worth of battles, on 3 continents and many oceans, and killed millions of people in 800 pages. Modern military historiography as gone beyond the ‘complete history of’ approach. It is far better, surely, to not even attempt it, because the result will almost always be a disappointment. But these names, after all, are names that sell books.
However Beevor’s and Hastings’s books turn out, they will have to go a very long way to eclipse luminaries such as Basil Liddell Hart, John Terraine, Martin Middlebrook, John Keegan or Michael Howard. Or my wildcard entries, Robin Neillands and William Buckingham. I look forward to reading them, but I plan on reading beyond the hype and the name on the spine.