Europe in Flames by Harold J Goldberg

Writing a ‘History of the ….war’ is always an ambitious idea, and one that is very rarely pulled off. There’s just so much to cover, it can only ever really be a framework at best. Not since Basil Liddell Hart‘s History of the Second World War has a historian really gone close to covering this vast conflict in one volume. In any case, it’s all been so well written about, what is there that we can add anyway?

I’m not what exactly the purpose of this book is. It gives an overview of the Second World War, year by year, in pretty basic fashion. But it also interweaves some oral history quotes. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why these quotes have been chosen and not others. There are, after all, millions of oral history testimonies relating to the Second World War, and choosing one or two relating to each major event in history does seem a bit minimalist and arbitrary.

However, if you know absolutely nothing about the Second World War in Europe – and, dare I say it, this might apply to a lot of budding historians stateside – I guess this isn’t too bad a place to start. It does focus very much on geo-political and strategic affairs, but then I guess that is what most history syllabuses tend to begin with anyway. It is telling that the bibliography includes mainly american historians, which would seem to point readers in that direction, rather than the more considerable – and, in my opinion, more scholarly – works that have come from Europe.

Europe in Flames is published by Stackpole Books

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3 Comments

Filed under Book of the Week, politics, World War Two

3 responses to “Europe in Flames by Harold J Goldberg

  1. The randomness of oral history evidence, especially in books about tangibly recent conflicts like the Second World War, never ceases to amaze me. I’m sure that most authors corroberate their quotes and similar evidence, but nevertheless the sheer volume of oral evidence and its ability to contredict similar evidence is amazing. A problem I’m sure will only get more challenging for modern historians.

  2. James Daly

    I think the problem has been exascerbated by the fact that, for the past 20 or so years, Oral History has been a cause celebre for many historians. It is fascinating, and I have made much use of it, but like any other sources, it really does call for extra special attention when it comes to selection, and then placing in context.

  3. And just what is wrong with an American bias? After all, we saved your, and the rest of “free” Europe’s, butts in both World Wars! Besides, WW2 started when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor – ask any American. All the stuff prior to 7-Dec-1941 was just a bunch of you silly Europeans arguing over borders. ;)
    I love oral histories, don’t get me wrong. I just wish most authors would do an “either/or” approach. If you’re using oral history, do it at a detail level – tactical squad-level actions. If you want a sweeping narrative, then use the oral histories sparingly, unless they are from people who made the big decisions, or from those who worked with such people.
    And never forget that quote from the daughter of a Soviet army officer at Nuremburg, which led me into Canadian re-enacting:
    “Did Canada even HAVE an army in World War 2?”
    (See? It ain’t just us bloody Yanks that can screw up history! :D )

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