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The Second World War: A Military History.

The Second World War. A Military History. By Gordon Corrigan. (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 2011. Pp. xxviii, 620. $35.00.)

Death, taxes, and another popular history of the Second World War. What can possibly justify another such volume? Gordon Corrigan, who has previously published Mud, Blood and Poppycock and Blood, Sweat and Arrogance (bodily fluids are absent from this more modestly titled tome), argues that the war was composed of three separate conflicts with distinct origins and fought largely unconnected to each other. It is a thought, perhaps not much of one, but the author does not develop his theme to any extent, and the organization of the book does not really reflect it either. The introduction poses such oddball questions that one wonders what Corrigan has been reading. The modest eight-page bibliography does not give many clues, unless one counts the six David Irving books dating back to the disco era.

It's all downhill from there. Organization is erratic and unpredictable. The author lavishes enormous attention on orders of battle and battle plans at the expense of other issues. He veers off to bash Churchill every chance he gets. He spends as much time explaining why the Germans did not attack Gibraltar as he does on the Battle of France. Sweeping generalizations and ethnic stereotypes abound. The pages are studded with asterisks directing readers to footnotes, which relate witty anecdotes that sound as though they originated in a regimental mess hall. Corrigan seems puzzled by the actions of foreigners, clearly preferring the stolid British working man. (Read 620 pages of Corrigan, and you will start talking like this too.) His prose style takes on a patronizing tone from the first page. Corrigan is very, very sure of himself. He deploys an amazing number of cliches, and a few, but obvious, factual errors are apparent. His unsettling remarks on the nature of democracy in the West should prompt a low-level parliamentary enquiry and civics lessons for the Brigade of Gurkhas in which he served.

Perhaps most irritating is Corrigan's attitude towards the German generals, for whom he seems to have a soft spot. Evidently he remains puzzled by the continuing hunt for Nazi war criminals all these years later. His understanding of the nature of Nazism is superficial at best, not much advanced from the historiography of the 1970s. Readers could be forgiven if they came away from this book concluding that the war was nothing more than an unfortunate, colossal, and tragic misunderstanding. This reviewer was left wondering how someone can write 620 pages on the Second World War yet fail to convey so much of what it was about.

Corrigan wants to be a populist iconoclast and an entertaining public figure, which is fine, but it should not come at the expense of breezing past the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of historians, particularly those who have enriched our understanding of the Second World War in general and Nazism in particular. (Such breezing past is common with British iconoclasts these days.) The book might work--barely--if one imagines the author at the podium of a mess hall or conference hall, with perhaps a slightly tipsy audience listening to his anecdotes. This reviewer could not find much more to it than that.

Paul W. Doerr

Acadia University

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Author:Doerr, Paul W.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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