All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-45, Paperback Book

All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-45 Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


A magisterial history of the greatest and most terrible event in history, from one of the finest historians of the Second World War.

A book which shows the impact of war upon hundreds of millions of people around the world- soldiers, sailors and airmen; housewives, farm workers and children.

Reflecting Max Hastings's thirty-five years of research on World War II, All Hell Let Loose describes the course of events, but focuses chiefly upon human experience, which varied immensely from campaign to campaign, continent to continent.

The author emphasises the Russian front, where more than 90% of all German soldiers who perished met their fate.

He argues that, while Hitler's army often fought its battles brilliantly well, the Nazis conducted their war effort with 'stunning incompetence'.

He suggests that the Royal Navy and US Navy were their countries' outstanding fighting services, while the industrial contribution of the United States was much more important to allied victory than that of the US Army. The book ranges across a vast canvas, from the agony of Poland amid the September 1939 Nazi invasion, to the 1943 Bengal famine, in which at least a million people died under British rule- and British neglect.

Among many vignettes, there are the RAF's legendary raid on the Ruhr dams, the horrors of Arctic convoys, desert tank combat, jungle clashes.

Some of Hastings's insights and judgements will surprise students of the conflict, while there are vivid descriptions of the tragedies and triumphs of a host of ordinary people, in uniform and out of it. 'The cliche is profoundly true', he says. 'The world between 1939 and 1945 saw some human beings plumb the depths of baseness, while others scaled the heights of courage and nobility'.

This is 'everyman's story', an attempt to answer the question: 'What was the Second World War like ?', and also an overview of the big picture.

Max Hastings employs the technique which has made many of his previous books best-sellers, combining top-down analysis and bottom-up testimony to explore the meaning of this vast conflict both for its participants and for posterity.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 768 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9780007450725



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I'm not particularly interested in military histories, but was drawn to this book because it is described as the stories of ordinary people -- civilians and solidiers. It is very well written, and I would have liked, if anything, even more quotes from letters, diaries, etc. and could have done with a little less quanitfying of tanks, airplanes, etc.The author has obviously done a lot of research, and while there are many anecdotes in the book, they are well grounded in scholarship. I enjoyed thinking about all the "what if" questions the author posed. Some relatively small decisions could have changed the outcome of parts, if not all, of the war. I had not realised that, at times, the likely outcome was too close to call.Mr. Hastings has done an excellent job of showing the divided loyalties many combatants felt; the seeming incompetence and poor judgment often displayed by senior leaders and strategists; and Russia's struggles as it took the brunt of much of the fighting.It would have helped if the book contained a time line of major events as it is not written chronologically. I read this for a book club, and found it long and somewhat repetitive; however, I also found it deeply moving. I would, perhaps, have enjoyed it more had I not had to read it in such a short period of time -- it was overwhelming in large doses.At the end, this book left me sad. The extent of damage to civilians was horrendous. Except for the holocaust, I had no idea how much ordinary people suffered. What a price the world paid!