Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The Story of the Second World War, originally published in 1957, is a history of World War II written for young adults. This book more or less covers the entire war – a dubious task for a 300-page work. Thusly we get what happened but not why or how it happened, which is fine for a book of this sort. Savage covers the material fairly well, even including the roles of other nations, like India and South Africa, whose involvement in World War II is not often discussed.

Savage editorializes well beyond her purview. She uses inflammatory, sensational adjectives irresponsibly. For Savage, the Allies are always brave, courageous and heroic, while members of the Axis are greedy, treacherous, and often lucky in their conquests. When the Allies win a battle, they win it “on sheer courage.” Savage oversimplifies everything, which not only leads to inaccuracies, but makes the world leaders caricatures of themselves. Savage makes Hitler and Mussolini look like such buffoons it’s hard to believe they could conquer their way out of a paper bag.

All this leads to some egregiously inconsistent moralizing from Savage. When an Allied soldier kills a Nazi or a Japanese soldier, that’s “heroism.” When an Axis soldier kills somebody, that’s “an atrocity.” Savage goes out of her way to demonize the Nazis for their treatment and killing of civilians, yet turns around and categorically excuses the willful bombing of civilian targets by the Allies. Not surprisingly, she is also pro-atomic bomb. The overall effect is that the book reads like propaganda.

No doubt The Story of the Second World War is, to some extent, a product of the time in which it was written. But it does not hold up at all to objective scrutiny. There are innumerable better books on World War II out there, for any audience. Savage isn’t doing history any favors.