Review: The War in the West, A New History: Volume 1: Germany Ascendant 1939-1941, by James Holland

This is history on a grand scale. James Holland has limited himself to the war in the west, covering the period up to the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. So in terms of territory, it reaches from the Arctic down to central Africa, from India across Europe to North America, and involves millions of people involved in the most devastating war ever fought. So, not very ambitious then.

Holland has done a brilliant job of it. Reviewers have focused on his ‘myth-busting’ and Holland has indeed done excellent work: he makes it clear that by the summer of 1940, it was not Britain standing all alone, but Germany. In picking a fight with Britain and its empire, and eventually the United States as well, Hitler had chosen the wrong enemy. While other historians may look back at the era and be amazed at how Britain and its allies eventually won the war, to Holland the amazing thing seems to be that the Germans ever imagined they’d have a chance of success. His focus on the seas, on merchant navies and access to resources, is spot on. So long as Britain had access to the entire world and its resources, and Nazi Germany remained behind a largely-effective Royal Navy blockade, the outcome of the war could be in little doubt.

Weighing in at over 700 pages, the only downside of this book is now I’ll have to read the remaining two volumes — so, there goes January …