BOOK REVIEWS: Europe at War 1939-1945: No Simple Victory by Norman Davies, Macmillan, Pounds 25
Byline: Reviewed by Ian Cawood
In his controversial 1999 history of Britain, The Isles, Norman Davies, Professor of History at London University, and author of previous monumental histories of Poland and Europe, sought to expose the anglo-centricism of the idea of Britishness.
Davies was much criticised for becoming too polemic for a work of academic history ending, as his book did, with a call for the end of the United Kingdom, the abolition of the British monarchy and England's federation into a United States of Europe.
Now he has turned his attention to the Second World War and his target is the western-centric, triumphalist view of the war and his aim is to "discredit the overblown myths of the victors".
These myths being, firstly, the criminality of the Stalinist regime and, secondly, the belief that the efforts of the British and the US in North Africa and Western Europe were as significant as the "most crushing victories" of the Red Army.
To this end he manages to draw comparisons between the wars in both eastern and western Europe. By bringing together military events such as the tank battle at Kursk with the familiar victories at El Alamein, or D-Day, Davies seeks to kick against the triumphalism that has marked popular historical representation of the Western Front in recent years.
Davies seeks to question the myth-making in the West necessitated by the need to keep up morale. Davies points out that the seven bloodiest battles of the war were fought between German and Soviet forces, commenting that El Alamein, the only victory achieved solely by British and Empire troops in the entire war, "barely registers as a major event".
In presenting his argument, Davies ranges across an enormous spectrum of experience and his book is packed with fascinating details, extraordinary stories and pointed re-appraisals. …