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Emergency Book Recommendation??

2 August, 2005

Emergency Book Recommendation??

It appears I will be teaching a freshman-sophomore WW II class in the fall. Help! Does anyone have a good textbook recommendation? All I know at this point is that I want to make sure we really cover social history as well as military. At which, by the way, I am not so good. So a foundation in WW I and Versailles, the Depression, the rise of new Nationalist regimes; the Spanish Civil Warl; Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific; the Holocaust; the War Effort at Home — US and the war economy, internment camps, segregation in the military, Britain and the relocation of children to the countryside, resistance movements, etc.; post-war purges and the Heimatvertriebene (is that the word? I forget), end with the Marshall plan. I guess.

Anybody with experience, I could use suggestions … Thanks!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 August, 2005 9:50 pm

    Well, you can’t go wrong with John Keegan. I would recommend you look at “The Second World War” from Penguin which is his major book on the topic that’s widely used in classrooms. However, it is enormous!I teach four weeks of WWII topics in my second-year majors class and I use his slim essay collection on World War II historiography, “The Battle for History” which you might find useful for building a reading list or references.Otherwise, go with Oxford’s “The Second World War: A Short History” by Alexander, Parker & Parker. It has the virtue of far greater brevity (circa 300 pages as opposed to 600).

  2. 2 August, 2005 10:19 pm

    Thanks! I was just looking at the Keegan, and think I have to avoid it for two reasons — I think the students will not have the reading skills, and Keegan, as great as he is on military things, tends to ignore a lot of the social history I want to include. I did pick up a copy of Lewis’ “Mammoth Book of Eyewitness WWII” which I may well use. In fact, this may be the first mostly lecture class I’ll have taught in yonks, if the Oxford text is not suitable! It should be, though. The last prof taught with a Time-Life history …

  3. 3 August, 2005 12:02 am

    You might want to consider John Dower’s War Without Mercy – great “global” approach and includes the homefront angle – on more than one side.And, although it’s aimed at high school teachers, this issue of the OAH Magazine of History (download available online) might be useful – if nothing else than for students to read to get some quick background and primary sources:, Roger Daniels’ Prisoners Without Trail – Japanese Americans in World War II. Lots of great primary sources here: Morton Blum, V was for VictoryLet us know what you decide to end up using. 🙂

  4. 3 August, 2005 12:23 am

    excellent! Thanks!

  5. 3 August, 2005 1:34 am

    I have no textbook suggestions, but if you’re interested in including any non-textbook sources, I will say that I have taught Art Spiegelman’s Maus (both volumes) many times and have never, ever had a bad experience with it. Students (including freshmen) love these books and are willing to do real thinking about them, which is always fun for me. They also get their roommates and parents and friends to read the books after the class is over, which tells me that they’re continuing to think about them long after they’re required to do so.

  6. 3 August, 2005 4:56 pm

    A. J. P. Taylor’s books hold up, and are readable for an undergraduate class. Good coverage on the results of Versailles and the rise of Hitler.Shannon’s America Between the Wars is helpful for giving a basic but well-covered social background.Good luck!

  7. 3 August, 2005 5:37 pm

    Because so many of the texts out there are either America or Europe-centered, a really good book is Saburo Ienaga’s Pacific War, 1931-1945. It rightly recognizes that the Pacific War was not contiguous with the European theater. Furthurmore, it’s written from a Japanese leftist position which helps corrode the American notion of the blindly obedient “Yellow Menace” stereotypes which inevitably surround the issue. Even if you don’t use it as a core text handouts from it could be quite useful.

  8. 3 August, 2005 5:48 pm

    This might be a bit out of left-field, but if you wanted to do a bit on the cultural/social forces that built in the interwar period, I’d reccomend Modris Eksteins “Rites of Spring,” more specifically the latter parts of the book, as the earlier sections are a bit more apt for WW1. ME’s argument on WW1’s end (beyond just the terms Versailles) priming the beginning of WWII, I thought, was an interesting take on the subject.

  9. 3 August, 2005 6:32 pm

    My main suggestions (such as Keegan) have already been covered. so I’ve been considering what I found valuable in answering questions, and, perhaps more important, suggesting questions I hadn’t thought of when I was an undergraduate.Norman Longmate has written several books which might be helpful, albeit from a British perspective, such as “The G.I.’s: The Americans in Britain, 1942-1945” (1975) and “How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life During the Second World War” (1971), which, however, seem to be out of print. The two mentioned are in the 500-600 page range, and I can’t quite imagine them as basic undergraduate texts, although a few chapters might make useful supplementary reading, if library copies are available. (The former is supposed to have been used as background for the 1979 Richard Gere/Vanessa Redgrave movie “Yanks” which might once have made it a more attention-getting choice.)Lee Kennett’s “G.I. The American Soldier in World War II” (1987) is in print, in paperback, at least according to Amazon. It is very much more clearly a social than a military history, unlike most of Kennett’s other books. It manages to touch on everything from segregation to instant coffee, and from American interactions with civilian populations to the constant turnover of basic equipment in the American armed forces (sometimes compelled by the manifest defects of the older versions).It isn’t as illuminating as Longmate on the contrasts between British and American societies, or on the impact of hundreds of thousands of Americans at a time, but at well under 300 pages it may be more likely to be read.

  10. 4 August, 2005 6:10 am

    The first scholarly book on the post-war expulsion of Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia in English was Nemesis at Potsdam by Alfred DeZayas (1977). It still holds up well. A more recent collection using newly available archives from the former Warsaw Pact countries is Philip Ther’s Redrawing Nations. Norman Naimark’s Fires of Hatred also has a good chapter on it.

  11. 11 August, 2005 7:27 pm

    Late as always, but I’m just back from vacation. Though I admire Keegan’s writing, his work on WWII is not as sound a military history as the more recent _A War to be Won_ by Williamson and Murray (available at a quite reasonable price in paperback from Harvard). Dower’s book has attracted considerable criticism for overselling its thesis; it can by usefully counterbalanced with the chapter on “The Merciless Fight: Race and Military Culture in the Pacific War,” in John Lynn’s _Battle: A History of Combat and Culture_. Sledge’s _With the Old Breed_ is a harrowing memoir of the Pacific war from a young marine’s perspective. I’ve had considerable success teaching Levi’s _Survival in Auschwitz_. As a synoptic view of the war, Gerhard Weinberg’s huge one-volume history is good, though too tough for students, I think. Oxford publishes it cheaply in paperback, though, so it might be worth getting for lecture prep. I’ve heard good things about Kennedy’s _Freedom from Fear_ as a history of the U.S. in the 30s and 40s, with a fine account of the war effort–but since I’m not an Americanist, I’ve never got around to reading it.

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