World War 2

Chaps v. Japs

14 January 2012
Escape from Hong Kong: Admiral Chan Chak’s Christmas Day Dash, 1941 Tim Luard

Hong Kong University Press, pp.320, £29.95

Does anyone do derring-do anymore? Here’s the real thing. On Christmas Day 1941, despite Churchill’s call to fight to the last man, Hong Kong fell to the Japanese, the first… Read more

The Ritz in the Blitz

3 December 2011
The West End Front Matthew Sweet

Faber, pp.362, 20

‘It was like a drug, a disease,’ said the legendary Ritz employee Victor Legg of the institution he served for half a century. There’s something magical about London’s grand hotels.… Read more


Strategies for survival

23 July 2011
The Barbed-Wire University: The Real Lives of Allied Prisoners of War in the Second World War Midge Gillies

Aurum, pp.486, 20

This is an account of the multiplicity of ways in which men ‘stole back time from their captors through creativity’ in the prisoner-of-war camps of Europe and the Far East.… Read more


Goodbye to Berlin

28 May 2011
House of Exile Evelyn Juers

Allen Lane, pp.383, £25

Peter Parker is beguiled by a novel approach to the lives of Europe’s intellectual elite in flight from Nazi Germany In his time, Heinrich Mann was considered one of Germany’s… Read more

A conflict of loyalty

21 May 2011
Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War Giles Milton

Sceptre, pp.352, 20

Reluctant Accomplice edited by Konrad H. Jarausch

Princeton, pp.412, 24.95

What was life like in Hitler’s Germany? This question has long fascinated authors and readers alike, as books like Alone in Berlin, The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas and The… Read more

Pastures new

12 March 2011
Exorcising Hitler: The Occuption and Denazification of Germany Frederick Taylor

Bloomsbury, pp.438, 25

On 20 September 1949, five days after his election as Chancellor of the newly created German Federal Republic, Konrad Adenauer addressed the Bundestag: ‘Much unhappiness and much damage’, he told… Read more

Can it be described?

12 February 2011
A Thousand Darknesses Ruth Franklin

OUP, pp.256, 18.99

Treblinka Chil Rajchman, translated by Solon Bienfield

Maclehose Press, pp.183, 16.99

Where was God in the Holocaust? This question confounds even learned rabbis, so let’s not linger there. Where was God in the Holocaust? This question confounds even learned rabbis, so… Read more

A war of nutrition

5 February 2011
The Taste of War Lizzie Collingham

Allen Lane, pp.634, 30

The long summer that led up to the last days of peace in Europe in 1939 — the vigil of the Nazi assault on Poland on 1 September and the… Read more

Memories of wartime

18 December 2010

I was born in London in 1935. By the summer of 1939, it was considered wise to get children out of the city before the war started. I wasn’t separated… Read more


Something filthy by return

11 September 2010
Nourishment Gerard Woodward

Picador, pp.338, 14.99

Gerard Woodward’s Nourishment opens in second world war London. Gerard Woodward’s Nourishment opens in second world war London. Tory Pace, a tired and drawn ‘mother-of-three and wife-to-one’, works alongside other… Read more


Days of wine and shrapnel

11 September 2010
Looking for Trouble Virginia Cowles

Faber Finds, pp.480, 18

Virginia Cowles was a 27-year-old American journalist working for the Hearst newspapers when she went to Spain for the first time. It was March 1937; the battle of Guadalajara had… Read more


From void to void, with time to kill

21 August 2010
Bomber County: The Lost Airmen of World War Two Daniel Swift

Hamish Hamilton, pp.269, 20

Just as the slaughter in the trenches of Flanders and northern France gave birth to the tragic verses of Wilfred Owen, so the experience of bombing and being bombed between… Read more

A dream to fly

14 August 2010
Hurricane: Victor of the Battle of Britain Leo McKinstry

John Murray, pp.355, 20

Hurricane: The Last Witnesses Brian Milton

Deutsch, pp.253, 18.99

Bomber Flight Berlin Mike Rossiter

Bantam, pp.289, 16.99

Undeniably the Hawker Hurricane has suffered the fate of the less pretty sister. It is the Spitfire, at once beautiful and deadly, that is forever the star of 1940, firmly… Read more


All eyes and ears

14 August 2010
GCHQ: The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency Richard J. Aldrich

Harper Press, pp.666, 30

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre by the Men and Women Who Were There Sinclair McKay

Aurum, pp.336, 20

Both of these books aim, in their different ways, to cater for Britain’s long-standing obsession with espionage and other forms of political and military intelligence. Both of these books aim,… Read more


The French connection

7 August 2010
The House with Blue Shutters Lisa Hilton

Corvus, pp.419, 7.99

If ever there was a novel to which that old adage about not judging a book by its cover could be applied, it’s this one. If ever there was a… Read more


L’homme qui dit non

31 July 2010
The General Jonathan Fenby

Simon & Schuster, pp.707, 30

The study of history is a subversive calling. All countries make up a story that suits their idea of themselves. Authoritarians stamp out independent historical scholarship; extreme nationalists simply vilify… Read more


Reverting to type

17 July 2010
Butterfly’s Shadow Lee Langley

Chatto & Windus, pp.340, 12.99

While I was living in Tokyo, a Japanese girl friend of mine fell in love with a British investment banker. After promising marriage, he abandoned her for an English wife… Read more


Might and wrong

30 June 2010
Moral Combat: A History of World War II Michael Burleigh

Harper Press, pp.650, 30

‘Was all this the realisation of our war aims?’, Malcolm Muggeridge asked as he surveyed the desolation of Berlin in May 1945. ‘Was all this the realisation of our war… Read more


Aces high

23 June 2010
The Battle of Britain James Holland

Bantam, pp.592, 25

Gun Button to Fire Tom Neill

Amberley, pp.320, 20

Last of the Few Dilip Sarkar

Amberley, pp.240, 20

Seventy years after the RAF repelled the Luftwaffe, the Battle of Britain continues to have a powerful resonance. The conflict not only decided Britain’s very survival as an independent nation,… Read more


Paranoia and empty promises

12 May 2010
The Betrayal Helen Dunmore

Fig Tree, pp.330, 18.99

It has taken more than half a century, but at last the Anglophone world has woken up to the fact that 20th-century communist history makes a superb backdrop for fiction.… Read more


The reality behind the novels

10 March 2010
The Life of Irène Némirovsky: 1903-1942 Oliver Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt, translated by Euan Cameron

Chatto, pp.466, 25

‘I never knew peaceful times’, Irène Némirovsky once said, ‘I’ve always lived in anxiety and often in danger’. ‘I never knew peaceful times’, Irène Némirovsky once said, ‘I’ve always lived… Read more


The lady from Shanghai

24 February 2010
The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China Hannah Pakula

Weidenfeld, pp.787, 27.50

By the middle of the second world war, May-ling Soong was the world’s most powerful woman, at the centre of events in China’s history and its relationship with the USA.… Read more


Riding for a fall

17 February 2010
The Thirties: An Intimate History Juliet Gardiner

Harper Press, pp.974, 30

Many attempts have been made to portray the ‘Roaring Twenties’, or the ‘Gilded Nineties’, or the something-or-other sometime-else, but in truth the 1930s is one of the few decades that… Read more


Survivor syndrome

10 February 2010
The Suicide Run William Styron

Cape, pp.194, 14.99

In late middle age, William Styron was struck by a disabling illness, when everything seemed colourless, futile and empty to him. In fact, as he recalled in Darkness Visisble (1990),… Read more


Macabre success story

20 January 2010
Operation Mincemeat Ben Macintyre

Bloomsbury, pp.402, 16.99

Any bright schoolchild could tell, from a glance at his or her atlas, where the Allies were going to land next, after they had conquered Tunis in 1943: it would… Read more