History lovers will rejoice at Winston Groom’s newest effort at understanding the personalities behind World War II, The Allies (National Geographic, $30). Focusing on the three leaders of the Allied nations, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin, Groom weaves together an intricate and detailed analysis of the war from multiple perspectives. This is not just a war history, however—this is a triple biography of these larger-than-life men. From the early Boer War correspondent days of Churchill, to the political rise and scandalous love affairs of Franklin and Eleanor, to the communist in-fighting of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky, we can see the vastly different formative experiences that ultimately led to this shaky alliance, with many blind eyes turned, to face down the common threat. Groom’s broad war analysis will leave readers with a better appreciation of the dominant leadership personalities that shaped an era.
Any of Antony Beevor’s books are must-reads for the World War II canon, and The Battle of Arnhem (Viking, $35) is no exception. From page one, Beevor transports the reader, and no matter the scene—squabbling generals, Allies racing across Europe in tanks, “exultant Belgians” cheering for the liberators—you feel like a part of it. As the narrative progresses and Operation Market Garden looms closer, Beevor draws you in further—which is especially wrenching, as it gets clearer and clearer (knowledge of history aside) that this operation will not lead the war to a speedy conclusion. From the generals on high to the lowest-ranking paratroopers, from the German invaders to the Dutch civilians, Beevor presents all the dimensions and complications of Operation Market Garden. If you want an in-depth, thoughtful, and engaging account of this chapter of World War II history, Beevor’s book is exactly what you need.
The ground was laid for an epic battle when, in late 1950, the U.S. First Marine Division moved deep into the snowy mountains of North Korea, assured (wrongly) by American commanders that Chinese forces would not cross the Manchurian border and enter the fight. Ending up surrounded, heavily outnumbered, and caught in grueling conditions, the Marines against all odds fought their way out of the frozen wilds in which they were initially trapped. Although this legendary story has been told before, Hampton Sides chronicles it with fresh research, vivid detail, and broad perspective in On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle (Doubleday, $30). Sides provides not only a gripping, frontline view of the fighting, highlighting the courage and resourcefulness of the Marines; he also assesses the misjudgments and intelligence failures of American leaders in Tokyo and Washington.