Europe at War, 1939-1945: No Simple Victory; Europe East and West

In This Review

Europe at War, 1939-1945: No Simple Victory

By Norman Davies
Macmillan, 2006
456 pp. $55.00

Europe East and West

By Norman Davies
Jonathan Cape, 2006
352 pp. $0.00

The British-born historian Davies -- author of a best-selling history of Europe and several respected works on Poland -- has written two books to help compensate for what he sees as a parochial, Western view of European history. "Europe at War" is not just another survey but an opinionated, iconoclastic reassessment that relentlessly drives home the point that the greatest and most decisive developments of World War II took place on the Eastern Front. Davies hardly denies the importance of D-day or the Battle of El Alamein, but he wants his readers to know that the war's center of gravity was farther east -- and that Stalin's version of totalitarianism was no less evil than Hitler's. Davies' notion that most Americans and most British are unaware of this is a bit of a straw man. His own footnotes, after all, refer to widely read works by writers such as Anne Applebaum, Antony Beevor, Alan Bullock, Robert Conquest, and Richard Overy that address the horrors of the Eastern Front and shine a bright light on Stalin's crimes. But the evidence Davies amasses to justify focusing on the East is compelling. The German-Soviet war accounted for 406 million "man-months," compared with 16.5 million for the Western Front and 5 million for the North Africa campaign. The Soviet Union lost an estimated 11 million soldiers in the European theater, while the United States and the United Kingdom combined lost fewer than 300,000 there. Battle deaths in Operation Barbarossa (Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941) were over 1.5 million, compared with 132,000 for Operation Overlord (the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944). And Stalin's concentration camps killed more people than Hitler's. Davies' facts and opinions on everything from technology to wartime movies are stimulating, and even his hobbyhorses are entertaining. The second book, "Europe East and West", is a collection of more specialized essays that Davies has published over the past ten years, but the message is the same: "Europe" does not end at the Oder-Neisse Line.

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