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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Big War: World War II: Fighting for Freedom by Peter Chrisp

World War II was the biggest and deadliest conflict in history. Many countries took part and fighting took place all across the world.

More than 55 million people were killed, most of them civilians.

If any war ever earned the dubious title of "the Big War," it is World War II. It was so huge a human folly and human endeavor that it would seem an act of hubris to try to encapsulate its history in one book. But young people have to begin somewhere, and notable history writer Peter Chrisp's latest, Fighting For Freedom (Scholastic, 2010) offers elementary and middle school students an absorbing and broad overview, bolstered by a multitude of photographs, including many of the iconic pictures of that period on the war front and on the home front.

Chrisp's book indeed offers a snapshot of the war from many angles. His text is crisp but informal, providing a insight into many of the war's aspects without overloading the reader with facts, dates, and figures, stressing the human aspects of the conflict. Beginning with chapters such as "The Gathering Storm" and "Steps to War," the author carefully picks up the narrative in post-World War I Europe with the rise of Hitler and the precipitating events which began the war with the invasions of Austria and Poland.

Other chapters, such as "Blitzkrieg," "Battle of Britain," "The Blitz," and "Homefront Britain" reveal Chrisp's British roots. He concentrates on the Big War's epic moments and events, the desert campaign in North Africa, Operation Barbarossa, the Enigma machine, D-Day, and the Holocaust especially, letting the many excellently reproduced illustrations from this highly-photographed war tell the story of the European campaign in the faces of the combatants and homefront participants, from kids sheltering in the Tubes of London to women on the aircraft production line to soldiers in the sands of D-Day.

The book unfortunately gives shorter shrift to the causes and events of the Pacific war, although it does cover the high points of that campaign in chapters such as "Island Campaign," "Assault on Japan." and "A-Bomb." Chrisp does add a substantial contribution to the understanding of the results of the war in his chapters "End of War" and "Nuremberg." Students cannot come away from even a quick reading of this book without some awareness of the magnitude of this conflict and the massive changes it wrought, not the least of which were new technologies and international organizations, the effects of which continue to play out in world events today.

Although only a glossary and index are appended, many embedded-in-text maps, graphs, and of course, those telling photos, from a family's food ration book to the rubble of Nagasaki, bear witness in a way which will lead beginning history buffs to further reading.

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