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Category: Book Reviews

Allied Communication to the Public during the Second World War: National and Transnational Networks

Reviewed by Will Butler.

This edited collection, which covers a diverse range of inter-related subjects, is a triumph, and a welcome collection to the study of the use of propaganda during the Second World War. It brings together a diverse range of scholars (both established and early career), who all tackle their subjects with aplomb, taking the reader on an exploration of their individual areas of study, without losing sight of the overall theme of the collection.

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Dying for the Nation: Death, Grief and Bereavement in Second World War Britain

Reviewed by Ellena Matthews.

Over the last 30 years an increasing number of historians have explored the social and cultural history of death in the twentieth century. Lucy Noakes’ Dying for the Nation builds upon these studies to show that an analysis of death in wartime enhances our understanding of the Second World War. Through examining how death impacts upon individuals, communities and the state, Noakes illustrates that the management of death, grief and bereavement shaped the impact of wartime loss during the war years and in the immediate post-war period.

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Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age

Reviewed by Edward Corse.

Nick Cull’s introduction to Public Diplomacy is a great primer for practitioners of the art of influencing the people of other countries. This book builds on the overview of public diplomacy which the author created for the Foreign Office a decade ago, expanding its single chapter to eight and updating the argument for the digital age.  The volume brings together Cull’s expertise from his background as a historian and his more contemporary understanding of how governments today operate in this sphere in the digital age.

Cull calls this ‘public diplomacy’, a widely recognised term for this type of activity. However, its usage is in itself a matter of debate which Cull tackles head on. He starts with an interesting discussion about the term and alternatives which could be, and are, used by other scholars and practitioners. He dismisses the idea that public diplomacy is the same as propaganda. Cull writes ‘[p]ropaganda is about dictating your message to an audience and persuading them you are right. Public diplomacy is about listening to the other side and working to develop a relationship of mutual understanding’ (p. 1). Cull considers alternatives that are used by various authorities including ‘strategic communication’, ‘cultural exchange’ and ‘influence diplomacy’. All of these he suggests contain ‘baggage’ of some sort – with public diplomacy being the ‘least worst term’ (p. 2).

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Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall of Ordinary Germans in 1945

Reviewed by Charlie Hall.

The question at the heart of Florian Huber’s book is: why did so many ‘ordinary Germans’ take their own lives at the end of the Second World War, in an act of mass suicide which has no parallel in modern conflict? There is no doubt that this is an important question, and one which promises to shed new light on the personal stories and experiences of individuals who lived (and died) in the Nazi age of extremes. However, while Huber’s work is a compelling, and often powerful, collection of stories, it struggles to reach a conclusion which satisfactorily answers this main question.

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Censorship and Propaganda in World War I: A Comprehensive History

Reviewed by Pip Gregory.

Eberhard Demm’s Censorship and Propaganda takes on a vast task in attempting to provide a comprehensive insight into First World War propaganda. There is an abundance available out there, across all combatant nations, and its relationship with censorship adds further levels of complexity. There are studies that address aspects thereof, but tying that all together is a daunting task. Demm’s new book builds upon his fabulous articles for the online encyclopaedia 1914-1918, plus a number of other works. This new and highly comprehensive volume presents a depth of analysis around propaganda; its design, influence and those who controlled and contributed to it, as well as considering its impact, and legacy that has otherwise been lacking in other studies. Naturally, within Demm’s study of both censorship and propaganda there are aspects for which there is more evidence available, namely the propaganda, and others less so, but what evidence Demm has found he has utilised effectively to demonstrate the value of the widespread of wartime propaganda and its partner in (avoiding) crime, censorship.

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Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice

Reviewed by Kate Docking.

Reckonings, authored by Mary Fulbrook, analyses the various implications of Nazi atrocities on both an individual and state level. A key aspect of the book explores how the judicial punishment of those involved in National Socialist persecution in the decades following the war could vary vastly between states. The stories of Rudolf Zimmerman and Walter Thormeyer provide a particularly poignant example of this. Zimmerman lived a seemingly innocuous life before the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Residing in a village near the city of Mielec in Poland, Zimmerman helped his father’s farming business. When the SS came to Mielec, Zimmerman soon became involved in Nazi atrocities; he murdered Jews, and was later also involved in selections and deportations. After the war, Zimmerman became a ‘model’ socialist citizen in East Germany; he even acquired awards for his work. However, Zimmerman’s dark past soon caught up with him. He was arrested by East German authorities in 1966, put on trial, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1967. Walter Thormeyer, who was Zimmerman’s superior during the war, was tried in West Germany, and received a lesser sentence; he was condemned to twelve years in prison, in spite of the copious amount of evidence pertaining to his participation in murderous crimes. The cases of Thormeyer and Zimmerman are reflective of how East and West Germany often adopted different approaches to the handling of those involved in Nazi crimes; harsher punishments were (generally) dealt out in the GDR, whereas the Federal Republic embodied a more lenient approach.

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Monarchies and the Great War

Reviewed by Mario Draper.

The First World War has frequently been described as a watershed moment. Arthur Marwick, for instance, famously put forward the notion that the resultant social, economic, and political change qualified it as the first total war. The impact on the institution of monarchy was no less dramatic, with the abrupt demise of the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns, and the Habsburgs, as well as the resultant fall of the Ottoman dynasty a few years later. Nevertheless, a systematic study of monarchy’s role and influence during the First World War has received relatively little attention. This is all the more evident in terms of comparative history, where even The Cambridge History of the First World War only tackles the question of monarchy within the framework of civil-military relations (the autocracy vs democracy debate), which naturally extends its scope to include a study of the participating republics. To this end, Matthew Glencross and Judith Rowbotham’s conference and ensuing published proceedings, Monarchies and the Great War, provides a useful addition to the plethora of publications that have accompanied the Centenary of the First World War.

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Does Terrorism Work? A History

Reviewed by Megan King.

Richard English’s Does Terrorism Work? provides readers with an extensive, yet unwaveringly insightful probe into whether or not the employment of terrorism can accomplish the intended goals of its perpetrators. As a political historian, English emphasizes the need for a cross-disciplinary, yet historically grounded approach to the study of terrorism and responses to terrorism accompanied by a meticulously developed framework for assessment. Accordingly, English draws on concepts and approaches from traditions such as political science, international relations, philosophy, and geography. In strengthening and expanding his survey, the bulk of this work utilizes four case studies of non-state terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, the Provisional IRA (PIRA), Hamas, and Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) or Basque Homeland and Freedom. Although it indeed possesses a mildly misleading title, this study is intended not as an answer to the question, ‘Does terrorism work?’ but rather as a means of opening that inquiry up for debate and advancing the study of terrorism and the discussion of its efficacy. As such, this enthralling and informative work will make a substantial contribution to the bookshelf of scholars and casual social scientists alike.

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Ypres: Great Battles.

Reviewed by Matthew Haultain-Gall.

Ypres. For well over one hundred years now, the name of this Belgian town has become shorthand for the death and destruction wrought by the First World War. But why? For whom? And which Ypres? After all, hundreds of thousands of combatants from dozens of nations fought several major battles in the ‘immortal salient’, each of which generated their own distinctive narratives. These questions are at the heart of Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel’s fantastic Ypres, which painstakingly strips back the layers of this dense, multifaceted lieu de mémoirefrom the turn of the twentieth century to the First World War centenary.

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Fighting the People’s War

Reviewed by Oliver Parken. The notion of the Second World War as a ‘people’s war’ remains an established, and highly contested, tool for understanding the experience and representation of the conflict. Transmitted through wartime propaganda and cultural codes, scholars have tended to assess its workings in the home front context. In the British case, citizens were, after all, drawn into the front-lines of war as targets of enemy bombardment as well as forming the back-bone…

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