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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (1,144 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Max Hastings Narrator: Ralph Cosham Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: November 2011 ISBN: 9781470805197
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From one of our finest military historians comes a monumental work that shows us at once the truly global reach of World War II and its deeply personal consequences.

World War II involved tens of millions of soldiers and cost sixty million lives—an average of twenty-seven thousand a day. For thirty-five years, Max Hastings has researched and written about different aspects of the war. Now, for the first time, he gives us a magnificent, single-volume history of the entire war.

Through his strikingly detailed stories of everyday people—of soldiers, sailors, and airmen; British housewives and Indian peasants; SS killers and the citizens of Leningrad, some of whom resorted to cannibalism during the two-year siege; Japanese suicide pilots and American carrier crews—Hastings provides a singularly intimate portrait of the world at war. He simultaneously traces the major developments—Hitler’s refusal to retreat from the Soviet Union until it was too late, Stalin’s ruthlessness in using his greater population to wear down the German army, Churchill’s leadership in the dark days of 1940 and 1941, Roosevelt’s steady hand before and after the United States entered the war—and puts them in real human context.

Hastings also illuminates some of the darker and less explored regions under the war’s penumbra, including the conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland, during which the Finns fiercely and surprisingly resisted Stalin’s invading Red Army, and the Bengal famine in 1943 and 1944, when at least one million people died in what turned out to be, in Nehru’s words, “the final epitaph of British rule” in India.

Remarkably informed and wide-ranging, Inferno is both elegantly written and cogently argued. Above all, it is a new and essential understanding of one of the greatest and bloodiest events of the twentieth century.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Compellingly different…A panoramic social history that not only recounts the military action with admirable thoroughness, crispness, and energy but also tells the story of the people who suffered in the war, combatants and civilians alike.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “A new, original, necessary history, in many ways the crowning of a life’s work. A professional war correspondent who has personally witnessed armed conflict in Vietnam, the Falkland Islands, and other danger zones, Hastings has a sober, unromantic and realistic view of battle that puts him into a different category from the armchair generals whose gung-ho, schoolboy attitude to war fills the pages of a great majority of military histories. He writes with grace, fluency and authority…Inferno is superb.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Oddly enough, good single-volume histories of the war are relatively rare. By and large, its sheer scope intimidates writers: while there are hundreds of books about individual episodes…surprisingly few historians have tried to pull all the threads together. But Hastings, as the author of several splendid volumes on various aspects of the conflict, is the ideal candidate to conquer this historiographical Everest. His book is at once a ‘global portrait,’ emphasizing events in Asia as well as in Europe, and a ‘human story,’ saturated in the details of ordinary people’s experience…Hastings has a terrific grasp of the grand sweep and military strategy of the war, showing how a combination of Russian blood, American industry, and German incompetence made the allied victory inevitable. But what makes this book so compelling are the human stories…This is the book he was born to write: a work of staggering scope and erudition, narrated with supreme fluency and insight, it is unquestionably the best single-volume history of the war ever written.”

    Sunday Times (London)

  • “[A] huge, majestic book…The Second World War took place in the skies, the oceans, and the lands of five different continents. It encompassed fighting in Arctic blizzards, as well as in jungles and deserts. Any military history must encompass all of this and more. And at the same time it must reconcile the grand strategy of generals and politicians with the more violent experiences of ordinary soldiers…Hastings shapes all these stories, almost miraculously, into a coherent narrative. Overlaid upon this tapestry is an analysis of how the war brought out the best and the worst in people, how it could be won only through the use of astonishing brutality and how it changed society forever.”

    Telegraph (London)

  • “Though the Second World War has been the subject of immense historical research, Max Hastings here demonstrates how much there is still to know. Using the techniques that served him so well in his earlier books on various aspects of the war, he now offers a fast-moving, highly readable survey of the entire war, in all its phases and on all fronts…Above all, this is the story of the war as experienced by ordinary men and women…This is military history at its most gripping. Of all Max Hastings’ valuable books, this is possibly his best—a veritable tour de force.”

    Evening Standard (London)

  • “[A] magisterial history of World War II…A relatively brief review can only begin to indicate the depth, breadth, complexity, and pervasive humanity of this extraordinary book. The literature of World War II is…so vast as almost to defy enumeration or comprehension, but Inferno immediately moves to the head of the list. It is in all ways a monumental achievement.”

    Washington Post

  • “This book is packed with fascinating and surprising statistics and facts…Hastings has an extraordinary ability to throw a bucket into the ocean of wartime papers, diaries, letters, and documents of every kind and bring up something fascinating and worthwhile every time.”

    Financial Times

  • “If there is a contemporary British historian who is the chronicler of World War II, it would be Max Hastings…[Inferno] is a true distillation of everything this historian has learned from a lifetime of scholarship—and more important, of real thought—on what he calls ‘the greatest and most terrible event in human history.’”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “[Hastings’] nine books on aspects of [World War II] have given him a claim to be our pre-eminent military historian. In [Inferno] he attempts to tell the whole story in a single volume, and succeeds triumphantly, combining fluid narrative with some piercing insights and unsentimental judgments…As this enthralling book shows, in the right hands, the study of war—like the study of sacred text—can generate and endless stream of new meanings and insights, illuminating in their turn the wider mysteries of existence.”

    Standpoint (London)

  • “[A] well-researched and well-presented account focusing on the conflict’s human dimension, looking at both soldiers and civilians…Hastings succeeds admirably in synthesizing the results in a globe-girdling context from Guadalcanal to the Dnieper River.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Most general histories sprinkle their pages with anecdotes, but Hastings has this down to a science. He employs numerous specialists, delving into Russian and Italian archives and personally tracking down obscure, vivid, often painful stories…Excellent general WWII accounts abound…but Hastings is matchless.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “This masterful account, which emphasizes the experiences of ordinary people, is both engrossing and necessary…This is a powerful portrait of a broken, burning world.”


  • “Ralph Cosham’s mellifluous and soothing voice is an unusual choice to narrate a book about global conflict. But it’s also a perfect choice, for Cosham brings the calm, clarity, and measured pacing of the best yesteryear broadcaster to this fascinating review of WWII…A mesmerizing account.”


  • One of 2011 Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Nonfiction
  • A 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2011 Time Magazine Top 10 Book for Nonfiction
  • One of the 2011 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction
  • A New York Times bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tom | 2/15/2014

    " Good overview of WW 2. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Michelle | 2/13/2014

    " This book is huge, overwhelming, stuffed full of 658 pages of facts, and totally absorbing. It took me over a week to read it, but I'm glad I did. I am astonished at how much I did not know about WWII. I thought I was pretty widely read in the area for an American housewife. :-) But I discovered things constantly that I had NO IDEA about. 2 or 3 million Bengals starved to death in India because no one would send them food supplies to end a famine? Had NO idea. The war in northern Africa was more publicity-propaganda stunt than strategic advantage? Had not a clue. We really didn't need to invade Okinawa, the Philippines or Japan at all? Wow. And I knew that the Eastern Front was monumental in size to anything that happened in Western Europe. Really I did. I just had no idea of the magnitude, the scope of Russian suffering, the paltry insignificance of anything contributed by Americans. The author seems very middle-of-the-road politically, sometimes excoriating Roosevelt and Churchill for cynicism and manipulation but in all believing the "standard story" that the war had to be fought, the US had to be involved, and it's a good thing we did it. (He blew off with one dismissive sentence any idea that Roosevelt manipulated us into Pearl Harbor.) But in all I enjoyed this very much; I especially appreciated the quotes from real people of nearly every place and part of the war telling about their experiences. If someone wants an overview of the entire huge war, this would seem to me to be a pretty good place to start. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 James Webster | 2/9/2014

    " A very considerable amount of work. A long read and not uninteresting but did we really need another single-volume narrative? "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Deborah | 1/27/2014

    " exhaustively researched, masterful overview with intensely personal individual experiences "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Richard W. | 1/27/2014

    " An outstanding book: well written and viewing the war through the eyes of its participants -- both combatants and non-combatants. The author did an excellent job in mining the correspondence and diaries of people from the principal combatants (Germany, Japan, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union). I highly recommend this book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Christopher Bounds | 1/9/2014

    " One of the best one-volume histories of the war, or any war, I have read. He really is the best-placed to write this sort of thing, given the level of scholarship he has built up over the years. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 David Hurst | 1/1/2014

    " First rate summary of the second world war "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Katie Curtis | 11/21/2013

    " Best single-volume account of WWII that I have read so far. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nigel | 8/19/2013

    " Epic, a long but very worthwhile read, love how the book contains so many extracts from real letters written at the time, and comments overheard - I've never seen that done to such good effect. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 George | 6/27/2013

    " Excellent, easily readable 600 pages plus account of World War II. Most political and military figures are not always positively portrayed and there is an emphasis upon the military and civilian casualties during the war and the war's affect upon people. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Erick Harper | 1/31/2013

    " I've said it before, I'll say it again: I want to be Max Hastings when I grow up. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Graham | 12/21/2012

    " you could not read a better primer on ww2 than this one. superb. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Donalee | 7/29/2012

    " This is a boook for history majors using 1st person accounts of the various fronts in WWII. I admit that I did not finish the book. I am too absorbed in my own bailiwick to absorb so much material. I shall save it for a more suitable time of fully functioning brain. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Richard Greenberg | 6/1/2012

    " Well researched comprehensive WWII history. Not for the casual history reader at almost 700 pages but fascinating and often horrifying given the scope of the subject. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Judith | 4/5/2012

    " I found this a totally absorbing read. It's not at all cheerful - the facts are truly depressing - but very informative "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mpz | 1/26/2012

    " Disturbing but facinating view of WW2 "

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About the Author
Author Max Hastings

Max Hastings is the author of more than twenty books. He has served as a foreign correspondent and as the editor of Britain’s Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph. He has received numerous British Press awards, including Journalist of the Year in 1982 and Editor of the Year in 1988.

About the Narrator

Ralph Cosham (1936–2014), a.k.a. Geoffrey Howard, was a British journalist who changed careers to become a narrator and screen and stage actor. He performed in more than one hundred professional theatrical roles, and several of his narrations were named “Audio Best of the Year” by Publishers Weekly. He won seven AudioFile Earphones Awards, and in 2013 he won the coveted Audie Award for Best Mystery Narration for his reading of Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery.