“The Second World Wars” by Hoover Institution Senior Fellow and historian Victor Davis Hanson is a must read for anyone interested in military history. His book goes well beyond the dramatic storytelling that can so often overwhelm the rest of a text about this most heroic hour in our nation’s history. Instead, Hanson takes the reader on a deep dive to answer—using a voluminous yet quite lucid level of detail—the practical questions of the war(s) that continue to shape the politics, economics, and social fabric of the world to this day.

Readers expecting dramatic battle scenes and stories of individual heroism will be left wanting by the author’s lack of narrative style. Seldom in this book does Hanson paint a picture of individual battlefields, and never does he go into, say, the horrors faced by an individual soldier of the 1st Infantry Division at Normandy. But personal narrative and individual storytelling are not what this book is about. Its vision is far grander in terms of scope and purpose. “The Second World Wars” is a tome made up of production figures, strategic decisions, casualty numbers, and other statistics that together form perhaps the most impressive and holistic description of the “how” of the Second World War that I have ever read. Hanson calls the war the “first global conflict.” His thesis:

“The tragedy of World War II—a preventable conflict—was that 60 million people had perished to confirm that the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain were far stronger than the fascist powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy after all—a fact that should have been self-evident and in no need of such a bloody laboratory, if not for prior British appeasement, American isolationism, and Russian collaboration.”

Many books about that “preventable” conflict are absorbed with the “what” or the “why.” Hanson, on the other hand, takes it as a given that his readers appreciate the horrors and heroism of the conflict, and that they have a solid understanding of the myriad causes that precipitated the outbreak of war on both fronts. The more important question for “The Second World Wars” is summed up in its subtitle: “How the first global conflict was fought and won.” This is addressed by answering the manifold secondary questions that arise from its asking: “How did the Allies outproduce the Axis to such an incredible extent? How did the Allies overcome the tonnage advantage of the Axis blue-water navies? How did the Allies overcome the initial superiority of the German Army? How important was air power to turning the tide of the war?”

Hanson answers these questions and many, many others in such a detailed and comprehensive way that if one were limited to only one text from which to learn the whole of the logistical, strategic, and geopolitical lessons of this first global conflict, they should unquestionably choose a copy of “The Second World Wars.”

First, a note on the title of the book. Hanson makes the decision to consciously refer to the Atlantic and Pacific campaigns as separate conflicts—something almost everyone does, even as we refer to them together as the Second World War. Hanson cites two reasons for the title of the book:

One, no supposedly single conflict was ever before fought in so many diverse landscapes on premises that often seemed unrelated. And, two, never had a war been fought in so many different ways—to the extent that a rocket attack on London or jungle fighting in Burma or armor strikes in Libya seemed to belong to entirely different wars.

The conflict was, for the United States, two separate wars fought against marginally allied powers who materially cooperated only superficially, and ideologically only in their desire to see the Allies defeated. Unlike the strong cooperation of the Allied powers on both fronts, the Germans and Italians were barely involved in Imperial Japan’s efforts to codify and extend the influence of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Likewise, Japan would have never thought to reinforce Hitler’s Atlantic Wall with any reserve divisions after the Germans extended the borders of Fortress Europe all the way to the sea. Therefore, the conflict was made up of two separate wars, fought simultaneously and against similar ideologies, but separated by geography and a lack of strategic overlap.