All Hell Let Loose: The World at War, 1939-1945 - Max Hastings An attempt to get at the more personal and less well known sides of ww2. Mostly successful. The wealth of quotes, letters and diaries are fascinating, and the book was most interesting, to me at least, when in stayed in that sphere, trying to examine the feelings, loyalties and opinions of ordinary citizens and soldiers and giving some sense of the complexities and contradictions of the war as it was experienced.

For long streches though, Hastings can't seem to help himself and the narrative dissolves again into WW2 as a game of D&D, with this army went here and that army went there, complete with maps covered with spaghetti dishes of arrows. That was a useful objective, that one wasn't. He spends a paragraph noting that it's useless to attempt any ranking of commanders of the war, and then proceeds to give his own over half a chapter.

I think this is a genuine weakness rather than just a mismatch with my interests, becuase the book does proport to attempt to strip away the cliches and glamorous fantasies of the war. I think its successful when it does, describing well shifting allegiances, ambivalent participants, daily tedium and fear and cowardice, (and courage and high ideals too, but often more nuanced and complex than expected) as well as bringing strong accounts of just how horrific the whole thing was. However, sometimes it dives right back into the military history cliches and this vast collections of humans get reduced to masses and statistics and was this general or that tank better or worse. This is boring, but also I think a real disservice to the narrative that Hastings tries to build.

Weirdest thing that has stayed with me: A lion was loose in the subway tunnels during the terrible seige of Budapest. A Soviet tank crew was sent to hunt it down. Was it with the tank?