I realised almost as soon as I began reading Norman Davies’s new history of the Second World War in Europe that I was not the best person to review it. In his introduction he says, without a blushing aside, that when he is invited to talk about the war he often asks his audience whether they know its five largest battles, or the different ideologies involved, or the state that suffered the most dead. He tells us that his audience is usually reduced to a shy silence, followed by spontaneous, but usually wrong, guesses as to the responses he is seeking. This book is intended to be salvation for these many lost souls. But for those, like this unfortunate reviewer, who know the answers, the book must be at best a happy reiteration, at worst a redundant catalogue of established fact.
To be fair, Davies has in his sights not just the average audience whose understanding of the war has been coloured by years of myth-making and distortion. He also wishes to correct the historical profession, which has clung for too long to an outmoded view of the Second World War: