Richard Holmes

The Whole Five Hundred Million of Us

Britain’s War Machine: Weapons, Resources and Experts in the Second World War


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 445pp £25 order from our bookshop

This book is opinionated, iconoclastic and very often right. David Edgerton begins by pointing out that Britain’s victory in the Second World War is ‘hardly commemorated’. In 2010 the government launched its plans to celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of victory in Europe so late that some veterans’ groups had too little time to assemble a contingent, and BBC Radio News put ‘extensive European and small British ceremonies’ seventh in its running order that day. In contrast, ‘Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, being “alone” – all are at the centre of national narratives of the war’. In place of the ‘declinist’ history that portrays a weakening imperial power making a last heroic stand and bankrupting itself to save the world, Edgerton offers instead the image of a ‘first-class power’ that was ‘confident, with good reason, in its capacity to wage a devastating war of machines’.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the best aspects of Kaufmann’s book is its optimism' Here's @BurlM11's review of @epkaufm's Whiteshift. ,
    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,