All Hell Let Loose, By Max Hastings

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Readers who know Max Hastings the dyspeptic opinion-monger - indeed, some who have read his narrower military histories - may be surprised or awed by this book.

Not another doorstop chronicle of the Second World War, this is his masterpiece: humane, sceptical, vivid, authoritative, quite free of jingoism. He delivers "bottom-up... experiences", of civilians and combatants alike.

From him you might expect the panoramic set-pieces, the grand strategy and landmark battles of 1939-1945. He draws superbly too on diaries, journals and reports.

The epic closes without a whiff of triumphalism, leaving just a great sadness behind.