The War of the Century

The War of the Century
Pub date 1st October 1999
Publisher (UK) BBC Books
Publisher (US) The New Press
International publishers Byblos/Rouarta Books (Belgium), Diana (Germany), Prószyński (Poland), Critica (Spain)

Laurence Rees uses previously unpublished material and photographs, dramatic interviews with witnesses who knew Hitler or Stalin, and the voices of soldiers and civilians on the Eastern Front to shed new light on Hitler's "war of annihilation."

War of the Century focuses on key events and policies such as Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union, the legendary and horrific siege of Stalingrad, the Germans' barbaric treatment of Soviet civilians and Red Army prisoners of war, and Stalin's paranoid revenge against real and perceived enemies. With this new evidence, Rees explores the truth behind the war, its ruthless leaders and its devastating effects on the military and civilian populations of both sides.

The War of the Century was published in an omnibus edition with The Nazis: A Warning From History in 2006.


Reviews for The War of the Century

'A powerful collection of firsthand narratives that provides human points of access to WWII’s horrific eastern front. Rees is the anchor and senior producer of BBC Television’s history programs. Here, he again demonstrates his ability to link the broad and impersonal sweep of history with poignant human experiences. Beginning with Hitler’s deliberate betrayal of Stalin and the euphoria of early German successes accompanying it, Rees marches through the history of the eastern war.

The text lingers over the pathos of the treatment of civilians by both dictatorships, paints a bloody picture of the barbarous battle around Stalingrad, and concludes with the iron-willed ascension of the Soviets over Eastern Europe in the wake of Hitler’s collapse. Taking advantage of new access to the ex-Soviet veterans and survivors of the war’s violence, Rees breaks new ground by documenting the stories of 56 eyewitnesses from both the German and Soviet sides of the conflict. From the cold-blooded rationalization inherent in the personal testimonies of both German SS troops and members of the equally feared Soviet SMERSH to the heartbreaking accounts of enforced starvation and systematic genocide in the fields of Russia and the notorious German camps, Rees lends human faces and voices to an era of modern history not easily understood. The accumulated power of the individual tales transforms what would otherwise be an elementary and general history into an important historical text deserving of wide readership.

The compelling blend of sound military and social history with personal stories of the war’s combatants and victims creates a unique and dramatic document about totalitarianism and its devastating effects in the 20th century.' — Kirkus Review


'The Russo-German War of 1941-1945 was a one-of-a-kind death struggle between two ruthless dictatorships, as well as an ideological conflict that gave neither combatant any room for compromise, argues documentarian Rees. The text and often powerful illustrations (some in color) of this large-format book are drawn from the BBC's Timewatch series, which Rees edits. Drawing on recent scholarship and the newly opened Soviet archives, it amply demonstrates that the war's mutual barbarity remains fearsome and the matter-of-factness with which former combatants on both sides discuss appalling acts is truly shocking, even after 50 years of horrors. On the German side, account after eyewitness account describe not only casual brutality, deliberate starving of prisoners, mass executions and the rest of an increasingly familiar list of horrors on the part of the Wehrmacht, but regular and large-scale rape – something previously well camouflaged by defenders of the "clean shield" myth of the German army. From the Russian perspective, the work emphasizes Stalin's war against his own people, with Russian guerrillas being deployed against secessionists and other "undesirables," often torturing and killing them. Rees juxtaposes the German extermination of Russian Jews with Stalin's deportation of ethnic groups like the Kalmyks, whose loyalty he suspected, to brutal labor camps where they starved – a plan forged by Soviet secret police chief Lavrenti Beria. Straightforward and nuanced in its telling – a rare combination – this account, with a foreword by Hitler historian Ian Kershaw, adds necessary dimension to Holocaust-era atrocities.' — Publisher's Weekly


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