• Inferno

  • The World at War, 1939-1945
  • By: Max Hastings
  • Narrated by: Ralph Cosham
  • Length: 31 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (241 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From one of our finest military historians, a monumental work that shows us at once the truly global reach of World War II and its deeply personal consequences.

World War II involved tens of millions of soldiers and cost 60 million lives - an average of 27,000 a day. For 35 years, Max Hastings has researched and written about different aspects of the war. Now, for the first time, he gives us a magnificent, single-volume history of the entire war. 

Through his strikingly detailed stories of everyday people - of soldiers, sailors, and airmen; British housewives and Indian peasants; SS killers and the citizens of Leningrad, some of whom resorted to cannibalism during the two-year siege; Japanese suicide pilots and American carrier crews - Hastings provides a singularly intimate portrait of the world at war. He simultaneously traces the major developments - Hitler’s refusal to retreat from the Soviet Union until it was too late; Stalin’s ruthlessness in using his greater population to wear down the German army; Churchill’s leadership in the dark days of 1940 and 1941; Roosevelt’s steady hand before and after the United States entered the war - and puts them in real human context.

Hastings also illuminates some of the darker and less explored regions under the war’s penumbra, including the conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland, during which the Finns fiercely and surprisingly resisted Stalin’s invading Red Army; and the Bengal famine in 1943 and 1944, when at least one million people died in what turned out to be, in Nehru’s words, “the final epitaph of British rule” in India. 

Remarkably informed and wide-ranging, Inferno is both elegantly written and cogently argued. Above all, it is a new and essential understanding of one of the greatest and bloodiest events of the 20th century.

©2011 Max Hastings (P)2020 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“A new, original, necessary history, in many ways the crowning of a life’s work. A professional war correspondent who has personally witnessed armed conflict in Vietnam, the Falkland Islands and other danger zones, Hastings has a sober, unromantic and realistic view of battle that puts him into a different category from the armchair generals whose gung-ho, schoolboy attitude to war fills the pages of a great majority of military histories. He writes with grace, fluency and authority.... Inferno is superb.” (Richard J. Evans, The New York Times Book Review)

“If there is a contemporary British historian who is the chronicler of World War II, it would be Max Hastings.... [Inferno] is a true distillation of everything this historian has learned from a lifetime of scholarship - and more important, of real thought - on what he calls ‘the greatest and most terrible event in human history.’” (Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle

“Compellingly different...a panoramic social history that not only recounts the military action with admirable thoroughness, crispness and energy but also tells the story of the people who suffered in the war, combatants and civilians alike.” (Edward Kosner, The Wall Street Journal

What listeners say about Inferno

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Superb

Having read hundreds of books on WWII, I wasn’t looking for a single volume history.

But Max Hastings wrote it, so I read the glowing reviews and took the plunge.

To weave a coherent, compelling narrative out of such a sprawling collection of wars and peoples is no small feat. I recommend it as a first book on the subject. Just as heartily, I recommend it as the thousandth book on the subject. One learns the story itself or how to tell it. Both are fundamental.

This book is a major contribution to the literature.

9 people found this helpful

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Illuminating and enjoyable

Well written, well read, and unique in its treatment of some source material and the subject as a whole. Very enjoyable, in that it feels like a meaningfully different approach that does not seek to glorify any aspect of the war.

6 people found this helpful

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Compelling book made more by excellent narrator

Ralph Cosham is a superb narrator for Max Hastings’, Inferno. The book is a readable and compelling account of WWII in the European and Pacific theaters with sharp insights and interesting personal experiences. Cosham’s baritone reads Hastings in a sober, intelligent style to which Hastings writes and the historiography informs. This is one of those Audibles where the narrator finds the tone of the story and creates a performance where the listener learns without noticing.

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A WW2 No-brainer

This is an excellent read by Max Hastings with good insight and perspective on WW2...a Hall of fame book to have on your shelf for sure.

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Very bad audio.Great story.

The story Mr. Hastings puts down is very well written has great detail. His finding stories from well off the main well documented path is great. However the audio was horrible in many places it sounded like a completely different person reading, then right back to the same dull almost slowed down sounding voice.

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Very Interesting

History heavy on eye witness accounts and testimonials. Light on hero clichéd hero worship. Hastings lauds the laudable but also lays blame on those who earned it.

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Voice of speaker

I found the voice of the speaker hard to understand. It had an airy sound that took me hours to get use to. I wear hearing aids which might have made my experience thus. I enjoyed the story and listened to the entire program even though it was a chore to me. Story included many facts that had not been included in other programs have listened. Overall am glad I chose this story.

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Excellent WWII history

I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. I took a little while getting used to Ralph Cosham's narration that I initially found a bit staccato, but I came to enjoy it. Hasting in the book tells the history of WWII to a large degree through the eyes of individuals, which I found facinating.

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Beautiful

not much more to say. The World At War 1939-1945. I have read and listened multiple times. Masterpiece. Highly Recommend to anyone, History done like this is important.

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Virtuoso Performance of Master storyteller’s Work

Max Hastings comes highly recommended by Richard Cohen in his “Making History: The Storytellers Who Shaped the Past.” I chose this book based on Cohen’s recommendation of Hastings. What makes his WW II history unique is his telling the stories of people heretofore unheard from. He weaves these stories seamlessly into his own thoughtful interpretation of the conflict. I found myself captivated, shocked, disturbed, and amazed. One noteworthy example of lesser-known WW II history is his chapter on the battle for Budapest begun in December, 1944. Since the Battle of the Bulge was fought at the exact same time, this story has gone largely untold. But of the two battles, the Soviet siege of Budapest was far more important. Stalin needed to capture this city in the heart of Central Europe before the Yalta conference. As it turned out, Soviet success in the siege came the very day of the opening of the Yalta conference. Stalin had Churchill and Roosevelt in checkmate. The postwar control of what became the Warsaw Pact was now a fait accompli. Budapest was also significant because the Hungarian nationalist Arrow Cross Party, allied with the Nazis, carried out mass executions of Jews there, a continuation of the Holocaust.
Hastings gives us both specific new details and fresh interpretations of World War II, the most horrifically violent conflict in the history of the world.

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