If you have checked out my "What I Am Reading Now" section, you will see that the top of the list is Sir Winston Churchill's "The Second World War." All other items on the list have been placed in a hold status until I finish this voluminous work.
The fascinating thing about this series of books is the amount of information that is not covered in history classes in any public education program. Most Americans only know of the war from the moment we entered it with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But it began long before that. I began even before France and Great Britain declared war on September 3, 1939 after the German invasion of Poland. Most chronologies date the beginning of the war from the German invasion of Czechoslovaki on March 15, 1939. But it began even before that.
Churchill does a magnificent job of going back to the very beginning of the causes of World War II. He begins by covering the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. He goes in depth to explain the political climate of Germany that allowed the rise of a failed artist and mediocre corporal to the height of power in Germany. He details the numerous violations of the treaty and squarely lays the blame on the allies for allowing Hitler to get away with his actions.
The first volume covers this period through the invasions of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Norway to the beginning of the fall of France in early 1940. Churchill provides many state documents from Germany, Italy and Britain to provide insight into what was in the minds of the leaders of these and other countries.
One of the startling bits of information was the Soviet Union's complicity in the rape of Poland and their failed invasion of Finland. Our education system teaches that the Soviet Union was a tenuous ally. But it never gets to the root of the matter as Churchill does.
This should be required reading in any high school history and civics course. The insight that it provides into world politics and how they shape events is an enormous legacy that is too often overlooked.
One could take the easy road and read the abridged version and still gain many insights. But they would be missing the human story that only the unredacted 5,000 page work can tell.
[UPDATE: 21 Oct 2007 - After four weeks of reading, I am now 2,438 pages into this work which takes the story through the initial war years where Britain went it alone, thorugh the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill's addresses to the American Congress and Canadian Parliament and his subsequent return to Britain at the beginning of 1942. This accounts for the first three volumes.]
[UPDATE: 18 Dec 2007 - I finished! 4,987 pages total. And just in time for the Christmas presents from co-workers. The World Crisis: Churchill's history of the first World War, Valerie Plame Wilson's Fair Game a,d also Churchill's Savrola. Savrola is his first and only novel written in 1900 when he was about 26 years old.]