In the Middle of a War With No End in Sight

NOVEMBER 1942: An Intimate History of the Turning Point of World War II, by Peter Englund. Translated by Peter Graves.

“This is a book about November 1942,” the Swedish economist and historian Peter Englund explains in his introductory note to the reader, “the month that marked the turning point of the Second World War.” November 1942 was the month that brought the Allies hard-fought victories in North Africa and inspired Churchill to say that the war had reached “the end of the beginning.”

Englund’s approach to the subject is more or less the same as it was when, more than a decade ago, he used the diaries and memoirs of people who lived and survived during an earlier conflict to compose his acclaimed account, “The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War.”

“If you are wondering what I’ve added,” Englund writes, somewhat sternly, of his new book, “the answer is: nothing.” Apart from footnotes, then, all information — every detail of every day — is drawn from these records of personal experience. An “intimate history” does “not attempt to describe what the war was during these four critical weeks,” he explains, “but will try to say something about how it was.”

Some of the 39 writers he has selected are well-known figures — Albert Camus; the Soviet journalist Vasily Grossman; the Australian surgeon captured by Japanese forces, Edward “Weary” Dunlop; the English pacifist and nurse Vera Brittain; the British war poet and tank driver Keith Douglas — but most are relatively obscure.

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