The Secret His­to­ry of World War II

Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hys­lop; Ken­neth W. Ren­dell, fwd.
  • Review
By – December 22, 2016

The Secret His­to­ry of World War II makes an excel­lent gift for his­to­ry buffs. Alter­nat­ing between six nar­ra­tive chap­ters and six major pic­to­r­i­al essays, this cof­fee-table vol­ume reveals the secret his­to­ry” of spies, code break­ers, and covert forces of the Sec­ond World War, includ­ing side­bars on covert oper­a­tions and tech­niques of the armed forces as well as Hitler’s war against the Jews.

Of spe­cial inter­est is the work of the Red Orches­tra, a com­mu­nist under­ground group locat­ed in Berlin. Con­sist­ing of Sovi­et agents as well as a num­ber of Jews out­raged by Hitler’s poli­cies, the Red Orches­tra print­ed and dis­sem­i­nat­ed anti-Nazi fly­ers and pam­phlets and helped would-be vic­tims flee Ger­many. Fol­low­ing the Nazi inva­sion of the Sovi­et Union in June 1941, the under­ground orga­ni­za­tion report­ed to the Krem­lin of atroc­i­ties in Poland, sub­se­quent­ly inform­ing Stal­in of the mass exe­cu­tions of the Jews in the Ger­man-occu­pied territories.

The Secret His­to­ry of World War II also includes sec­tions on the death camps, which include pic­tures of the Nazi atroc­i­ties against the Jews, pho­tos of the War­saw ghet­to upris­ing, and a rare pho­to of Jan Karski’s 1942 report to the Allied nations titled The Mass Exter­mi­na­tion of Jews in Ger­man Occu­pied Poland.” But the bulk of the book’s 352 pages focus­es beyond the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence. For those inter­est­ed in the war in the Pacif­ic Ocean the­atre, the details of the assas­si­na­tion of Rein­hard Hey­drich by Czecho­slo­va­kian com­man­dos, the sto­ry of Sovi­et super­spy Richard Sorge, and the deci­pher­ing of Japan’s naval code by Joseph Rochefort and his team of Navy crypt-ana­lysts led to the Japan­ese Navy defeat at Mid­way, The Secret His­to­ry of World War II is an excel­lent selection.

The vol­ume is pub­lished by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic and orga­nized by its edi­tor, Neil Kagan — who has cre­at­ed numer­ous book series, includ­ing the award-win­ning Voic­es of the Civ­il War — and author Stephen G. Hys­lop, who has writ­ten numer­ous books on Amer­i­can his­to­ry, includ­ing Nation­al Geo­graph­ics Eye­wit­ness to World War II.

Relat­ed Reads:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions