Max Hastings:
Armageddon (2004)

(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Hastings, who wrote "Bomber Command" (1979) about the British fire-bombing of German cities, has written an intriguing survey of the last two years of World War II in Europe. It is one of those books that avoid the usual catechism (the Germans were mean and everybody else was good) and provides stimulating insight on what happened in those last two years in the minds of the protagonists (although most of his sources are actually ordinary people).
The villain of the book is clearly the Soviet Union. Hastings shows how Germans and British/Americans fought a relatively "fair" war (as fair as world wars can be), taking prisoners (not killing them) and respecting each other's determination to win the war. So much so that relatively few soldiers died on the western front. On the other hand, half a million soldiers died on the eastern front during the last two years of fighting between the Soviet Union and Germany (350,000 Russians and 150,000 Germans). Very few Germans were taken prisoners. Stalin insisted in reaching Berlin before the Americans, even after the Americans had told him that they had no intention of marching on Berlin. This last long battle was probably the most senseless battle of the whole war. Germans and Russians were basically fighting the continuation of World War I (a mass slaughter of soldiers) whereas Germans and Anglosaxons where fighting a more civilized kind of war (as civilized as wars can be).
The Soviet Union was also as much an occupying power as Germany: it invaded part of Finland and the Baltic states, besides half of Poland, and besides Ukraine which it had already occupied before. De facto, there is a World War that was always omitted from history books: the World War of the Soviet Union against most of its neighbors.
The second villain is Britain. Hastings shows how Britain betrayed Poland repeatedly: it never fought on Polish soil. It did not attack German forces in Poland when the Germans invaded. It did not do anything to stop the Soviet Union from taking the eastern part of Poland (Stalin's secret pact with Hitler). It did not help the Polish partisans when they rose up in 1944. It did nothing to prevent the Soviet Union from occupying Poland at the end of the war and let Stalin have Poland at the Yalta conference.
Needless to say, the British carpet bombings of German cities are also hard to defend. They caused terrible casualties (comparable to the atomic bombs) and, by any account, did not convince anyone in Germany to surrender. They didn't even achieve their first military goal: Germany continued to produce weapons until the very end.
(The Americans have at least the good excuse that they were still fighting a deadly war in the Pacific against Japan, and it wasn't clear at all who was going to win).
Hastings shows an interesting fact: Germans consistently won all the battles that were fought on equal terms. They lost only when the numbers (of men and weapons) were against them. In other words, German soldiers were much better than British/American soldiers. His explanation is simple: Germany had a professional, well-trained, determined and brainwashed army, whereas the Anglosaxons had a people's army, largely staffed with young men who had undergone only a superficial training. (The same is true of the Civil War, in which Southern soldiers won whenever they were not outnumbered by Northern soldiers).
Hastings could have spent more time describing the sheer terror caused by the V1 and V2 missiles, and how that created the psychology that justified the fire bombing of German cities, but mostly he provides a comprehensive view of those two years, and, through the testimony of ordinary citizens, how is thrown into the emotions of those years.