Reviewed by: Roger Moorhouse Author: Richard Overy Publisher: Carlton Price (RRP): £30
Interactive books were once thought of as the future of publishing: combining lavish illustrations and digital innovations to brighten the perceived monotony of the printed page. Though the genre has not entirely lived up to the hype, a new benchmark has now been set with Richard Overy’s excellent Second World War Experience series.
This fourth and final volume deals with the closing phase of the Second World War in both the European and Pacific theatres. As one would expect, Overy’s text is erudite and informative, accompanying the illustrations with a readable mix of statistics, potted biographies and context. However, for this series, it seems that the author has had to take a back seat, as it is the book’s additional features – the enclosures and the accompanying CD of oral testimony – that are the undoubted highlight.
The enclosures are especially appealing. These facsimiles of original documents, from Hitler’s political testament to the D-Day diary of a British soldier, really bring the book to life, and provide the lay reader with a taste of the thrill of archival research. The end result, reinforced by the trick of making the illustrations appear to be stapled or taped to the page, is that the book resembles a beautifully produced and expertly annotated scrapbook; an interactive playground for curious minds, full of fascinating artefacts and informative asides. Many history books drop on my doormat, but very few of them command the immediate and sustained interest of the non-historians in the family quite like this one did. And that, I think, is high praise indeed.
Roger Moorhouse is the author of Killing Hitler: The Third Reich and the Plots Against the Führer (Vintage, 2007)