Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Rise of Germany, 1939-1941

The War in the West, Volume 1

by James Holland

The first volume in a major, wide-ranging three-volume revisionist history of World War II in Europe, North Africa, and the Atlantic from a highly acclaimed young British historian.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 720
  • Publication Date November 08, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2566-8
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $20.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 720
  • Publication Date October 06, 2015
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2397-8
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $30.00

About The Book

For seven decades, our understanding of World War II has been shaped by conventional wisdom, propaganda, and the dramatic but narrow experiences of soldiers on the ground. In this sweeping narrative history, the first of three volumes, British historian James Holland deploys deep research, incisive analysis, and a profound sense of humanity to revise and enhance our understanding of one of the most significant events in history.

It is commonly held that at the outset of war, Germany had the best army in the world and Britain barely managed to hold out against it until the Americans declared war and overwhelmed Nazi military prowess with economic might. But the picture looked much different in 1939: In advance of its Polish offensive, Germany was short on resources, tanks, and trained soldiers. Meanwhile, France had more men in uniform than Germany, and Britain, the richest country in Europe with a massive empire at its disposal, had the best navy in the world. Hitler was bluffing when he called for the wholesale destruction of Poland, but his bet that Western Europe wouldn’t get involved turned out to be fatally wrong.

Beginning with the lead-up to the outbreak of war in 1939 and ending in the middle of 1941 on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Russia, The War in the West, Volume I covers the war on several levels, from fascinating tactical revelations–blitzkrieg, Holland argues, is a myth–to the personal stories of a German U-boat captain, a French reserve officer, a son-in-law of Mussolini, an American construction tycoon, civilians across the war zone, and many more. This is a major history, destined to generate significant scholarly debate and reader interest.


“This is narrative history as intimate, intricate tapestry . . . Mr. Holland’s success is built in part on an engaging writing style and in part on a genuinely fresh approach to events that have been so often—and apparently definitively—recounted. This is at heart an operational narrative, but with a difference: Mr. Holland takes the time and space to enhance his recounting of troop and ship movements and clashes of arms with the stuff of wider humanity. He deftly interweaves the experiences of refugees, of civilians, of the warriors’ loved ones and of the political elites, while never distracting us with meaningless sentimentality or extraneous personal detail. This is harder to do than it looks. Mr. Holland’s achievement is exceptional . . . [An] epic narrative.” —Frederick Taylor, Wall Street Journal

“The first of three volumes promising a revisionist approach to World War II. . . . Let the debates begin.” —Library Journal

“With this magnificent, hugely readable debut, James Holland’s War in the West is set fair to become one of the truly great multi-volume histories of the Second World War.” —Andrew Roberts, New York Times bestselling author of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War and Napoleon: A Life

“Fascinating.” —Tony Rennell, Daily Mail (UK)

“This brilliant, lucid and intimate history is a game-changer, the Second World War will never seem the same again.” —Professor David Edgerton, Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology, King’s College London

“A lively study.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A lively, unique and original study, shredding many misconceptions about Britain’s situation, pre-war and in the early stages of the war . . . Unfailingly readable.” —Jim Delmont, Omaha Dispatch

“A book full of surprises . . . Extremely enjoyable . . . An interesting collage of military, social, political, and economic narrative . . . The book’s international character breaks down many of the war’s stereotypes . . . An interesting and thought-provoking commentary [on] the early stages of the conflict.” —Stephen Bourque, H-Net Reviews

“This book stands apart and for all the right reasons: Holland has something new to say. Every page is alive with a level of excitement and enthusiasm. Here is a perspective that turns on its head what I thought I understood about those astonishing years—filled with insight and detail.” —Neil Oliver

“Impeccably researched and superbly written . . . [Holland] skewers a number of myths about the early years of the Second World War . . . Holland’s fascinating saga offers a mixture of captivating new research and well-considered revisionism. The next two volumes should be unmissable.” —Alexander Larman, Guardian

“James Holland’s The Rise of Germany takes a fresh look at the familiar and finds much food for thought–turning several conventions on their heads in a compelling and revelatory way.” —Al Murray

“James Holland is the best of the new generation of World War II historians. His epic new venture convincingly challenges many received ideas about the war and draws some exciting new conclusions.” —Sebastian Faulks

“James Holland has produced a gripping multi-layered study of the War in West. It weaves together accounts from all levels of those caught up in the opening stages of the war and provides an accessible and captivating narrative. More importantly still it offers a challenging reappraisal that forces us to rethink our attitudes to the conduct of the most destructive and important war in history. Essential reading.” —John Buckley, Professor of War Studies, Wolverhampton University and author of Monty’s Men: The British Army and the Liberation of Europe

“In The Rise of Germany, James Holland weds his typically deft writing to years of research and thought about the early years of World War II. He seeks—and finds—that elusive middle ground between the high politics of Hitler, Churchill, and Roosevelt and the personal experience of the soldier in the field. Holland writes on the operational level as well as any historian working today. I am already making room on my shelf for volumes two and three. I would read anything Holland writes.” —Robert M. Citino, author of The German Way of War and The Wehrmacht Retreats

“A hugely engaging, scholarly and ambitious book that strips away the myths surrounding the Second World War and—uniquely—tells the human stories, not just the political and military history. A must-read for anyone with an interest in this turbulent and transformative period.” —Tracy Borman, author of Thomas Cromwell

“Holland’s achievement here is presenting multiple perspectives based on extensive research in such a page-turner. This is as much a gripping drama played out on a huge stage with distinctive characters and rapidly unfolding action as it is a book on one of the most significant periods in all of world history.” —Thomas Clavin, co-author of The Heart of Everything That Is

“Holland nimbly weaves the complex military, diplomatic, political, economic, and social patterns that marked the conflict on a global scale . . . [He] keeps the reader engaged by showing the major events through the eyes of the participants—at the strategic level with politicians and generals, and at the tactical level with common soldiers and civilians . . . A worthy history that both general readers and WWII enthusiasts can enjoy.” —Publishers Weekly

“Holland skillfully integrates the broad political, diplomatic, economic, and military narrative with stories of individuals, civilians, and soldiers from all the belligerents.” —Frederic Krome, Library Journal


Paris was emptying. The American broadcast journalist, Edward Sevareid had been told by his NBS bosses to leave the capital when the French government left; now it had and so it was time for him to go too. He had already sent his wife and their baby twins back to the US, managing to get them on a train to Italy and then the last American ship to leave Genoa, which, he had correctly guessed, meant Italy was about join the fight.

A few days later, bombs had fallen on Paris, and specifically on the Citroën works and the Air Ministry. In the days that followed, Sevareid watched thousands of cars emerge from the garages and with mattresses and luggage strapped to the roofs, headed south.

On 10 June, dark smoke over the city obscured the sun and he drove down the Champs-Élysées and looked at the empty cafés. Later that night, he made his last broadcast from the capital and then headed south in his own black Citroën, along with endless miles of others.

“Paris lay inert,” he wrote, “her breathing scarcely audible, her limbs relaxed, and the blood flowed remorselessly from her manifold veins. Paris was dying, like a beautiful woman in coma.”