In the year that we have celebrated the outbreak of peace after the Second World War, our eyes have turned to Iraq and the quest for peace that is tearing that country apart. In our own immediate times, we have a startling illustration of Gregor Dallas's thesis that war does not end with the signing of surrender documents.
Dallas's work looks at the final stages of the war and its impact on European history thereafter. We watch military movements driven by national objectives - Russian, American and British. We live with soldiers, civilians and politicians, and interspersed with the description is a detailed analysis.
The glimpses of personality are revealing, often hilarious. Beveridge was "as humourless as he was confident in his own powers of persuasion", with "the manners of an evangelist". Nor is description confined to people. Hitler's Third Reich was, on the map, a long, bent old potato, with sprouts here and there, several bulbous lumps and one long appendix stretching eastwards.
I read this book over the summer holidays. A 636-page historical dissection scarcely constitutes a beach read, but it is the sort of tome that rewards dipping in and out. It is, above all, readable, as the following wonderfully evocative paragraph demonstrates.
Extract fromPoisoned Peace
"That Monday was broiling hot. With still no sign of Stalin, several members of the British and American delegations decided, after lunch, to visit the 'sites' of Berlin. Anne O'Hare Mc-Cormack imagined the missing Stalin also secretly wandering around the ruins of the German capital he had insisted on destroying . . . Three men walking in a graveyard, the men who held in their hands most of the power in the world."