Picture History of WWII

ISBN: none listed
Review Date:

First published in 1950, Life's Picture History of World War II is indeed a treasure. While the book was aimed commercially at American servicemen and home-fronters alike, it was also, in the words of editor Henry R. Luce, a journalistic tribute to thousands of "combat photographers and artists in and out of uniform. This book is in some small measure a salute to their bravery, their skill, and their patriotism" (vi).

It's easy to agree with Mr. Luce's assertion. Photographs in the book appear from journalists and artists (and soldiers) on _both sides_ of the conflict. To make things even more interesting, at least for a literary junky like me, modernist heavy-weight John Dos Passos opens each chapter with a short topical essay. But it's the pictures and art that matter most here, and the book moves well beyond coverage of the well-known battles and spends a good deal of space on places that are now mostly forgotton. Even America's anti-war movement finds space here (two pages), detailing the height of the America First Isolationist movement, spearheaded by the likes of aviator Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin, author of the book Social Justice, "which backed America First" (77). The picture of an October 1944 rally at Madison Square Garden showing some 20,000 American Isolationists ready to hear Lindbergh is especially telling of _that point_ in American history, with Pearl Harbor still months away, and the issue of whether to go to war still very much in doubt.

Picture book enthusiasts will not be disappointed in this offering. To me, this book is an invaluable resource of period combat artwork. Much of the work is reminiscent of the documentary They Drew Fire (2000). Casual readers may well be surprised to know that over 12,000 pieces of art were produced during the war period, many exceptionally realistic in ways that black and white photography can only begin to hint. There is art of German thrusts and retreats through Russia, of Americans slogging through dense pacific jungles (perhaps the darkest art of the book), and through the battle worn streets and countrysides of Europe. Of the many notable paintings, one that stands out in my mind is of U.S. First Army tanks and soldiers marching through St. Lo after a 2500 plane bombing raid. Gray clouds mark the backdrop with "decapitated" buildings, among them a 14th century cathedral (286-287). The soldiers and material in the foreground seem less important than the complete wreckage and murder of the town, of its culture and history really, wrought by conflict.

If you can find a copy of this 368 page gem, get it, if only for the masterful works of art. Copies are available on ebay from time to time and sell for reasonable amounts.

Back to Main | Back to Book Reviews Index

Share this article with your friends:

 Facebook  Reddit
 Twitter  Digg
 Google+  Delicious

Stay updated with WW2DB:

 RSS Feeds

Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
14 Oct 2007 11:21:50 PM

i have a copy of the 1950 edition. what is its worth
2. Anonymous says:
27 Feb 2009 07:48:43 PM

I have a copy ofthe 1950 edition. Wondering the worth
3. Anonymous says:
3 Apr 2009 06:08:26 PM

worth your freedom from all the brave men and women who fought in WWII....or for you capitalistic pigs...$5 usd
4. Anonymous says:
29 Jan 2012 01:47:50 PM

I have a copy autographed by both Nimitz and Mac Arthur. What's it worth

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.

Posting Your Comments on this Topic

Your Name
Your Email
 Your email will not be published
Comment Type
Your Comments
Security Code


Note: We hope that visitor conversations at WW2DB will be constructive and thought-provoking. Please refrain from using strong language. HTML tags are not allowed. Your IP address will be tracked even if you remain anonymous. WW2DB site administrators reserve the right to moderate, censor, and/or remove any comment. All comment submissions will become the property of WW2DB.

Search WW2DB & Partner Sites

Famous WW2 Quote
"You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival."

Winston Churchill