On first glance, Famous Men of the Second World War appears to be merely a collection of biographical sketches of key figures from this period of time. One should be warned of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Famous Men of the Second World War is so much more. The author has utilized the biographical sketch as a means of retelling the complexities of World War II in a most intriguing fashion.
The text contains thirty-one chapters, with each chapter highlighting a different key figure. An additional chapter is added at the end of this resource which provides a glimpse into the role of significant women during the war as well. Each of these chapters does highlight a key figure, providing a photo as well as biographical information. Highsmith just begins here. The contextual information that this individual played in international relations, battles, and military strategy are provided as well as developments in technology and military weaponry. For example, the chapter on Andrew Cunningham, Admiral and First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, illustrates the tactical advantage that the British had in the use of Malta as a strategic location to wreak havoc on Italian convoys that were delivering troops and supplies to North Africa. In this same chapter, both discussions and photos are used to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the HMS Warspite and the Fairey Swordfish, as weapons in the sea and divisions of the British military force.
Highsmith himself admits that there are several significant figures from the Second World War that are not included in this volume, because of the vastness of the great leaders for both Allied and Axis powers. He had done an amazing job of selecting individuals that, when placed in a chronological order of their major contributions, truly provide an outline of the war as a whole. Adolph Hitler was intentionally omitted from the list of men to have a dedicated chapter. The author shares in the introduction that there is much throughout the volume as a whole that demonstrates Hitler’s role in the war, as well as the fact that Hitler’s notoriety makes him an already well-known figure.
As a mom of young boys, I was very impressed with the illustrations that were utilized throughout this resource. Easy-to-interpret maps were used to help my children conceive of the location and movement of key battles. Photos of ships, planes, and artillery were well detailed. In addition, more contextual photos never glorified war as cool or wonderful in the eyes of my boys. Photos showed both military figures and prisoners in reality based contexts without all the spit and polish of Hollywood. With that said, I never felt that we had to skip pages because of the graphic nature of the photos either. Highsmith does provide counsel to parents to preview the chapter on Raoul Wallenberg in determining if their children are ready for the photos contained in this selection, with regard to the concentration camps.
Famous Men of the Second World War could almost be used as a stand-alone unit study on World War II from a biographical approach. My personal history knowledge is sometimes less than what I would desire, so we chose to use this resource as a supplement to other materials in studying this period in our world’s history. My 12 year old son was always intrigued, and could have spent much more time researching specific individuals, battles, or pieces of artillery based on the enthusiasm that was created by the materials presented in Famous Men of the Second World War. Other families that are using a more comprehensive boxed curriculum will find this text to be a wonderful addition to their family libraries, and for use in writing biographical sketches and adding a personal approach to a more textbook study of World War II.
Our family would highly recommend this resource for families that are studying World War II; those that desire to build their personal libraries with historically rich texts; or those that have children whose interest or hobbies include past wars and military advancements. It may also make a great gift for dads that love studying past wars and conveying this information on to their children.