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Myths & Legends of the Second World War

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Myths & Legends of the Second World War
By James Hayward. (The History Press: 2005. Pg. 304.) ISBN: 0750938757

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 16, 2007

Written in a gripping narrative style that reads, at times, more like a novel than a history book, James Hayward brings to life many of the myths and legends that developed during, and after, World War II in his new book Myths & Legends of the Second World War. This book focuses on the military conflict in Europe, with a special emphasis on those myths dealing with the British and the Nazis. Hayward examines how these myths developed, both during and since the cessation of hostilities, and the role played by rumor mongerers, propagandist, and over active imaginations in the spread of the various myths. He also examines impact that they had on the war effort. While these facts are compelling, what I found of most interest in this book was Hayward's exploration of the real-life facts behind many of the myths that he recounts, and the documented impact that these stories had on the moral and mind set of both members of the military and those back at home.

Books on specific myths that grew out of World War II abound, such as books on Adolph Hitler's ties to the Occult and his supposed search for the Holy Grail, espionage legends, and fictional accounts and novels about the war that have come to be accepted as factual. Myths & Legends of the Second World War is unique in that it is the only book that I know of that provides a general overview of the mythology that originated during the war in Europe. However, the myths and legends surrounding the Holocaust are not covered within the scope of this work. Most important, this book provides an eye opening glimpse into a unique social aspect of the war that is often overlooked.

Most readers of this book will have already heard of many of the myths touched upon in this book, such as the myth that Hitler did not die in his bunker or that Rear-Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was a British agent, but do you know if there is any truth behind these stories? In this book Hayward separates the truth, when it exists, from the fiction and presents not only a compelling overview of the myth, but also insights into how it developed and its impact on the war. In many cases, Hayward is able to go into great detail about a number of popular stories including the strange case of Rudolf Hess, who parachuted into Glasgow in 1941, and such well-known cases as Operation Mincemeat, which was highlighted in the book The Man Who Never Was, the 1940 rumor that Germany was about to invade England, and the many myths that have grown up around the allied evacuation of Dunkirk, and those that grew up about the Blitz. Other chapters concentrate on myths concerning Hitler and his henchmen, various battle field myths, stories about mysterious spies and saboteurs, and the myths related to plane crashes and disappearances such as those that surround the loss of the band leader Glenn Miller and his plane. Hayward, who wrote Myths & Legends of the First World War, also examines the numerous myths from the first war to end all wars that were resurrected and recycled for use in the second one.

Myths & Legends of the Second World War is a well-researched and riveting book that will delight anyone with an interest in the military and social history of World War II, and its accompanying folklore. Although written for a general audience, Hayward has included a set of endnotes and an intriguing bibliography can be used to explore specific myths in greater detail. This is an amazing book and I highly recommended to readers of all ages!

Related Reviews:

Myths & Legends of the First World War, by James Hayward.
A chronological overview of the stories that grew out of the battlefields of World War I.

Children of War, by Susan Goodman.
The Second World War through the Eyes of a Generation. A compelling social history of wartime Britain told from the viewpoint of the children who called Britain home from 1939-1945.

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