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World War II: A Military and Social History

Engross yourself in a comprehensive overview of the single largest event in history with this enthralling course by an Ivy League professor.
World War II: A Military and Social History is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 181.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Truncated Coverage of History’s Most Terrible War Whether it was Professor Childers or the Teaching Company who limited this course to thirty rather than thirty-six lectures, the decision was a serious error. The missing lectures would have enabled him to discuss the Battle of the Atlantic, to go into greater depth about how the war affected civilian societies, especially in occupied China and Europe, or to talk about the legacy and memory of the war after 1945. Most of all, he could have given the Eastern Front in the Europe the full emphasis it deserves. That is where the Wehrmacht was chewed up and severely weakened in 1943-44; without that Soviet contribution to the Allied cause, a successful D-Day in the West would have been impossible. Western memories of the East tend to ignore the period between the Soviet victory at Stalingrad in 1942-43 and the capture of Berlin in April 1945, and Childers follows this tradition. He gives only brief mention in Lecture 28 to the Soviet defeat of the German Kursk offensive in July 1943, the reconquest of the Ukraine and Crimea in 1943-44, and especially the masterful Operation Bagration in July 1944, or as the Germans remembered it, the destruction of Army Group Center. The course is overly America-centric in other ways. Lecture 26 on “This Man’s Army” covers only the US soldier’s experience. Lecture 27 on “Daily Life, Culture and Society in Wartime” examines only the US home front. To be fair, the Anglo-American combat experience was much more varied and interesting geographically than the Soviet, for which the terrain consisted mostly of wide steppes, rivers and sub-Arctic forests, at least until the Soviets reached the Polish heartland. British and US armies fought in the sands and wadis of North Africa, the hills and mountains of Italy, the rich farmlands of France and western Germany, the coral atolls and jungle islands of the central and western Pacific Ocean, and the dense, difficult jungles of Burma. The Anglo-Americans also had to engage in massive naval and strategic air campaigns, while the Soviets did not. So the temptation to pay greater attention to the UK and US is understandable for those reasons. There are other problems with the course, however. The lecture order is sometimes strange. For example, there is a temporal leap of a year and a half between Lecture 17 on Stalingrad and Lecture 18 on D-Day. Lectures 24 through 27, especially Lecture 24 on the air war over Germany, should have occurred before Lecture 18. There are a few factual errors. Lecture 14 doesn’t quite get one part of the battle of Midway right…it was US torpedo bombers the Japanese fighter pilots easily ripped apart, not dive bombers (the guidebook just says “a US air squadron”). Lectures 3 and 6 promote the old myth that the Maginot Line was a dimwitted failure; it wasn’t. No one expected the Line to offer France complete or permanent protection; its mission was to channel the opening German attack away from the French heartland and into Belgium, where the British and French could easily combine forces. To that extent it worked. Where the French badly bungled was in letting the German thrust through the Ardennes Forest take them completely by surprise and mishandling their own mobile forces. They and the British were also unprepared for the accelerated tempo of operations as compared to the First World War. There is a typo on a Lecture 11 slide, which gives the title “Timeline Fall 1944” instead of 1941 for the US-Japanese negotiations before Pearl Harbor. Early in the course the professor sometimes refers to things without explaining them, such as the Nazi Four-Year Plan—he knows what they are, but not all of us in the audience do. The Teaching Company crew that managed the set put a few old men on folding chairs behind Childers so we can see them at all times. I assume they are veterans of the war, but if so, they look remarkably bored. This course has positive features, fortunately. Lecture 2 makes very good points about Adolf Hitler’s prewar diplomacy, highlighting Anglo-French hypocrisy on disarmament in 1933, Hitler’s shrewd public emphasis on merely achieving German equality with other powers, and his ability to peel Poland away from its alliance with the French. Lecture 3 has a nicely detailed discussion of the intimidating welcome that Austrian leader Kurt Schuschnigg received during his entrance into Hitler’s Berchtesgaden home in the Bavarian Alps, including the slow elevator ride, the long hallway and the menacing guards. Lectures 18 and 19 on the preparation and execution of the D-Day landings are well composed, making them the course’s dramatic climax. Rather than buy this course, you might consider the two other that have superseded it, World War II: Battlefield Europe and World War II: The Pacific Theater, which together offer forty-eight lectures rather than the thirty here. But if you buy this course, you may still enjoy it despite the limitations.
Date published: 2022-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love, love, love it! I'm a history buff, so this one was right up my alley. Very interesting, both the course and the professor.
Date published: 2021-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative Professor Childers cleared up a number of questions I had about W.W. II for many years. Very interesting course. A great addition to other courses on W.W. II I bought through The Great Courses. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2021-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I've watched this series of lectures several times. It's one of the best comprehensive histories of WWII, with a lot of depth and social context.
Date published: 2021-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Outstanding Synthesis of a complex topic Don't let the dated production values deter you from this excellent course. Prof. Childers does an outstanding job blending the military, political, and social aspects of the war. Every single lecture was interesting, and the course filled gaps in my knowledge about the war. I am sure I will watch this course again.
Date published: 2021-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from WWII Made Fresh Again Professor Childers does a remarkable job of adding insight and sensitive commentary into the war that shaped the lives of our parents and indeed the world. Something new in each segment. Don't dare skip his final lecture in this series.
Date published: 2021-10-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview but missing some key elements. The title of the course, (..."A Military and Social History") was only partly achieved. While the social/political situation in Germany was adequately addressed, equal treatment of the social/political situation was not provided - not even a mention of Tojo. Also, two impactful events on the war, the breaking of the Japanese naval code and the breaking of the German Enigma code, were not adequately addressed.
Date published: 2021-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating. I have listened to it twice I have only one criticism: A few mispronunciations which kind of drove me nuts - "nucular" for nuclear, and "exasperated" for exacerbated. Also "inexorable" was somehow cockeyed, accent on the wrong syllable. Nevertheless I would buy it again. No one is perfect.
Date published: 2021-08-06
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This course examines one of the greatest conflicts in human history, World War II. Between 1937 and 1945, 55 million people perished. It was a series of interrelated conflicts; no continent was left untouched, no ocean or sea unaffected. World War II taught lessons that none of us can ever study enough. Professor Thomas Childers uses the dual perspective of military and social history to explain both the epic course and epoch-making effects of the "last good war." This is a great introduction to a period of history that remains as addictively interesting as it is important.


Thomas Childers
Thomas Childers

Facts don't change, but we do, and our perspective on them changes. We learn new things, and as a result of this, it is necessary to reevaluate ... what we have known and how it looks different to us at this particular point.


University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Thomas Childers is Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been teaching for over 25 years. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Tennessee and his Ph.D. in History from Harvard University.

Professor Childers has held visiting professorships at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, Smith College, and Swarthmore College. He is a popular lecturer abroad as well, in London, Oxford, Berlin, and Munich.

Professor Childers has won several teaching awards, including the Ira T. Abrahms Award for Distinguished Teaching and Challenging Teaching in the Arts and Sciences, the Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching in History, and the Senior Class Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Professor Childers is the author and editor of several books on modern German history and the Second World War. He is currently completing a trilogy on the Second World War. The first volume, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, was praised by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post as "a powerful and unselfconsciously beautiful book."

By This Professor

A History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition
World War II: A Military and Social History
World War II: A Military and Social History


The Origins of the Second World War

01: The Origins of the Second World War

In this opening lecture, Professor Thomas Childers puts the war into context, examining both its historical importance as the single largest event in human history and shaper of subsequent global events; and its origins, with emphasis on the role of the Versailles Treaty, the international system that emerged from the 1920s, and that system's subsequent failure.

33 min
Hitler's Challenge to the International System, 1933-1936

02: Hitler's Challenge to the International System, 1933-1936

A look at the rise of Hitler's Nazi party in Germany and the ideological and geopolitical wellsprings of his foreign policy, including a tracing of his step-by-step revision of the Treaty of Versailles and a look at the rhetorical style with which he presented his policies to both his domestic audience in Germany and the international community abroad.

30 min
The Failure of the International System

03: The Failure of the International System

Why was the threat posed by German foreign policy-especially in the 1930s-not met? This lecture examines the differing dilemmas confronting France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States; as well as the major international crises of 1938 and 1939 as Europe moved relentlessly toward war.

32 min
The Coming of War

04: The Coming of War

This lecture focuses on the implications of the Munich Conference, examining the ways in which it influenced Hitler's calculations, Stalin's assessments, and even the German military conspiracy against Hitler. The lecture concludes with an examination of the Polish crisis in the summer of 1939 and the stunning ramifications of the pact between Germany and the Soviet Union.

32 min

05: Blitzkrieg

Blitzkrieg was more than just a revolutionary military strategy; it was an economic and diplomatic one, as well. This lecture examines the reasons why this three-pronged weapon so appealed to Hitler, and then looks at the first use of the Blitzkrieg strategy in the war against Poland in September 1939.

31 min
The German Offensive in the West

06: The German Offensive in the West

The German Blitzkrieg in Western Europe in the spring of 1940 brought an end to the strange period of "phony war" that had prevailed in the west since September of the previous year. This lecture looks at English and French preparations for the anticipated attack and Hitler's daring strategy, as well as the "miracle of Dunkirk" and the sudden and unexpected fall of France.

33 min

07: "Their Finest Hour"-Britain Alone

In the summer of 1940, Germany stood poised for a cross-channel invasion of southern England. Professor Childers offers a close look at the plans for that invasion, Britain's preparations for repelling the Germans, and an analysis of both Churchill's strategic thinking and the naval and air assets his nation possessed.

30 min
The Battle of Britain

08: The Battle of Britain

A successful invasion of England hinged on establishing air superiority over both the English Channel and the planned landing zones in southern England. The colossal air battle that began in July 1940 would rage into October and ultimately be won by the Royal Air Force. This lecture examines that crucial and decisive battle.

30 min
Hitler Moves East

09: Hitler Moves East

The attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941-Operation Barbarossa-was Hitler's greatest military and political gamble. In this wide-ranging lecture, you'll learn the ideological and strategic reasons for this stunning gambit, and see the role Nazi ideology played in the conduct of German troops as they crossed into Russian territory.

30 min
The Germans Before Moscow

10: The Germans Before Moscow

Despite an extraordinarily successful beginning of Operation Barbarossa that exceeded even German expectations, late 1941 saw the offensive dramatically slowed by unsettling logistical and weather problems. A close look at how and why this happened, with special attention to the extraordinary resilience of the Red Army as winter set in and the German offensive ground to a halt.

30 min
The War in Asia

11: The War in Asia

Japan's invasion of China in 1937 was the climax of a two-decade evolution in Japanese foreign and military policy that began after World War I. Professor Childers analyzes Japanese designs on Asia, the strategic dilemmas presented by each strategic option, and the impact of events in Europe on Japanese calculations.

31 min
The Japanese Gamble

12: The Japanese Gamble

After four years of deteriorating relations between Japan and the United States, Japan unleashes a stunningly successful attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. This lecture examines the U.S.-Japan relationship, Japanese planning for the attack, and the ways in which American policy and security lapses contributed to the disasters at both Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines.

31 min
The Height of Japanese Power

13: The Height of Japanese Power

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese rolled to an unbroken series of triumphs that established their dominance in Southeast Asia and across the South Pacific, including British Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaya, French Indochina, the Netherlands East Indies, and the American Philippines. This lecture examines this high-water mark of Axis power, concluding with the surprising U.S. victory in the Ba...

31 min
Turning the Tide in the Pacific-Midway and Guadalcanal

14: Turning the Tide in the Pacific-Midway and Guadalcanal

Two extraordinary battles, one at sea and one on land, marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific. The first crushes the Japanese Navy and preserves the American position in Hawaii; the second marks the first defeat for Japanese land forces and sets the tone for the ferocious combat that would characterize Japanese-American combat throughout the South Pacific.

30 min
The War in North Africa

15: The War in North Africa

Though the Mediterranean Theater was merely a sideshow for Hitler, it loomed much larger in the strategic thinking of the Western Allies, though provoking considerable conflict within the Western command structure. A look at Hitler's missed opportunities and Great Britain's success in ultimately establishing among the Allies the primacy of her own strategic objectives.

32 min
War in the Mediterranean-The Invasions of Sicily and Italy

16: War in the Mediterranean-The Invasions of Sicily and Italy

In addition to tracing the course of the campaigns in Sicily and Italy, with particular emphasis on the Anzio landings, the Battle of Monte Cassino, and the liberation of Rome, this lecture analyzes the politics of the war in Italy and the impact of the Italian campaign on the timing of the cross-Channel invasion of France.

30 min
Stalingrad-The Turning Point on the Eastern Front

17: Stalingrad-The Turning Point on the Eastern Front

A look at the German strategy and Soviet responses that marked the epic struggle for Stalingrad, which lasted from August 1942 until March 1943 and marked the turning point of the war on the Eastern front. After this crushing defeat, the Germans would be forced onto the defensive, and the Russians would begin their long agonizing drive to liberate their country.

29 min
Eisenhower and Operation Overlord

18: Eisenhower and Operation Overlord

By early 1944, an Allied invasion of northwestern Europe was no longer in doubt; the only questions were where and when. The preconditions for invasion and the differences within the Allied camp over timing, command structure, and the final plan-along with the Germans' own calculations, problems, and limitations-make for a fascinating lecture.

29 min
D-Day to Paris

19: D-Day to Paris

Defense of northwestern Europe had been left to Erwin Rommel, who argued that the key to a German victory was to defeat the Allies at the beaches-and especially to hold fast during those first 24 hours, "the longest day." This lecture traces the last agonizing stages of planning and launching the D-Day invasion, the course of the battle in Normandy and the bocage beyond, and the liberati...

29 min
Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge

20: Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge

This lecture examines the Allied plan to cross the Rhine in Holland, the reasons for its failure, and the daring German Ardennes offensive that became the Battle of the Bulge-Hitler's last gasp in the West that set the stage for the Allied advance into Germany in early 1945.

28 min
Advance Across the Pacific

21: Advance Across the Pacific

The American strategy in the Pacific was a largely political compromise between the courses recommended by Douglas MacArthur and Chester Nimitz. The compromise allowed MacArthur to begin his long march back to the Philippines via the Solomons and New Guinea while Nimitz waged a bloody campaign of "island hopping" through the Gilbert, Marshall, and Mariana Islands.

27 min
Turning Point in the Southwest Pacific-Leyte Gulf and the Philippines

22: Turning Point in the Southwest Pacific-Leyte Gulf and the Philippines

The Battle of Leyte Gulf-marking the first use of kamikaze fighters by the Japanese-was the decisive naval battle in the Pacific after Midway. It broke the back of the Japanese Navy and secured the American landing in the Philippines in December 1944, which raged well into the new year with massive casualties on both sides.

26 min
The Final Drive for Japan-Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Fire-Bombing of Tokyo

23: The Final Drive for Japan-Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Fire-Bombing of Tokyo

This lecture examines the battles for both Iwo Jima and Okinawa-the two climatic engagements in the final drive for Japan-and follows both the strategic considerations and bloody consequences of these two deadly confrontations. Fully one-third of all marines killed in the Pacific died on Iwo Jima, while one-fifth of all casualties suffered by the Navy in the entire war were sustained in the waters...

32 min
War in the Air

24: War in the Air

World War II introduced a new dimension in warfare: strategic bombing. This lecture traces the evolution of air doctrine, the strategic and moral choices made by the Allies, the course of Anglo-American air operations against Germany (and, to some extent, Japan) and the air war's contribution to the ultimate Allied victory over Germany and Japan.

34 min
Hitler's New Order in Europe

25: Hitler's New Order in Europe

A powerful examination of the evolution of Nazi racial policy from the boycott of Jewish shops at the beginning of the Third Reich in 1933 to the gas chambers of Auschwitz between 1942 and 1945. The lecture includes the ideological origins of Hitler's anti-Semitism, how his ideas were translated from the pages of Mein Kampf to the killing fields and gas chambers of Eastern Europe, and the factors ...

36 min

26: "The Man's Army"

The creation of the U.S. armed forces was itself one of the most astonishing accomplishments of the war. The massive military force ultimately required to win a two-front war fought on land, sea, and in the air simply did not exist in 1939 with the U.S. armed forces. This lecture explores both the development of that fighting force and the day-to-day life within it, analyzing the military as both ...

30 min
Daily Life, Culture, and Society in Wartime

27: Daily Life, Culture, and Society in Wartime

Within only two years, the American economy was forced to become the "Arsenal of Democracy". This lecture examines the role of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and private entrepreneurs in making that happen, the changing social composition of the work force that resulted, including the massive entry of women into war industries, and the significant social problems that surfaced, especiall...

32 min
The Race for Berlin

28: The Race for Berlin

A look at the final phase of the war in Europe, including the race for Berlin between the Anglo-American troops who had crossed the Rhine and the Russians who were driving through Poland, and Hitler's suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. Professor Childers also analyzes the controversy concerning Eisenhower's decision not to rush on to Berlin, "allowing" the Russians to take the city...

31 min
Truman, the Bomb, and the End of the War in the Pacific

29: Truman, the Bomb, and the End of the War in the Pacific

In the summer of 1945, with Germany defeated, the FDR deal and signs of war weariness emerging in the United States, President Truman faced the prospect of a bloody invasion of Japan. This lecture explores the political, military, and moral implications of President Truman's decision to use the new atomic bomb in hopes of forcing an early Japanese surrender. It includes the background of the fireb...

28 min
The Costs of War

30: The Costs of War

In this concluding lecture, Professor Childers evaluates the outcome of the war, its meaning in both a global political and military context, and its historical significance. But its real focal point is on an appraisal of the enormous costs of war at a human level, illustrated by the experiences of a single American family.

25 min