World War II: A Military and Social History

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Overview of WWII This is a good general overview of World War II. It touches on all relevant aspects of the war (military, diplomatic, social, etc.) in both of the major theaters of the war (Europe and Pacific). Thomas Childers has a straightforward and well-organized approach to presenting the material. This is an older lecture series and the the AV quality and the setting in which the lectures are delivered are somewhat dated. Otherwise, it's a good course.
Date published: 2020-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Reviews of the Entire War in 30 Lectures This course reviews the entirety of WW2 in 30 lectures. From the ruse and fall of the third Reich and the attack on Pearl Harbor to the execution of two A bomb drops. There are sufficient details throughout including details of the holocaust. While coverage of Hitler in this course is generally sufficient, for more information about him and his rise and fall see Professor Childers' 12 lecture Great Course on Hitler. It is all here: the political leaders on all sides, the generals on all sides, the major battles from beginnings, the middle and the endings at home and and abroad in both theaters in Europe and in the pacific.
Date published: 2020-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from World War II A Military and Social History I am enjoying watching this course, which I do each day. I think the professor is so knowledgeable about this subject. I am learning so much about subjects I always wondered about. I recommend this professor and the course.. So worthwhile to view!
Date published: 2020-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully done As someone who lived through and remembers that period of history I found this a superlative course, both for the mix of material...history of the war and the social and diplomatic background to it...and to the degree of feeling that Professor Childers, clearly too young to have known it, brought to it. He presented it in a way that showed how it was AT THE TIME, what some of the insoluble problems were, and how the world then differed from the way it is sometimes seen looking back as a theoretical problem in history or morality. I recommend the course most highly. Definitely five stars.
Date published: 2020-08-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Introductory Overview with important insights I viewed this course in 2020 after 50 years of amateur reading, study, & reflection on WW2. Initially I had a negative evaluation of both the prof's speaking style and the cursory coverage of theaters and battles. If you want a blow-by-blow comprehensive story of the war you will be disappointed. Such coverage would require a 48-lecture set with 45 minutes for each lecture. On the other hand, this set is really good as an introduction and overview for someone who has not much studied the war. I warmed to it more and more as the series progressed. Prof. Childers regularly offers particular insights and deep analysis of strategy, social conditions, logistics, and other special topics that you wouldn't expect to get in a fuller battle-by-battle coverage. The last 8-10 lectures are particularly rich in analytical value.
Date published: 2020-07-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Unemotional presentation I am still watching this course. It presents a good outline of the history of the war, but fails to emphasize the horrible suffering inflicted on humanity by Hitler and his followers.
Date published: 2020-06-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Overview of WW2 This course is about as good as can be considering the scope and magnitude of WW2. It is a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the war. Prof. Childers shows little enthusiasm in his lectures and is difficult for one to stay focused. Prof. Childers needed to present basic facts and some of his presentation skills are probably hindered in getting a lot of information across in the 30 min lectures.; however, each of the 30 lectures could be a course in itself. His best lectures were the last 5 where he read less, showed more passion and told more personal interest stories.
Date published: 2020-06-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative, but pedantic I was really looking forward to this course - I was disappointed. While most of the historical points are accurate, his presentation skills are lacking.His delivery style is slow and monotone.
Date published: 2020-05-29
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World War II: A Military and Social History
Course Trailer
The Origins of the Second World War
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
"Their Finest Hour"-Britain Alone
7: "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
8: 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
9: 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
"The Man's Army"
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
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.


Harvard University


University of Pennsylvania

About Thomas Childers

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."

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