Volume two of Martin Gilbert's three-volume narrative history of the century charts the years 1933 to 1960. It begins as Roosevelt embarks on the New Deal and ends as Kennedy is elected to the presidency. The opening chapters cover the turmoil that preceded World War II: the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese aggression in China, and the relentless spread of Nazi power. World War II dominates the middle section of the volume -- as it dominated the lives of those who lived through the period. And in the postwar chapters, Gilbert examines the imposition of the Iron Curtain and the growth of the Cold War, the Berlin blockade, and, eventually dwarfing so much else, the nuclear confrontation. Nationalism remains a feature of this volume as it was of the last -- with the emergence of the "third world", as the European empires collapse, first in Asia and then in Africa.
As in the first volume, influential art, literature, and music, as well as epidemics and natural disasters, all have their place. Many of the events described are seen through the eyes and words of those who were present. The author has combed an incredibly wide array of sources to bring to the reader a vivid picture of the life, death, patterns, and flavors of the middle part of the century.