Writing World War II A Student's Guide

Sylvie Murray; With commentary by Robert D. Johnston

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

208 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
Intended for anyone being introduced to historical analysis and the basics of clear historical writing, the book examines the process of writing history from two different perspectives. The first is in a series of thoughtful essays from Sylvie Murray on America’s involvement in World War II and how it has subsequently been portrayed. Murray examines three periods—the buildup to war, the war effort on the home front, and the return to peacetime—trying to recapture the mixed emotions of each period and the larger forces shaping public opinion and the notion of citizenship. Her approach challenges traditional themes of “the greatest generation” and “the good war” to show how ordinary Americans responded to the call to arms and why views changed as the war effort progressed. She also examines the central role that propaganda played in mobilizing the public and excising dissent from the history of the war.  The second perspective offers a look into the process of writing itself. At various points in the book, the noted historian Robert Johnston chimes in to critique Murray’s prose, demystifying her analytical techniques while helping readers become more critical readers of all historical writing.


Praise for Writing World War II

“This slim book could make an awful lot of people mad. And that’s a good thing. Author Sylvie Murray’s target is the mythology growing like barnacles around popular history. Its epitome is the 'Greatest Generation' ancestor worship popularized by Tom Brokaw, spun out of Hollywood melodramas often far removed from the gritty textures of real life during wartime . . . Murray tackles this task with provocative candor. She demonstrates that our past is a moving target, and understanding comes from constantly unearthing, interpreting, and reinterpreting evidence—and arguing over the results . . . This admirable experiment is aimed at college undergrads, but any history buff would profit from arguing seriously with it.”Gene Santoro, World War II Magazine
“This unique and provocative collaboration provides an insightful look at the historiographical debates surrounding World War II. At the same time, it offers a behind-the-scenes look at how historians pursue their craft.”—Elaine Tyler May, author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

“Sylvie Murray delivers a master class in the writing of history for serious readers and students of American history . . . Both Murray and Johnston promote a pluralistic approach to writing history in order to avoid oversimplifying complex questions. They also reflect on finding that a question asked one way often stimulates a subsequent reframing of the question to investigate if new insights might emerge.”—John McFarland, Shelf Awareness

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Writing World War II (Chapter 1)1In The Name of National Security

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a committed internationalist and a humanitarian, but he was also a realist, a pragmatist, who knew full well the limitations imposed by congressional and public opinion. His abiding faith in Christian and humanitarian ideals was expressed, for instance, in his annual message to Congress on January 4, 1939: "There comes a time in the affairs of men when they must prepare to defend, not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments and their very civilization

Read the full excerpt


  • Sylvie Murray; With commentary by Robert D. Johnston

  • Sylvie Murray teaches American history at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
    Robert Johnston is a professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago.