History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 7-8

It’s reading time… Here are the notes for Chapters 7 and 8 in our history read-along.

Be warned: Chapter 7 is rough in a few parts and not suitable for children. However, the chapter notes are certainly suitable for all ages! 

Chapter 7: Moscow Saved, Leningrad Starved

  • 1942 marked a turning point in World War, though most participants and witnesses did not recognize it at the time.
  • Russia’s winter froze the German army in place, giving Soviet troops who were equipped for a winter campaign a chance to strike back, driving the Germans away from Moscow.
  • At Leningrad – Russia’s old capital city – the Germans started a siege, never intending to launch a full attack but rather systematically and scientifically starve the defenders and inhabitants.
  • Soldiers and civilians starved in Leningrad – eating grass and pets – and even resorting to cannibalism.

Leningrad civilians getting water in the street (By RIA Novosti archive, image #907 / Boris Kudoyarov / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15579689)

  • Savagery soared and both sides dehumanized “the enemy” – thousands died.
  • Britain and other Allied nations gained a grudging respect for the Soviet Union during this period, despite the different ideology (communism).
  • The winter in Russia signaled a breaking point in German military domination; the blitzkrieg froze and thousands of German soldiers perish while the Soviets fought a brutal and large scale war of attrition.

Quote of the chapter: “This is no gentleman’s war. One becomes totally numb. Human life is so cheap, cheaper than the shovels we use to clear the roads of snow. The state we have reached will seem quite unbelievable to you back home. We do not kill humans but ‘the enemy,’ who are rendered impersonal – animals at best. They behave the same towards us.” Wehrmacht Lieutenant von Heyl, German. (pages 175-176).

Chapter 8: America Embattled

  • The United States spent twenty-seven months “watching” the war.
  • Military re-armament began in 1938 through one of President Roosevelt’s programs, but it was far from sufficient to ready America for a global conflict.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third presidential election was closely tied to war happenings and politics.
  • Americans opposed refugees from Germany during the conflict, but – generally speaking – did not have strong feelings about Nazism or Germany early in the war, often because they lacked solid information.
  • Japan invaded China in 1937 and continued to expand its conquests, eventually aiming to American holdings in the Pacific.
  • Trade restrictions and embargoes enforced on Japan by the United States were highly unpopular in the imperialistic country which eventually signed a treaty with German and Italy (creating the “Axis Powers.”)
  • Japan considered attacking Russia in 1941 which could have created an interesting scenario, opening two battlefronts for the Soviet Union.
  • However, Japan decided to expand farther into the Pacific, leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Attack at Pearl Harbor

  • American entered the war after Pearl Harbor, and Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to fight in Africa and the Mediterranean until the Allied forces built up their military power.

Quote of the chapter: “No one can honestly promise you today peace at home or abroad. All any human being can do is to promise that he will do his utmost to prevent this country being involved in war.” Eleanor Roosevelt (page 185).


There was one bright story in chapter seven that gave me goosebumps and tears. The story of a starving mother in Leningrad who desperately prayed to God (prayer was forbidden in communist Soviet Union at that time) and the next day an unknown soldier brought her a box of food, saying it had been sent by her husband.

I thought the possibility of Japan attacking Russia in 1941 opened a huge door of “what ifs.” And would love to discuss that idea with readers in the comment section? What do you think would have happened? Would the United States have stayed out of the war completely? Would Russia have survived two attack fronts?

Your Opinion?

What quotes stood out to you in the chapters? What new ideas or considerations do you have after reading these chapters or the chapter notes? Leave a comment and let the “book club discussion” continue!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Read Chapters 9 and 10 to get ready for next week…

2 thoughts on “History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 7-8

  1. Had Japan attacked north into Siberia, they would have been defeated (see Nomonhan). But, the armies that counterattacked at Moscow would not have been there, and likely the Soviet capital may have fallen. Then again, the Japanese would not have found in Siberia the war materials necessary to keep up their economy and war machine; it would likely have ground to a halt by summer 1942 under Western embargo.

    As a side note, Vladimir Putin’s parents barely survived Leningrad.

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