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The Origins of the Second World War [Paperback]

A.J.P. Taylor
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 Oct 1991

A.J.P. Taylor's bestselling The Origins of the Second World War overturns popular myths about the outbreak of war.

One of the most popular and controversial historians of the twentieth century, who made his subject accessible to millions, A.J.P. Taylor caused a storm of outrage with this scandalous bestseller. Debunking what were accepted truths about the Second World War, he argued provocatively that Hitler did not set out to cause the war as part of an evil master plan, but blundered into it partly by accident, aided by the shortcomings of others.
Fiercely attacked for vindicating Hitler, A.J.P. Taylor's stringent re-examination of the events preceding the Nazi invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939 opened up new debate, and is now recognized as a brilliant and classic piece of scholarly research.

'Taylor's most perfect work of art, a miracle of proportion, language and insight'
  Robert Skidelsky

'A dazzling exercise in revisionism which summed up Taylor's paradoxical, provocative and inventive approach to history'
  The Times

'Taylor was a lifelong dissenter ... at his best - as in The Origins of the Second World War ... he shifted the ground of major debates'
  Ben Pimlott, Financial Times

'No historian of the past century has been more accessible'
  Niall Ferguson, Sunday Telegraph

'An almost faultless masterpiece'

'Highly original and penetrating ... No one who has digested this enthralling work will ever be able to look at the period again in quite the same way'
  Sunday Telegraph

A.J.P. Taylor (1906-90) was one of the most controversial historians of the twentieth century. He served as a lecturer at the Universities of Manchester, Oxford, and London.

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The Origins of the Second World War + The First World War: An Illustrated History (Penguin Books)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 357 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; New Ed edition (31 Oct 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014013672X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140136722
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 18,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

A.J.P. Taylor (1906-1990) was one of the most controversial historians of the twentieth century. He served as a lecturer at the Universities of Manchester, Oxford, and London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Intensely controversial in its day, this book is now recognised as being an important piece of historical research which lay bare the reasons for the cataclysm that defined the twentieth century.

It suited those involved to present the 2nd world war as a result of the evil machinations of Hitler, a view reinforced in the public's mind by Churchill's own account of the war. In this book Taylor presents the alternative view that it wasn't pre-planned, but we fell into it almost by accident. At the time of publication the war was still a raw memory and Churchill was a public hero, lauded for his prescience before the outbreak of war and leading the nation through its darkest days, so this view which directly challenged the great man and brought back so many bad memories was controversial.

In this book we are presented with a wealth of evidence to support this radical view, a careful evaluation of all the available evidence, presented in a clear and readable fashion. The research is authoritative, but the real joy of this book is its readability. Unlike some accounts of tangled world affairs, this is incredibly accessible, and not just for scholars.

A must read for anyone interested in this era of history. 5 stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Carl
Taylor attempts to do what Fritz Fisher did to the study of the origins of the First World War, to the study of the Second World Wars origins. His work has generated controversy, spurred on countless historians to engage his work, but more importantly has made everyone take another look at the evidence to establish what happened and why. Taylor attacks what he describes as the myths that, by the 1960s, had been built up and the accepted view of what happened in the years following the Treaty of Versailles and the start of fighting in 1939.

Taylor's work is very accessible and easy to read, riddled with jokes and sarcastic remarks, he makes his way through the relevant events and treaties that took place between 1919 and 1939 that created the mosaic, which are the origins of the war. In places this paints a very depressing picture due the failure of the statesmen on all sides to resolve the issues created by the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles; in two lines Taylor sums up the interwar period and his work: "The purpose of political activity is to provide peace and prosperity; and in this every statesman failed, for whatever reason. This is a story without heroes...".

While dated, with numerous works authored with the sole object of debunking Taylor's, or actually relooking into the subject; the book is still a classic, a must read to understand the post war debates that are still taking place. Taylor makes some excellent points however I do not agree with all the issues raised by Taylor siding mainly with his critics who highlight, in issues on inter-war Germany and reparation payments to name a few areas, how wrong he was.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating but not as radical as many think 19 Aug 2013
Taylor's thesis that Hitler was a typical German statesman in his foreign policy has been shocking to many but it is not so radical at all a view. Most Germans, certainly the elites, after WWI were horrified that they had lost a war they considered theirs, and a war that they had won on the eastern front and only came to a stalemate on the western front owing to American intervention. The Versailles treaty offended them by blaming Germany for the war, when all the Great Powers and Serbia were equally guilty, and by destroying their hope for hegemony in eastern Europe. Hitler shared these views, with of course a bitter Austrian touch which made him hate Czechs and generally dislike all eastern Europeans to some extent. As long as France and Britain were willing during the 1930's to entertain revisions to Versailles Hitler was willing to go along. He knew that Britain and France had no will to fight and felt guilty, Britain more than France of course, about the territories populated by Germans which were now in the Czech state and Poland. The diplomacy about the Sudentenland was Hitler's strong point and he allowed Chamberlain and Daladier to give him what he wanted, remaining seemingly reasonable. The subsequent absorption of Austria and the destruction of the Czechoslovak state was also reasonable to the West. But when Hitler thought he could play the same game with Poland -- to get the city of Danzig and some territory linking Germany to East Prussia the Poles didn't play the game. Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A J P Taylor's analysis of the events prior to the outbreak of war is a masterful piece of work. The political machinations and his presentation and interpretation fills out our understanding of a complex period. It also looks past the hype that we have been fed regarding how war came about.

The saying "war is diplomacy by other means" certainly holds true here in that with the evidence Taylor has presented the Germans were in no more a state to begin a war than any of the allies France, great Britain or Poland. The Soviet Union had the largest armaments program whilst the German one was comparable to the British and French.

Some of the information is dated. Taylor does write off the Polish effort in a way which was typical of historians of his generation. The Poles were behind in re-equiping with modern arms, but the Polish 7tp tank was a match for the Panzer iv, though only available in limited quantaties. The Polish airforce also acquited itself well during the opening week of the campaign as did Polish armed forces at some moments during the campaign and in some instances inflicting severe reverses on the German effort. German tank losses in the Polish campaign were comparable to that in the assault on the West in 1940.

This work was published in 1963 and would have been highly provocative in those times to present this view of the facts, though it is highly plausible that Taylor's view which is that the war came about after diplomatic and political manouvers failed and partly through accidents or mistakes is in large measure correct.

This is not to say that the German's are less guilty of starting the war just that in Taylor's view there was not in 1939 the grandiose scheme in place - or the war resources - in place for a conquest of Europe.

One of Taylor's chief evidence for this is the German armaments industry figures which continued to show lower output than his protaganists for much of the war.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars classic
outstanding. lots of food for thought
Published 26 days ago by J. M. Curzon
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps Taylor's most controversial work, a book which should not be...
Taylor was perhaps the first celebrity historian and in his lifetime was known to a huge audience. This was as much because of his communication skills and an awareness of how to... Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. J. Bradshaw
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written read
AJP never disappoints. Written before the revisionists got their way he xplores the origins deep into the end of WW1. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Portlander
3.0 out of 5 stars book for college
this book was brought for a particular reason for my daughter to be used for her work. no further comments
Published 11 months ago by kizzy Sherman
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Jubbly
The book was in good condition; great for studying
For the price I bought it for, t'was definitely worth it. Overall, a good buy!
Published 12 months ago by Rumana
4.0 out of 5 stars AJP Taylor, history at its best
AJP Taylor always writes with wit and clarity, envents unfold rapidly,history comes alive, a conducter/guide on the journey to September 1939.
Published 17 months ago by MR J R THOMPSON
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me think?
A provocative account of the subject matter. Controversial at the time of writing. But I believe it has been proved more correct by subsequent revelations from documentation... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Barry
5.0 out of 5 stars The Origins of the Second World War
Would recommend this book to the history buff and ordinary reader. It details why appeasement was even considered as an option.
Published 21 months ago by Kermit
5.0 out of 5 stars A ground-breaking interpretation of events
Essential reading for anyone interested in the topic. This is historical analysis that is accessible to the non-historian. A truly rare feat.
Published on 18 Jun 2012 by Gully Foyle
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Well written, well argued and authorative. If you buy only one book on WW2, make it this one. Don't be dissuaded by the whingers the book offended by its bravery.
Published on 19 Mar 2012 by Peter Hodgson
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