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4.0 out of 5 stars Taylor, A.J.P, English history, 1914-1945 : A review., 25 Feb. 2003
This review is from: English History 1914-1945 (Oxford History of England) (Hardcover)
One can hardly think of a broader period of history to cover than "English History 1914-1945" in one volume. Yet the most notable and probably most impressive feature of Mr Taylor's book is its ability to comprehensively cover the period while remaining concise. Perhaps the genius behind this book lies in taylors Ability to create a fully comprehensive book while remaining under eight hundred pages, his skill seems to lie in judging what History to leave out rather than include.
Taylor's book comes as the fifteenth and final volume of The Oxford History of England, the book charts through English History from 11pm on August 4, 1914 through to the summer of 1945. In all he covers a period of thirty one years. During which Britain was involved in two world wars and in between them battled through the inter war period which was, politically economically and socially one of the most volatile periods in English History. Taylor manages to tackle the period with flare yet focuses mainly on economic and political aspects. He averts attention away from the History of people, focusing on actions of rulers and the elite. His description however, of the interaction of rulers and politicians is fascinating. Taylor displays Britain's key problems as economic, Britain's inter war economy was backward based on old industries which the world simply did not want to buy the products of. The resultant cause was unemployment which plagued England throughout the 1920's and 1930's coupled with economic decline . After a costly war and all too liberal loans to allies Britain's inter war economic state was gloomy to say the least
What makes Taylor's book so unique within its field isn't just its size but its readability. The book is, regardless of all academic value a pleasurable entertaining and enthralling read, something which isn't always frequent in History and even rarer in books which chart such a vast period of History. In fact English History 1914-1945 has become somewhat of a bible for the English history Student and the fact that it is read at many levels of study is a credit to its readability and content. Taylor manages to concisely cover the period without becoming disjointed. His enthusiastic use of foot notes allows him to introduce key figures while keeping the text alive. Taylor's use of Short sentences keeps the reader moving yet one cannot help but think that this is in a sense unhelpful as it impedes Taylor from elaborating further. However, as a result he manages to cover a vast range of topics without becoming stranded on particular themes, while maintaining a style which is flowing, critical and contentious. Taylor's book was intended to reach a mass audience and create a popular appetite for modern English History. In this it was undoubtedly a success. As a result of English History 1914-1945 Taylor is probably the most popular historian of the twentieth century.
Taylor's book does have clear downsides. There is no way he could provide anything but an overview of the period in question within eight hundred pages. As a result the book lacks any detailed focus on a particular theme other than those that run throughout the period. There is a feeling that Taylor has possibly tackled too much in the book yet one feels that all the evidence fits neatly together in its package. The enormity of some events have been skated over, the general strike of 1926 occupies a minor part in the book yet in my opinion it was a pivotal moment in English political and social History. Some individuals also seem to appear outsized compared to what one would imagine, Lloyd George comes of particularly well while Churchill's role fails to be built up as so often is the case. There is also a feeling, which is incidentally quite refreshing, that Taylor tries to confront the accepted too often, in virtually each theme within the book Taylor challenges the accepted and seems to be constantly attempting to push historical boundaries. However, at the same time Taylor's use of rational thought and fluent writing means that the reader is easily convinced. Taylor's sources are well documented in his footnotes and his bibliography, as a result the reader is rarely in doubt of the origin of information and quotes.
English History 1914-1945 was published in 1965 and came at a Highpoint in Taylor's career he had a distinguished academic career behind him and had become somewhat of a celebrity with the dawn of the television era. His performances have become legendary as he appeared on a bare stage and lectured for thirty minutes with no notes or autocue. Taylor as the Author of "The struggle for the Mastery in Europe 1848-1918" and "The Origins of the Second World War" Had a distinguished literary record behind him. "The Origins of the Second World War" had proved to be considerably controversial by presenting Hitler as an opportunist, as opposed to the evil dictator intent on bringing war which was the view accepted by most at the time. Taylor went so far as to write of Hitler "in principle and doctrine, Hitler was no more wicked and unscrupulous than many a contemporary statesman" This understandably created masses of controversy around Taylor and his work and incited a long running debate.
Taylor's English History 1914-1945 is a challenging and convincing piece of work charting a period of English History so Volatile and unique. Taylor's book is incredibly readable and fluid, resulting in his ideas and challenges becoming so prominent and workable. He manages to cover such a wide range of Historical events in sufficient detail while remaining concise and to the point. There is no point where his intention is lost in unnecessary small talk. Taylor manages to explore the history in impressive detail while remaining precise at all times. Regardless of it academic value English History is a remarkable read and one which will no doubt challenge views for years to come.
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