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1939: Countdown to War Paperback – 29 Apr 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (29 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141041307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141041308
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 284,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

Overy is one of the great historians of the second world war (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times)

This country's most distinguished historian of the Second World War ... Overy's book is easily the best account of Europe's descent into the death and destruction that were Hitler's element (Michael Burleigh Evening Standard)

Nail-biting ... with rare narrative verve, he documents the ultimatums, emissaries, letters and increasingly desperate proposals that shuttled across Europe in the countdown to war (Ian Thomson Independent)

Even those who think they know it all about how war broke out will learn something from Richard Overy's book (Simon Heffer Literary Review)

One of the great historians of this conflict (Simon Garfield Observer)

From the Back Cover

'This country's most distinguished historian of the Second World War ... Overy's book is easily the best account of Europe's descent into the death and destruction that were Hitler's element' Michael Burleigh, Evening Standard

24 August 1939: The fate of the world is hanging in the balance. Hitler has ambitions to invade Poland and hopes Stalin will help him. The West must stop them. If they fail, the world will go to war.

Richard Overy's dramatic account re-creates hour-by-hour the last days of peace, as politicians and the public braced themselves for a war they feared might spell the end of civilization.

'A gripping analysis of the final days of peace ... indispensable' M. R. D. Foot, The Times

'Nail-biting ... with rare narrative verve, he documents the ultimatums, emissaries, letters and increasingly desperate proposals that shuttled across Europe in the countdown to war' Ian Thomson, Independent

'Even those who think they know it all about how war broke out will learn something from Richard Overy's book' Simon Heffer, Literary Review

'One of the great historians of this conflict' Simon Garfield, Observer

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
It is surprising how much there is to learn in such a short book about the political maze that lies behind the decision to go to war in 1939. I don't entirely agree with the reviewer who suggests that the number of protagonists in this string of events make the story complicated and difficult to digest. Though I do agree with those who praise this work as a fresh insight into a story which other history books have oversimplified into a two-dimenional myth of good versus evil. I came out of it seeing Hitler as a flawed strategist whose failed bluff already sowed the seed of his final defeat, and the Allies as more interested in saving themselves rather than Polish liberty - a consideration which came much lower on the list of priorities than I hitherto imagined. It is no longer possible to see the Second World War in terms of the Allied cavalry charging over the hill to defend Poland, as indeed the endgame and the outcome of the war attests. The highlight of the book has to be the description of Hitler's reaction on hearing that Britain had declared war against him. It gives the devil a human face. This is an excellent little book. Read it.
Footnote: the Product Description claims that Poland was created in 1919. Strictly speaking this is untrue. Poland, as a nation state, came into being in 966 and flourished until the end of the 18th century when European politics saw it partitioned by three empires: Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian. 1919 was not the year of a newly-created Poland but a newly-liberated Poland.
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Format: Paperback
This is an excellent little book on what really took place those last few days when it seemed like there was an option whether to go to war with Hitler Germany or not. It's amazing how much Overy could press in to those few pages. All the important information is there, the conversations, what document was sent where and who was present at what meeting. Since the book is so intense and full of names and events, you can not really put the book down since then you will forget who is who and what's happened.
The book is only 124 pages long with the rest of the pages being notes and index. I did not pay attention to this fact so I was a little bit surprised and a little bit sceptic before starting reading the book. But is shows that one doesn't have to waste words.
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Format: Paperback
This short volume gives a fascinating hour by hour insight into the fortnight leading up to the outbreak of the world war in 1939. There was nothing inevitable about war breaking out when it did. Hitler was convinced that Britain and France would back down, whilst Britain and France persuaded themselves that Hitler would back down in the face of their insistence on supporting Poland. Essentially around six people or so were responsible for the decisions that led to war, and the book outlines the mental and physical pressures on each of them. The author concludes that Britain and France went to war not to save Poland from a cruel occupation (an unrealistic proposition), but to save themselves from the dangers of a disintegrating international order.
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Format: Paperback
This review is based onthe French translation of "countdown to war".
In a very short book the author comes back to the very last days of August 1939 preceding the German invasion of Poland. This is quite a good idea as this short period of time has often been dissolved in the whole history of WW2 or even of the nazi era.
What I picked out of this book is that this "chapter" of the war was pure bluffing by Hitler. He did not believe in any French/British reaction in favour of Poland. However after years of appeasement the allies went to war amid a mix of reluctance and resolution as if past renouncement would justify it. Thus this was not very rational: why help the Pole and not Czech ? why stand with the Pole and not move a finger to help them?
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Format: Paperback
Overy's slim volume on the Battle of Britain was a sharp disection of the myths surrounding that aspect of WW2. Here, he's done an equally concise and forsenic job on the days leading up to the outbreak of the war; and mighty impressive it is too.

Overy refreshingly bucks the trend of history books needing to be over-long and packed with incidental details. Here, he assumes enough intellgence on the part of the reader for them to fill in some of the context, and so concentrates instead on the analysis that was at the heart of the chaos and uncertainty that eventually led to the outbreak of the war.

There are some nice touches, with a few bits of detail here and there to really bring the diplomacy to life, and the run up to Chamberlain's announcement of war being declared on 3 September is genuinely exciting and atmospheric. Perhaps most impressive of all is the balance with which Overy tackles the subject. Chamberlain has received a raw deal in most appraisals of his handling of the situation leading up to war; but as Overy makes clear, hindsight is a wonderful gift to have afterwards - but at the time he was genuninely trying to achieve the best possible outcome for Britain and Europe.

A revealing insight into the mayhem and chaos that sits not too far behind the scene at diplomatic jockeying like this - and an exemplary example of the shorter history book that punches way above its weight. Recommended.
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