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on 14 September 2014
This a handy little book that proves yet again that a decent history book does not need to be a massive doorstep in order to adequately cover events.

Using just the right amount of detail, Overy deals with the final crisis that ended the "20 years' truce" in an easy-to-follow chronological style that never gets bogged down in waffle, but equally, never leaves the reader feeling that he is being short changed.

In a readable but authoritative text, Overy reminds us that as the events developed, there was always a range of possible outcomes that existed almost until the last moment; war over Danzig was not inevitable and the aims of the various actors were not always what they seemed. In the light of what actually did happen in August 1939, it is all too easy to forget this.

Personally this reviewer would have preferred a somewhat longer book, but that is only because what there is makes for such a good read. As it stands the book achieves everything it sets out to.

Needless to say, Countdown to War is highly recommended and will appeal to the academic and the amateur historian alike.
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on 2 October 2009
What is so dramatic about this book is that it recreates hour by hour the days before the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939. You feel very much part of the growing tensions where nothing was predictable or inevitable. Although only a short book (149 pages) it is jam-packed with interesting and relevant detail. It is written in a journalistic manner which comes across as "this is how it happened".
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book
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on 26 December 2009
This short book concentrates very specifically on politics a few days either side of the German attack on Poland and on the expectations of the leadership of Germany, Poland, France and Britain.

The style achieves a balance between being easily readable and rigorous.

The author's thesis is that rather than the outbreak of a general war being foreordained, both sides suspected the other of bluffing. Hitler wanted only a local war (against Poland) in 1939 and given his earlier diplomatic successes, thought France and Britain would back down. France and Britain assumed that against their slightly bigger combined war potential, Germany would not be so rash as to seriously follow through with a full scale war and Hitler could be made to back down by their warning that they would honour their pledge to protect Poland. He emphasises the role of personality, exhaustion and intuition in the diplomatic exchanges leading up to the eventual allied declarations of war.

The focus is likely to be too narrow for those with a casual interest in WWII. But for those with a deeper interest, this book is unsatisfying. Even with its narrow focus, it's so short that it leaves out relevant detail available from more general books. Another shortcoming is the absence of a timeline to make the narrative easier to follow.
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on 23 August 2009
This interesting little tome sets out the diplomatic events of the period 24th August - 3rd September 1939 as the world stared out on the brink. In 6 short chapters Overy details the efforts - and the thinking behind them - of Britain, France, Poland and Germany to avoid a general European conflict. Grippingly written, the book tells of the tragic failed initiatives, ultimatums and shuttle diplomacy conducted by the likes of Halifax, Henderson, Chamberlain, Daladier, Bonnet and others, and the moves made by Hitler, Ribbentrop and Goring in the war of nerves leading up to the outbreak. Overy explains that while both sides fervently hoped the other would back down, Hitler was genuinely convinced that although he was taking a risk, when it came down to it the Western powers would not fight. The writer is ultimately sceptical of the view that Hitler had always harboured plans of world domination and seems to feel that Poland should have relented to some German demands in order to avert the conflict. He also writes interestingly about the significance of the effects of mental stress and sleeplessness on the decision-making process in those few crucial days. As well as the thoughts and actions of the statesmen, Overy occasionally quotes from letters and diaries of civillians to give a good picture of the atmosphere of the time.

I found the book to be a fascinating resource and I imagine it would be very useful for students, but I must point out that for an RRP of £12.99 it is a very short volume - it stands at only 126 pages in stockinged-feet i.e. including the preface but not the notes & index. The recent book "Outbreak: 1939" is more physically substantial for your money and covers a much bigger part of the year but is very choppy and emphasises the people's experience more, consisting in large part of short paragraphs from various diaries in the run-up to (and immediate aftermath of) the declaration of war. Overy's book flows well and is well written but you will be done in a couple of hours.
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on 27 September 2009
This is the kind of work that is most interesting to those who have some knowlege of the WW2 period.

Overy has examined and analyses the immediate days prior to Hitler's invasion of Poland in early september 1939.

Here is a close, illuminating portrayal of the diplomatic moves of the principle actors, their motives and their strategic thinking.

This short work is fascinating and a telling recounting, and it places the reader at the moments of decision, giving a sense of how such momentous decisions are made in history-without, for the principles, the benefit of hindsight.

B Roy
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on 4 October 2009
Concise, clear 100% factual. Exhaustively researched; comprehensive sources and index. A must for anyone interested in the final 10 days of uneasy 'peace', and frantic diplomatic activity.Unbeatable.Author Richard Overy has just had published
'The Morbid Age,Britain between the Wars',and I am much looking forward to reading this far longer work, covering, as the title suggests, the interwar period
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on 7 December 2010
Compact & accurate coverage of political & military events 1939 to 1940
Recommended for inquiring minds as to why countless millions died '39 - 45.
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on 28 August 2009
This is a short book with very little substantive evidence presented in support of some seriously revisionsit viewpoints.

The unfortunate but entirely logical conclusion of the author's central thesis (that Poland ought to have acceeded to some of the German demands) is that France ought to have surrended Alsace and Lorraine and Britain returned the former German colonies seized at the end of the first war. If only Russia had been good enough to hand over some of her western territories for German lebensraum in the east (and Poland conveniently returned to her partitioned state of the 19th century) then the tragedy that was the war could have been averted.

I would suggest a brief introduction to Mein Kampf as the perfect antidote to this poorly constructed and not very well throught out book.
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