I recently re-read this book by Taylor (my copy dates from it's original publication). It's an enormous canvas and Taylor does a masterful job of synthesising his huge amount of material with which he was clearly very familiar. Inevitably the book contains some fairly broad views with some of which it's possible to take issue, but overall his version of events and the judgments he arrives at remain valid in most cases. This is true although much new material has become available since the book was originally published. Although a left leaning historian he's very fair to some of the traditional bogeymen of the left like Baldwin and doesn't acquit the British Labor party of responsibility for their part in the appeasement policies of the thirties. His hero's are Lloyd George and Churchill (although he doesn't omit the warts). Who could disagree. And of course it's beautifully written and therefore a pleasure to read.
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I dug out my very old copy of A.J.P Taylor's contribution to this series and read it again after many years of watching it go slightly brown on my book shelf. I learnt (or re-learnt) a few things about the interwar years, but what was far more revealing was the exposure of how much history writing has changed in the last 50 years and more shockingly for me - how much 'English' culture has changed and how much I have changed with it.
In this age of nostalgia, a distressingly large part of the English population (approximately 52%) hark back to a simpler time of casual racism and small minded intollerance and for many that time is epitomised by the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. This book was published in 1965 and I last read it in 1976... Despite the passage of such a great period of time reading the exquisite prose of the old master brought back not just a clear recollection of how I felt about what was here written at the time, but also (I hope) a little of how that fitted with the people around me. Reassuringly, I was reminded that A.J.P. Taylor did not fit the narrow minded stereotype of a man of this era - and I feel that my young self was also more liberal than the perceived 1970s norm. This of course does not mean that the view of the 1970s as a form of Life on Mars (as in Life On Mars : Complete BBC Series 1  [DVD]) is entirely incorrect. Just that it is only part of the story, a part that contrasts very strongly with an equally by gone 'Britishness' epitomised by Professor Taylor and which shines through in this volume of history.
As I read through this book in the 1970s I can remember that the genteel cynicism of this writing was very apparent to me at the time and I believe would have been apparent to most of my contemporaries. Reading the reviews on the American Amazon site it is clear that most of the readers miss this aspect entirely. This does not surprise me, Americans now (and in the 1970s) are by and large a positive and straight forward nation in contrast to the British of the 1970s who (as I recollect) would generally see the worst in any situation and then poke fun at it in a knowing way. That I believe is a key feature of this book and its quasi-optimistic conclusions.
So what about the British of 2016? So many of us appear to hark back to the 1970s at least in Little England, do we still have that key feature of our character which I refered to as genteel cynicism? Searching my own soul I would have to answer "not so much". Looking through the reviews on Amazon.co.uk I would suspect not to any extent at all, and what there is of this left to us is mostly confined to my sad generation. In this respect at least we have moved mid-atlantic and to be honest this is probably no bad thing, although I am sure it will restrict to some extent the widespread enjoyment of A.J.P. Taylor's masterpiece.
In conclusion, it is deliciously ironic in a way A.J.P Taylor would no doubt have delighted in, that the people who so much long to return to to the 1970s would find themselves to be foreigners there if they could find a time machine to take them 'home'. The Little Englanders of that period would no doubt start a campaign to get them deported back to where they come from (perhaps they could call the campaign UKIP?).
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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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This is the only work I've read by Taylor and it is readily apparent why he was a controversial historian. His witty, and often snide comments, on politicians, many hidden away in the bibliography, reveal his sympathies and sycophancies.
Taylor was plainly writing without the benefit of all the source material we know have available and his partisanship strains the value of this work. (Even though I might share much of it.) I suspect there are now better histories of this period.
As mentioned by another reviewer the work is very readable.
I should add that this volume completed my reading of the full set of the Oxford History of England. Highlights were the first volume on Roman Britain by Salway and the very informative and lively penultimate volume from 1870-1914 by Ensor. Many of the volumes were good, the Middle Ages were direly treated though by authors fascinated in taxation systems, but unwilling to explain them. On to the New Oxford History once it is completed then!
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I am patiently rebuilding my collection of the Oxford Histories, so this is a welcome addition. I use them more for reference than to read cover-to-cover, and although History is constantly under review, these books are authoritative, although the period 1914-1919 , particularly the conduct of the Great War, have been heavily re-evaluated in the past few years.
Intensely detailed, well researched, as one would expect from one of this country's leading historians. The ultimate handbook for the degree level history student, it covers every facet of the period from the start of the First World War to the end of the Second World War.
fascinating read. i have the 1992 paperback edition. many aspects seem to sound an echo with present day events. as though politicians and statesmen never seem to learn. but why book so expensive? my paperback only Â£9.99