On August 24, 1939, the world held its collective breath as Hitler and Stalin signed the now infamous nonaggression pact, signaling an imminent invasion of Poland and daring Western Europe to respond. In this dramatic account of the final days before the outbreak of World War II, award-winning historian Richard Overy vividly chronicles the unraveling of peace, hour by grim hour, as politicians and ordinary citizens brace themselves for a war that could spell the end of European civilization.
Nothing was entirely predictable or inevitable. The West hoped that Hitler would see sense if they stood firm. Hitler was convinced the West would back down. Moments of uncertainty alternated with those of confrontation; secret intelligence was used by both sides to support their hopes. The one constant feature was the determination of Poland, a country created only in 1919, to protect its newfound independence against a vastly superior enemy. 1939 documents a defining moment in the violent history of the 20th century.
©2009 Richard Overy (P)2010 Tantor
Painter, musician, bibliophile...
"What follows is intended to show nothing in history is inevitable. Events themselves can be both cause and consequence." Richard Overy
Overy, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, brings to life a ten day period in 1939, prior to Germany's invasion of Poland. While there is nothing new here to any student of the era, what is here is presented well and in a no-nonsense manner. The book is only 120-something pages, so it makes a quick listen with no fluff. While it is more of an essay than a great work of history, it is nonetheless a valuable, thought-provoking piece of writing.
For those who are new to the study of World War II, this is a snapshot or sketch rather than a finished portrait. The narrow focus centers on the post World War I creation of the independent Polish state and issues surrounding Danzig, etc. Overy writes, "It was Poland's intransigent refusal to make any concessions to its powerful German neighbor that made war almost certain." But only "almost," in his view.
Interesting personalities abound, from Hermann Goering, whose diplomacy with the Swedes was critical, to Neville Chamberlain and his famously embarassing negotiations with Adolf Hitler, and many others. The author's views of some players may surprise the reader.
I can't say I agreed with Overy on all points, but I'm glad I listened to the book. My own views, possibly for personal reasons, are more fatalistic. World War I, and particularly Germany's not being defeated in the field, and the consequent Treaty of Versailles made war inevitable. It was not a question of "if," only of "when," that war would be.
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