The Origins of the Second World War

A. J. P. Taylor


Softcover. 320 pages.
ISBN: 9780684829470
Stock Number: 0335

An eminent British historian provides a brilliant, devastating critique of the widely accepted, “official” view of the origins of World War II. The war between Germany, Poland, Britain and France that broke out in September 1939, he shows, was not the result of an intentional plan by Hitler. “Far from wanting war, a general war was the last thing he wanted,” Taylor writes. “The war of 1939, far from being premeditated, was a mistake, the result on both sides of diplomatic blunders.”

This controversial and intensely discussed work earned praise from respected British journals. The New Statesman called it “A masterpiece: lucid, compassionate, beautifully written.” And the Times Literary Supplement called it “simple, devastating, superlatively readable, and deeply disturbing.” In the opinion of The Observer, “This is an almost faultless masterpiece, perfectly proportioned, perfectly controlled.”

This edition includes a bibliography and index, and a “Second Thoughts” response to critics.

At the postwar Nuremberg Trial of 1945-1946, the victorious Allied powers insisted that World War II was the result of a carefully-planned “criminal conspiracy” by Hitler and his associates. For many years this view has been relentlessly propagated in motion pictures, by politicians, and in classrooms.

The familiar image of Hitler as a cynical, demonic madman, Taylor shows, is the product of propaganda. He writes: “People regard Hitler as wicked; and then find proofs of his wickedness in evidence which they would not use against others. Why do they apply this double standard? Only because they assume Hitler’s wickedness in the first place.”

The basic problem in Europe in the years before the outbreak of war in 1939, Taylor contends, was the vengeful Treaty of Versailles, which the victorious powers had imposed on Germany in the aftermath of the World War of 1914-1918.

Taylor portrays Hitler as a bold and daring leader who took advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. The German leader wanted to make Germany the strongest economic and military power in Europe, but he did not want war. He had no hostile ambitions toward Britain or France. Moreover, writes Taylor, “Hitler’s objective was alliance with Poland, not her destruction.”

The author, A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990), was an influential scholar of 19th and 20th century European history. In addition to his academic renown, he was noted for his lucid and often witty prose style. He was also an appealing journalist and broadcaster, familiar to millions through his popular television lectures.

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