The Origins of the Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor

The author has done his homework. He marshals volumes of diplomatic correspondence and documentation in support of his argument. But what he ends up with is clearly a reductio ad absurdum. As Tony Judt has pointed out, the conclusion that Hitler was not the primary agent responsible for starting World War II simply defies common sense. Taylor would have us believe that the inept statesmen of Britain, France, Poland, and the Soviet Union all blundered into a war that no one, not even Hitler, wanted. Much of the blame is put on the obstinacy of Poland and the pusillanimity of the French, but he also says some scathing things about the moral hypocrisy of the British government, for whom taking the high road to peace meant sacrificing the smaller countries of Europe. As implausible as the thesis is, this book has the virtue of not being boring; it is written with a lot of dry English wit that makes it a pleasure to read. But unfortunately it gives fuel to revisionists.

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  1. It’s been 20 years since I read this book, but I remember discussing this question in class: Is Taylor just winding us up? Pulling his readers’ legs?

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