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The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930's

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  253 ratings  ·  37 reviews
A magisterial, unprecedented overview of the clouded and turbulent years before World War II.
It was a decade dominated worldwide by the Great Depression, by unemployment and hardship; a time when human achievement was matched by pervasive fear; when the great neon metaphors of hope that rose up after World War I--Broadway, Piccadilly Circus, the Kurfurstendamm, the Ginza-
Hardcover, 795 pages
Published October 3rd 2000 by Alfred A. Knopf (first published April 27th 2000)
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Justin Evans
Brendon tried to the impossible with this book- there's just no way anyone can squeeze a decade as crazy as the thirties into one book. Given that though, he did a great job of laying out the facts. But don't come to this book expecting explanation. The vast majority of it reads like the work of an immensely talented autodidact historian who has completely lost his ability to follow a thought through an entire paragraph. This is seemingly by design- "this tome," Brendon says, "is a parcel of epi ...more
Very much a prequel to your average one volume history of World War II, explaining how the major powers ended up getting drawn into a destructive war. Brendon's tack is to tackle each country's history individually, giving a chapter on the rise of Hitler after one on the Depression in America and the election of FDR.

This is a fine device so long as most governments were interested in tackling their own internal problems. It provides a nice understated way of showing that liberal politicians all
Piers Brendon is Britain's keeper of the Churchill Archives. This is hardly his first work. In addition to the expected Churchill biography, he's also written a couple of books on the Windsors, wrote the well-received "Emminent Edwardians" and even a biography on Ike. But for majesterial scope, its hard to imagine any book better than this.

Brendon calls his work a "panorama" of the 1930s and indeed it is. Like most of you who might check out this blog, I know something about the 30s. Munich, th
Well that was epic! I don't think I've ever consulted a dictionary, Wikipedia and Google Translate as frequently as I did while reading this doorstopper. But Brendon does exactly what he promises: gives a comprehensive overview of the events of the 1930s which led to WWII. If you've ever wondered how Japan even got involved with the Axis powers, or why the Spanish Civil War had so many foreign fighters, this is the book for you.

Brendon focuses each chapter on one of the primary combatants of WW
Claire S
My daughter will be assigned readings from this in her history class this year. Sounds fascinating! Oddly (or not so), the teacher mentioned the kids often don't like it much. Yet they'll know it's there as they get older and wiser, and they can return and appreciate it later (certainly most do). (perhaps).

The especially interesting thing about this is that it approaches these events and this period from an epistemological perspective. That is, it's all about what people thought they knew, why
A monumental history of the Depression and the march towards war, covering the period from the stock market crash in late 1929 until the German tanks rolled into Poland in September, 1939. It is astoundingly good. Brendon is a masterful storyteller with a gift for both synthesis and exposition. His short, biographical sketches of the major players of the period are themselves worth the price of admission. Indeed, his introduction of Churchill (pages 604-610) should be taught in the universities ...more
I was of two minds with this book. That is, I thought it possessed one great merit and a plethora of demerits, some big and others small. Its one great merit is as a work of comparative history. In historiography and in the actual practice of history, there is a continuing debate as to what constitutes "good history". Practically speaking, however, the historical academy is currently set up in such a way as to primarily encourage and reward a very tight focus by scholars on their own particular ...more
Simon Wood

Having found Piers Brendon's "The Decline and Fall of the British Empire" an entertaining and informative read I turned with a sense of expectation to his earlier work: a global history of Auden's low dishonest decade "The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s".

This 600 page tome is a massive montage of anecdotes, events and personalities that in combination with Brendon's well reasoned analysis, readable and sharply witty prose are woven together into a seamless whole that cha
I often think of this as the best book I have ever read. It is for sure top two.
This is a very well written history book about the world in the 1930's. The time of depression, growth of fascism, nazism and Japanese fanatsism, that eventually led to World War II.
What makes this different from other history books, is the very personal way the stories are told. Little details such as that Stalin slept on a very hard bed, makes you connect and better understand these people. Imagine what may have dr
To be perfectly honest, I would never have evn touched this book if it was required reading for a class that had few requirements. That siad upon reading it I actually enjoyed it. It was sry and packed full of infromation to the point of being an Atlas with sentences, but it was fun. Tid bits and stories of some of the major characters gave the well needed comic relief. Again to be perfectly honest this book really accomplished its hob well meaning that it made me well ready for the test. My poi ...more
A rollicking tour through a grim decade that continues
to darken everything in its wake. The writing is fleet
and vibrant but cannot shed a hint of the tabloid in
its persistent allusion to the sexual mores of the
central characters, and in the histrionic descriptions
of those characters' physiognomies. Despite these weird
tics, it's an efficient and absorbing overview from
which to refer to more considered accounts that do
justice to the unprecedented horrors of the times.
Robert Morrow
Where to begin? This is a very comprehensive history of the 1930's focused on the nations that would become the belligerents in World War II: France, Great Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan and the United States. When you have finished the book, you will have a very good understanding of the fear-driven insanity that dominated much of the thinking in the decade of the Great Depression. At times shockingly depressing (the Rape of Nanking, Stalin's continuous murder-fest, the barbar ...more
Matthew Griffiths
An excellent account of the depression era and the inexorable descent into war. The book follows the process by which each of the main states that are focussed on (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, USA, USSR and Japan) came to find themselves in the positions of 1939 before the outbreak of the second world war. The main focus of the book I would argue is the missed opportunities both economically and diplomatically to preserve peace and prevent the destruction of the war. Brendon does an ex ...more
A dense, yet utterly readable account of the inter-war years. Brandon, puts forward a broad interpretation of how events unfolded to cause the world to return to war a generation after the Great War. This interpretation is unsurprisingly rooted in developments within and between nation-states.

Brandon also has a wonderful stock of illustrative anecdotes that keep the pages turning. It is these anecdotes, about leaders and ordinary people that give a personal sense of the mindset and day-to-day o
Timothy Fitzgerald
I was looking for a book to continue the timeline from Paris:1919. The Dark Valley really does a great job of bridging the gap between World War 1, Versailles, and World War 2. There is an overwhelming amount of material, but I think Brendon went just deep enough to make this a comprehensive resource on the era without getting bogged down by too much detail. By documenting the circumstances of the depression in Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Russia, and the US, Brendon successfully conveyed the ...more
Linda Munro
I was seeking information on the 1930's Depression because most people blieve the Depression was something associated aolely with the USA. This is a huge book, with tons of information including the rise of Hitler and Mussolini as well as the armement of the Japanese Imperial Army. I do admit that I skimmed a great portion of this book; however, it provided me with the info I was seeking and more. The info gleaned from this book, in conjunction with the book "The War to end all Wars' one can eas ...more
William Ramsay
This is an excellent book and highly recommended to anyone interested in 20th century history. It's subtitled 'A Panorama of the 1930s' and deals with the conditions in Germany, Italy, Japan, England, France, and the US. I've read a lot of history about the second world war. This book filled in a lot of details that are generally missed about why the war started. The most interesting part, to me, was the description of pre-war Japan. (For instance, Tojo, one of the key players in the road to war ...more
Brilliant, cinematic, utterly illuminating...Ok that's the Financial Times. I'm fighting through a bout of laziness and apathy.

Brandon starts at the close of WWII with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and explores its effect on all involved parties. He also gives a survey of the respective countries and leaders who would become influential in WWII and beyond.

Just started but it's a great read so far. Excellent insight into the infamous personalities such as Hirohito, Hitler and Mussolini
Rally Soong
One of the best I've read. I love the witty tone and the character sketches the author was able to draw of all the big names of the time. The Nazi leadership comes off as nutty as they really were, and the descriptions of nazi leadership meetings are funny as each leader had their own fad diet that they followed. The stories about FDR, Churchill, Stalin, Franco were all so well done I couldn't put it down. The writer took the tone of both historian and a magazine profile writer and mixed in some ...more
Peter King
The Dark Valley is rightly called a panorama because it circles the globe. While we are arguably in a major recession at the moment it is nothing as profound or indeed evocative as the darkness which fell on the world between the wars. Certainly The Dark Valley is light on events in India or China but it does capture the existential shock of World War One and the echoes which ripples through the subsequent decades. Not always accurate in its hirtory the Dark Valley is more about a spiritual tran ...more
A lot of books are devoted to WWII but really the decade leading up to it is much more fascinating. This book gives a great analysis of the different participants of the war in the years leading up to it. The large focus makes it impossible to give true in depth description to any of them. But it does let you compare and contrast the effects of the hardships of the 1930's on each country. And it gives you a broader understanding of how everything went wrong.

I may be giving it more stars than it
An stunning achievement. Focuses on Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, Japan, and the US -- the nations that were to be the major players in WWII -- but also covers the situation in China and Spain. Presented with a clarity that makes it possible to keep all the many people, places, and events in order. And all told in elegant prose, with even a bit of droll humor occasionally. It is a long, dense book, but worth every minute of the time ti takes to read it.
This book is an excellent survey of the world in the 1930s, with somewhat disconcerting insights into our current national political/democratic/social discourse (or lack thereof). A must read for Conservatives(and Liberals)who do not understand the true meaning of "socialism" - that is, the events of the 1930s as revealed by the author were far scarier than most of us could ever begin to imagine, a place none of us would care to visit.
Martin Turnbull
This is a very densely-worded, highly-cogent, intimately-detailed account of the global political world of 1930s giving an in-depth and vastly comprehensive account of the reasons that brought about the stock market crash and subsequent Depression which were, in turn, the factors that eventually coalesced into bringing about WWII. It took me nearly 18 months to get through it but it was a very interesting, if perhaps weighty read.
Bryn Young-roberts
An exciting read that really takes the reader into the issues of the era. Brendon really does manage to cover all major events that led to the war in the 30s and discusses them from all angles. My only criticism is that he likes to show off his latin at every possible occasion, but even this doesnt slow down the pace of a well researched and expertly writen book.
I am finding this book an excellent accompaniment for Allan Furst's novels, many of which are set in this period. It is not an exhaustive history, but moves around the globe detailing the rise of fascism, Stalinism, and the crisis of capitalism in Europe and Asia.
Good overview of an international overview of the 1930s. Each chapter focuses on a specific nation (with some nations visited multiple times as the 1930s go on). Sometimes a little tricky to follow, as the chronology therefore jumps back and forth.
David Mccormick
An absolutely fantastic overview of the 1930s focusing on the key players in the second world war. The personalities (including minor functionaries and cabinet members) come alive, and writing is exceptional.
Jul 24, 2007 Precious added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for:'s a great ready
Shelves: alreadyread
I seriously couldn't stop reading it. It was not a short book and I wish it had been longer! The author does a great job with his subject matter, and I would love to read more by him.
A memorable book; I want to read it again. I love a book that forces me often to look up word definitions. One of the best history books I've read (and that is a long list).
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British historian and freelance writer.
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“So the Ukraine came to resemble “one vast Belsen.” 93 A population of “walking corpses” struggled to survive on a diet of roots, weeds, grass, bark and furry catkins.94 They devoured dogs, cats, snails, mice, ants, earth-worms. They boiled up old skins and ground down dry bones. They even ate horse-manure for the whole grains of seed it contained. Cannibalism became so commonplace that the OGPU received a special directive on the subject from Moscow and local authorities issued hundreds of posters announcing that “EATING DEAD CHILDREN IS BARBARISM.” 95 Some peasants braved machine-guns in desperate assaults on grain stockpiles. Others robbed graves for gold to sell in Torgsin shops. Parents unable to feed their offspring sent them away from home to beg. Cities such as Kiev, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Poltava, Odessa and Belgorod were overrun by pathetic waifs with huge heads, stunted limbs and swollen bellies. Arthur Koestler said that they “looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles.” 96” 0 likes
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