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The Origins of the Second World War

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  804 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
One of the most popular and controversial historians of the twentieth century, who made his subject accessible to millions, A.J.P. Taylor caused a storm of outrage with this scandalous bestseller. Debunking what were accepted truths about the Second World War, he argued provocatively that Hitler did not set out to cause the war as part of an evil master plan, but blundered ...more
Published January 15th 1996 by Simon and Schuster (first published 1961)
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Catch-22 by Joseph HellerJames and the Giant Peach by Roald DahlFranny and Zooey by J.D. SalingerValley of the Dolls by Jacqueline SusannThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Best Books of 1961
33rd out of 75 books — 55 voters
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienPride and Prejudice by Jane AustenThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. LewisJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëShakespeare's Sonnets by William Shakespeare
The Telegraph: The Perfect Library
59th out of 100 books — 23 voters

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Community Reviews

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Feb 10, 2009 Trevor rated it it was amazing
There is much to commend in A.J.P. Taylor’s provocative revisionist study of the origins of the Second World War. The book is rich in argument and strong in analysis, but above all the theme that stands out is Taylor’s portrayal of Hitler as an ordinary German who achieved his objectives through patience – by letting the failures of others become his successes. This is a controversial argument for good reason: if Hitler was an ordinary German, what does that say about average Germans and their c ...more
Nat Kidder
Apr 02, 2016 Nat Kidder rated it it was amazing
Well written, well thought-out revisionist history of what engendered mankind's bloodiest conflict. While I disagree with some of Taylor's points (particularly in regards to the local situation in Danzig), and I think he doesn't stress trade wars enough, I find his thesis more convincing than that conventional version.

Taylor's main point is that statesmen, even dictatorial ones, are more the creation of their countries than the other way around. Moreover, even dictators realize that while their
Joe Moody
Nov 25, 2015 Joe Moody rated it it was amazing
A.J.P. Taylor’s publication of The Origins of the Second World War provoked controversy on its release in 1961 and gained Taylor a reputation as a revisionist. Taylor’s popularity as a broadcaster brought him into legendary television debates with the likes of Hugh Trevor-Roper and many other historians, this subject being one of the more heated arguments. General sentiment scolded Taylor for not putting enough blame on Hitler, a leader with no plan for starting the war, demonstrating no lust f ...more
Jul 16, 2013 Jon rated it it was amazing
I first read parts of this controversial book in college many years ago. Re reading this historical book has given me a new insight into how Hitler used conventional foreign diplomacy in most instances until the Second World War started. Taylor lays out a good case that Hitler waited patiently for Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Rhineland to cave into his demands but was unwilling to pursue these goals if the British or French were serious in their threats of military intervention. This inaction ...more
Mark Singer
Now I know what all of the fuss was about. This is less of a history lesson and more of a hand grenade tossed into the street of public opinion. Taylor liked to make pithy comments and outrageous claims; and his book set the course of writing about the origins of WWII for decades. To his credit, in 1961 the received opinion was that Hitler had a plan, kept to the schedule, and that Germany alone was guilty. The correction that Taylor made was that the inept leadership of the United Kingdom and F ...more
Jan 23, 2016 Jerry-Book rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, ww-ii
We all know Hitler was the cause of World War II along with Japan. Don't we? This British author and academic attempts to spread the blame around. He focuses on the mistakes made by the countries of Central Europe as well as France and Germany. His thesis is Hitler had no plan for world wide conquest. Instead, he attempts to portray Hitler as a Bismarck like leader who is only interesting in building the German nation. He also asserts rather than having a plan Hitler was simply an opportunist wh ...more
Aug 20, 2015 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Taylor's authority is etched on each page, the master of his craft as he weaves the endless bickerings, jealousies, over-strident pride and posturing of politicians and leaders between the two world wars. Though he does appear to err on the side of British thinking, this is understandable for a man of his time and with more opportunity to study primary and other historical records. In this he is helped by being a contemporary of the events, and therefore armed with his own observations pertinent ...more
Feb 19, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it
The Origins of the Second World War was an approachable, understandable, and freestanding work of understanding the problems, and actions of European statesman following WWI and leading to the beginning of WWII.

AJP Taylor tried to return to the interwar period and explain the actions of those during that time as if he did not know the outcome by using correspondence, official policy, and archives.

For me, it was fascinating to see just how hectic, chaotic, and unknowable things were back then. I
James Bunyan
Sep 22, 2015 James Bunyan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Taylor is such an excellent writer that this is a joy to read. Not only are the facts presented in a clear way but his ideas were hugely significant for revising the debate surrounding the beginnings of the war, in that he was one of the first historians to lay a large portion of the blame at the feet of France and England.
As far as I can tell, the shortcomings of his thesis are:
-no comment on how understanding of Hitler's domestic policy affected relations with other powers
-asserting quite stro
Michael D
Aug 18, 2012 Michael D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Superb account of the events that lead to WW2 from mostly the European perspective. Taylor's major thesis here, and a controversial one at that, is to show how little Hitler planned the war campaign and merely had to wait for western powers to stumble over themselves like drunken tarts on high heels to give him what he wanted by using bluffs and impeccable timing.

The author's withering judgment is harsh on all save the Czech leader Benes who is possibly the sole political figure to emerge from t
Nov 28, 2010 Sandy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book which seeks to upend the conventional narrative about the causes underlying the most devastating war in human history. At the time of its original publication in the early 1960s, this book caused quite a lot of controversy, namely because Taylor had the intellectual confidence (some would call it arrogance) to put forth an investigation of the muddled, timid diplomacy of the West in the inter-war period which pins the blame for the war on a number of actors and events on all sid ...more
Nov 25, 2011 Billy rated it liked it
I didn't know too much about the second world war so this was a great book for me. The writing is a little bit choppy at times but if you are interested in the subject then it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Recently I have been playing a lot of risk and trying to learn how to play axis and allies so when I saw this book I thought it would be a good idea to learn something about WWII to improve my gaming abilities.
The book starts with the treaty of Versailles and ends with Germany's invasio
Nov 01, 2011 Brian rated it liked it
AJ P Taylor is one of the master historians of the European era and this book is one of the clear reasons why. Taylor analyzes the data available at the time and clearly and concisely traces the reasons for the outbreak of the Second World War. Starting with the Treaty of Versailles and moving up through the new diplomatic outlook created from Locarno. The failure of the Locarno system becomes evident in the disastrous disarmament talks and the four power pact by Mussolini. Germany's rise to pow ...more
Mar 14, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR. (1961; this ed. 2008). A. J. P. Taylor. ****.
This is not a book that you can pick up and read with no former knowledge of WW II or the various prevailing attitudes of historians after the fact. Taylor (1906-1990) was one of the most famous historians in england who dealt primarily with English history, but specialized in WW II. He became widely known because of his many appearances on TV in debates with other historians. This is the type of program that woul
Aug 17, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I found this book informative and frustrating in equal measure. The frustration was on no part the fault of the author, but of the people within the book whose involvement in the build up to war make you want to scream, and it’s not necessarily the people you might expect. There were so many chances to turn things around, to halt the progress to war which we are told these days, was inexorable, to conciliate, to compromise, to intervene, to act decisively. None of these opportunities were taken ...more
The author proposes a theory. Hitler was not that bad. He was just a latter day Bismarck. He was just trying to right the wrongs of WW I. He had no dreams of world wide conquest. He just wanted to extend the German frontier in the East. Hitler just kept pushing and European leaders kept caving in. So, he kept on pushing. Didn't Bismarck do the same thing in the 19th century to unify Germany? At every step of the way Hitler could have been stopped but the feckless European leaders failed to do it ...more
Aug 18, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
I'm by no means an historian. I have read a few accounts of World War 2 and some of my conclusions kind of align with Taylor's, that Hitler was not solely responsible for WW2, the allied powers have to shoulder some of the responsibility for the concessions they made to Hitler's Germany. The author does seem to make a lot of presumptions/assumptions however that I don't buy. Would the war have happened if Hitler did not become dictator? Really great question that of course we can't answer. Taylo ...more
Jacob Wolinsky
Jun 13, 2015 Jacob Wolinsky rated it did not like it
The most disappointing book i ever read - i know the arguments from reading of hundreds of other books but was shocked at some bolder claims the author made with scant evidence - i guess if it was not hyped as much would have gotten a 2 or 3 instead of 1 - will try to get into why i found the book very week if time permits
Peter Harrison
Aug 28, 2014 Peter Harrison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb, challenging deconstruction of European foreign policies in the run up to the start of the second world war. I first read this book when studying history at A level. Coming back to it so many years later it's still very persuasive. A good accompaniment to Ian Kershaw's two volume biography of Hitler.
Ad Samad
May 10, 2014 Ad Samad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the past few weeks, i was feeling like I'm there — at the start of WW2. At times, my heart was beating fast with anxiety, anticipating the nightmare of what was about to happen.

If what brought the WW2 didn't happen — the the complexity of issues, the origins of the great war — no great writers could have invented such story.

What a great read.
Darran Mclaughlin
Jan 17, 2012 Darran Mclaughlin rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, british, war
Crisply written revisionist history of the origins of the Second World War. It is focussed upon the political and diplomatic situation in the window between the end of WW1 and the beginning of WW2. It is well argued but it was short and I think Taylor assumed more familiarity with the the history of the period than many people are equipt with today. I didn't know enough to tell if there were facts he was ignoring or if his interpretation of anything was particularly controversial. Still, blaming ...more
Aug 01, 2015 Ratratrat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: storia, 2015
Taylor sempre un po' controcorrente scarica molte colpe sulle democrazie incerte e decise ad evitare una nuova guerra,c osti quel che costi. A leggerlo, sembra quasi che Hitler alla guerra ci sia arrivato.. per caso
Jan 02, 2014 Kumar rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-ficition
The ideas conveyed in this book are quite something - they reveal an image of Hitler which has been marred by his portrayal as a Nihilist (excluding his antisemitism).
According to me, this book falls short of a great one due to its writing style, as a result of which the book seems a bit boring, and the occasional overload of information.
Otherwise, I must say this is a worthwhile read.
Vangirai Hwenga
May 04, 2016 Vangirai Hwenga rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 24, 2016 Robert rated it it was amazing
An excellent book. Thoroughly researched. It really puts in perspective the bungling and lack of political will that led to WWII, while making a persuasive case that Britain and France chose the wrong issue (the Polish corridor) and the wrong time for confronting Hitler.

As with American policy towards Iran, it shows how lack of political will and courage when the justification for resolve is much clearer can eventually lead to confrontation on a much larger scale with much more ambivalent justi
John Sidwell
Jan 26, 2014 John Sidwell rated it really liked it
Engagingly written and refreshingly distant.
Jun 12, 2013 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"But his policy is capable of rational explanation; and it is on these that history is built" - AJP Taylor

And yet so much of what happened was irrational and serendipitous. The detail of this book is amazing, yet the publication date of 1961 and acknowledged lapses in information from the Soviet Union leave me wondering what has since been recovered from Russian archives to round out the diplomatic maneuverings of this pre-war period.
David Wardell
Jun 04, 2013 David Wardell rated it really liked it
Certainly controversial; takes the view that many (not all) causes of the war were random and sometimes only indirectly related to the objectives of the participants.

The idea isn't as new as the author thinks, but he carries it further than most. Other writers refer to Taylor's ideas as being "discredited," but he supports and explains them well--and often they have the independent merit of simply making sense.
Oct 09, 2008 B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting; a difficult read because of the historical format but definite worth the effort. I learned that even though Hitler is a very twisted individual war was not necessarily his first choice in the conquest of new lands for Germans. The diplomatic and moral blunders of England, France, Russia, and the United States contributed much to the outbreak of general war in Europe.
Mar 20, 2015 Erik rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Erik by: Greg Johnson
Shelves: history
As is so often the case with older history books you are supposed to just take the authors word for it on account of his scholarly authority. Many unsubstantiated assertions without references, arguments or discussion as why it would be the case.
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Alan John Percivale Taylor was a British historian of the 20th century and renowned academic who became well known to millions through his popular television lectures.
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“In retrospect, though many were guilty, none was innocent.” 8 likes
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