The Origins of the Second World War
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The Origins of the Second World War

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  536 ratings  ·  37 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
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Published January 15th 1996 by Simon and Schuster (first published 1961)
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33rd out of 70 books — 51 voters
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Trevor
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
Michael D
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...more
Sandy
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
Billy
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...more
Brian
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
Tony
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...more
Mark
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
Jon
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
Lisa
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
Peter Harrison
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
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
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
Kumar
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.
Robert
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...more
John Sidwell
Engagingly written and refreshingly distant.
Linda
"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
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.
B
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.
Czarny Pies
Aug 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Des amateurs d'historie de la deuxiieme guerre
Recommended to Czarny by: Norman Davies
Shelves: european-history
Plus que cinquante ans apres sa publication en 1962, la grande these de ce livre tient toujours la route. La deuxieme grande guerre s'est declenche a cause de l'obstination des polonais qui contrairement aux Czechs ont refuse de ceder devant les pressions des francais et des anglais de ceder devant les allemands.
Cette histoire raconte de facon courte, breve et efficace.
John
AJP Taylor turns in an excellent academic text... however, I do wonder if he is not slightly biased and sympathetic towards Hitler... He certainly seems to admire him and seems to suggest that Hitler gave us plenty of chances to avoid war... but we simply didn't take them.

Well that's one opinion anyway.
Grindy Stone
An author walks a fine line when trying to point out that Hitler wasn't (initially) a super-villain bent on world conquest, but this guy pulls it off. Might have been a better read if the author didn't point out every chapter how naive and short-sighted other historians are who don't have his take.
Hollis
Easily the most provacative and controversial interpretation of the Second World War. But is it the most convincing? I would say not, although that is beyond my knowledge to make a definite judgement. Either way, it's a great piece of scholarship.
Gray
The author's interpretation of his research is very good (it takes into account a lot of different aspects). The only part of the research that seemed weak was the American side (although given he was in Britain that's understandable).
Overall, quite good!
Ian
If you have heard of this book at all you probably know that it is Controversial. Aside from being Controversial, it is a gripping narrative account of the run-up to the Second World War in Europe.
Dick Welsh
Great work.Kept me thinking long after I put book down.This war did not have to happen.Refer to PatBuchanans book.The French and British failed to act and it cost us 500000 lives.Sucks.
Gregory
Read this book in college and now re-reading. I am interested is how it might relate to the situation in the world today and the possibility of a larger military conflict.
Sarah
The book I was searching for was actually titled "Warlords". Its a quick read and you will learn and understand WWII in a way that they couldn't in school.
Dan Geddes
An enjoyable revisionist account of the origins of the Second World War. Taylor shows how Germany and the Allies stumbled into the war.
Greg D'Avis
First time I've read Taylor since college. Very good, strongly written and persuasive, with a reasonable/calm tone throughout.
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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.
More about A.J.P. Taylor...
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