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1939: Countdown To War

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  225 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A leading historian re-creates the final hours of peace in Europe.
On August 24, 1939, the world held its collective breath as Hitler and Stalin signed the now infamous nonaggression pact, signaling an imminent invasion of Poland and daring Western Europe to respond.
In this dramatic account of the final days before the outbreak of World War II, award-winning historian R
Hardcover, 158 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Allen Lane (first published January 1st 2009)
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This is a very quick read, worthwhile for anyone interested in the thinking of Hitler, as well as the leaders of the English, French, and Poles, in the week immediately preceeding the breakout of World War II. Hitler was determined to have Danzig and his Polish corridor, and was willing to believe that the French and British would back down rather than enter into a war over the matter. The British and French, on the other hand, hoped that their strong stance in support of Poland, and their state ...more
David Nichols
Overy packs a great deal of analysis into this very short book, which covers the ten days between the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the outbreak of World War Two from the perspective of British, French, and German leaders. His argument is that in times of crisis leaders' thinking skills tend to be compromised and constricted by physical and mental exhaustion. After a week or so of confrontation, Chamberlain, Daladier, and Hitler became mentally "boxed in" and were unable to consider more than one ...more
It's not necessarily that this is a bad book, but rather that Overy has already written The Road to War , an excellent work offering a much broader investigation of the leadup to war. (Both in terms of the period covered and the nations involved.)

1939 presents a more focused view, narrowing in on a handful of events for a trio of actors. [Germany, Great Britain, and France. Poland gets a bit of discussion, but as they were largely a passive actor in terms of whether it would be a local war or a
The build-up to the outbreak of war in 1939 is normally told as a long, slow – and seemingly inevitable – descent into conflict that began with Hitler’s rise to power. In “1939: Countdown to War”, Richard Overy tells the story of the last ten days of the conflict. It is a gripping tale of brinkmanship that reminds us that the past is never scripted, and that hindsight never helps the historian.

By the end of August, Hitler was convinced that the French and the British would “chicken out” from com
This slim volume focuses with heart-in-mouth breathlessness on the scant few days between August 24 and September 3, 1939, when Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France teeter on the brink of a war that is to be far larger than the one Hitler originally wanted. Overy lays out, with great precision, the back story of Hitler’s frustrated push for a war with Czechoslovakia the year before, and his eagerness to reclaim the land he believes was unfairly appropriated for Poland du ...more
Overy, in straightforward and highly readable prose, presents the case that there was more to the belligerency of 1939 that led to WWII than just Hitler and Stalin's ambitions. While not breaking new ground, Overy's book serves an important purpose in informing the public that Poland was not an entirely innocent victim of Nazi and Soviet aggression. A European middle-power in its own right, Poland annexed its own slice of the Czechoslovakian pie at the same time that Germany was applying the scr ...more
John McCaffrey
I'm fascinated right now with this period in history - the lead up to WWII. Richard Overy's book provides a clear, concise, and well-referenced description of the five days before Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Overy provides the reader with a non-judgemental, transparent view into the negotiations and attempts made by the French and English to stop Hitler from seizing Poland, and also gives equal footing to the German side, to the in-fighting among Nazi leadership and d ...more
Mike Dettinger
Quick read about the last 10 days before the beginning of ww2. All the diplomatic and military intrigues as the face off over poland was set up and then crumbled down upon Europe is told day by day with a startling level of uncertainty as to why in the end the war was undertaken. At its great, hitler did not believe Britain and France would ever fight; and Britain and France believed that honor required at long last that they engage Germany directly. But they didn't until later. It's one more ex ...more
David Lowther
An excellent short book which detailed the tumultuous events which led up to the outbreak of war in September 1939.
Richard Overy, an outstanding historian of this period, has made use of his extensive knowledge, obtained from years of thorough research, to spell out in great detail just how war became inevitable once Hitler had shown his determination to annexe both Danzig and the Polish corridor.
This is a fine and utterly invaluable work for anyone who wishes to understand why the Second World
Kristi Richardson
"It is evil things that we will be fighting against—brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution—and against them I am certain that the right will prevail." Neville Chamberlain 1939

This is a great short book on the last year before World War II started. It ends with Great Britain's declaration of war, calling Hitler's bluff.

What I found fascinating is the failure in intelligence on both countries. Britain thought they could get Hitler to back down from his bullying and Hitler th
Sometimes it's probably nice to be short. Other times being short might only seem nice, but detracts from being good. Without further context, one might get the idea here that Hitler was looking for an easy way to get, or carve up, Poland, and that once he had succeeded in that effort, all would be well and life could go on with a, now, sated Germany. I'm sorry but there seems little evidence to support that in any histories I've ever read - Hitler was not going to be happy until he had it all.
Tara Busch
I appreciated the concise and detailed account of the weeks leading up to WWII… with the large cast of characters is was easy to mix up who's who so I would have preferred a detailed index or cheat sheet of the various players from each country, but overall this was a great read, especially for Americans who often forget about the European origins of the war… Also important to understand the way these weeks shaped ideologies of cold warriors of the 1950's & 1960's
David Campbell
A highly readable, fast-paced historical examination of the events leading up to the outbreak of WWII, written by a most esteemed scholar on the subject. It reads like a thriller, and beyond the obvious reasons that it is one, it is well laid out, highly descriptive, and full of insights into the personalities and events that shaped the outbreak of war. Highly recommended - and it won't take you three days to read it!
I started reading this because I want some background information for my novel. It's like history readings assigned in class, but it does a good job explaining how the war started, and what stand each side took from the beginning to the end (of the start of war). Sometimes the facts and numbers can get a bit dry but the conclusion part sums everything up in a simple way.
This book reads like a single ominous antebellum drumbeat that gets more hair-raising as it goes along and actually induced chills at the start of war. The details are positively fascinating in that a) wow, all this went down! and b) all that went down is known in history! This is quite a valuable book from which a great many lessons can be derived. An important experience.
1939: Count down to War by Richard Overy was a concise history of the last two weeks of August before the Second World War broke out. It's mostly a history of diplomacy. Overy is very good at narrating the multiple prongs of the many attempts at avoiding - what was perceived - an unnecessary war. The war was unavoidable - probably. This history shows why and how.
Denise Hall
I was looking for a factual book on this very subject and this book sufficed. It was a little "wordy" but the main points of the causes of WW2, for what it was, are here. There may be better books but I chose this one - in my research of WW2, specifically the Holocaust.
Concise, clear, and complex: an approachable and detailed look at the weeks preceding the start of the Second World War. Brief (barely more than a hundred pages in the paperback edition) but tightly focused.
Ron Coulter
The audio edition fit nicely into a long Saturday car ride. Informative summary of the events leading up to the invasion of Poland and Great Britain's and France's declarations of war on Germay.
I'm no history buff, but I do have an interest in history when it's well written, and this was certainly the kind of history that did interest me. I had no inkling of the politics that lay behind the build-up to the invasion of Poland, nor was I aware that Hitler's real ambition was only to invade Poland in what he called a local war rather than taking on all of Europe. This is a great read for novice history readers like myself. I understand from reading other's reviews that the author has done ...more
I listened to this book in audiobook format. It was very insightful and provided a side to the story that you normally don't hear.
Matt Farrugia
Richard Overy has succeeded in giving the reader a full picture of the political state of affairs during the last days of peacetime and the first days of the war. Why did Hitler cancel the start of the war on the 26th of August? Why were Britain and France so keen to guarantee Polish independence? What were the implications for Britain and France should they gave Hitler a free hand in Eastern Europe? I think the author has also successfully answered the question to why did Britain and France com ...more
I wish I could say I really enjoyed reading this ten day countdown to World War II, but for reasons unrelated to its content it was just too much work.

Also for those same reasons I can't comment whether this book deserves the fourth star I'm withholding now.

1939: Countdown to War (1939 Nedräkningen till andra världskriget) isn't an easy read in any language. Its focus is too narrow for any casual reader for the devil truly is in the details. By concentrating solely on the last days of peace and
The assumptions made by all sides during the days leading up to the start of WWII - from the west that Hitler could ever be persuaded to not invade Poland, from Hitler that the west would allow him to annex Poland like he did the Sudetenland, and from the Poles that they were ever getting out of this thing alive - look fantastic in retrospect.
Doug Saunders
This was an interesting historical read that provided insight into the events that led up to World War 2. I enjoyed it and would recommend it
This book was a fast read, and a solid background to the last days of peace in August, 1939. It moved well, and portrayed all the leading Allied statesmen of the time in both positive and negative light (I say Allied because it is hard to make Hitler's drive to war seem anything but reckless and predatory).

I think that Overy kind of overplays the role of contigency in his analysis, and ultimately ends on an unsatisfying note. Yes, the British and French postured, and hoped that they could proje
A short read but an extraordinarily interesting account of the final events leading up to the start of World War 2, and in particular covers the dates 24th August to 3 September 1939. Under the spotlight are the leaders (Hitler, Chamberlain, Deladier) and the diplomats and bit players in this tragedy. Overy's conclusion is well-argued:
"For all the rhetoric of honour, the reality of war in 1939 was not to save Poland from a cruel occupation but to save Britain and France from the dangers of a di
Quick but interesting read, great introduction to Overy's writing.
Jan C
Short summary of the lead up to the start of WWII. Well read.
learned some things and now more sympathetic to Chamberlain
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Richard James Overy is a British historian who has published extensively on the history of World War II and the Third Reich.
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