1939: Countdown to War
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

1939: Countdown to War

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  171 ratings  ·  31 reviews
"Overy's book is easily the best account of Europe's descent into...death and destruction." --"Evening Standard" (London)
A brilliantly concise narrative of the days leading to the outbreak of history's greatest conflagration, "1939" takes readers hour by hour through the nail-biting decisions that determined the fate of millions. Richard Overy, a leading historian of the...more
ebook, 176 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2009)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about 1939, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about 1939

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 308)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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
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...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
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...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...more
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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...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...more
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...more
Jan C
Short summary of the lead up to the start of WWII. Well read.
learned some things and now more sympathetic to Chamberlain
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.
This is an odd little book. It deserves top score for the pace and readability (it is as good as it gets) but it simply fails to convince on its main thesis that events on the final days before the war were crucial to the way things went the way they went. Those events were very interesting... but, alas, not that important. In spite of the author stating otherwise, there is no parallel with the 1914 final days and decisions
Philipp Wehmann
Ja, das kann Geschichtsschreibung sein. Ein gut geschriebener Essay (mehr ist es bei aller Wertschätzung dann doch nicht) von gut 120 Seiten, der die letzten zehn Tage vor Ausbruch des 2. Weltkrieges (angesetzt mit der britisch-französischen Kriegserklärung an das Deutsche Reich am 3. September 1939) knapp zusammenfasst und mit der Analyse abschließt, inwiefern der Kriegsausbruch hätte verhindert werden können. Erhellend, und darüber hinaus gut lesbar.
This was a very interesting book on the lead in to Germany invading Poland and the start of World War II. It was also very short, roughly 150 pages which seems oddly short for the subject. However, the author keeps his focus on a fairly short period of time and focuses on England and France, and their response as well as the invasion that nearly happened a few days before September 1. A good read and a quick one as well.
Thomas Tutt
This is a pretty good short-read about the lead up to WWII, and I learned new things. But the scope is really narrow -- it focuses mainly on the few days before the war broke out -- and it doesn't have quite as clear or interesting a narrative as a lot of other good history books do.
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.
A very brief overview of the summer of 1938 and the days leading up to September 1, as well as a few days later. Focuses in on the tense moments experienced by all sides while they were negotiating and trying to take actions to avoid what must have seem like the inevitable...World War II.
A very good analysis of the last days of august 1939 prior to the beginning of hostilities between Germany and Poland. It provides a lot of useful information about policies and decisions made in time of extreme conditions.

This brief 124 page book, easily readable in one day, is a fascinating fast-paced journey through day-to-day diplomacy during the two weeks before the outbreak of World War Two.
"As with all books by this author, very well written and with solid analysis."
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
Richard James Overy is a British historian who has published extensively on the history of World War II and the Third Reich.
More about Richard Overy...
Russia's War: A History of the Soviet Effort: 1941-1945 Why the Allies Won The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia The Battle Of Britain: Myth and Reality The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945

Share This Book