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The Origins of the Second World War

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,509 ratings  ·  119 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
Paperback, 324 pages
Published January 15th 1996 by Simon and Schuster (first published 1961)
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Feb 07, 2009 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
Feb 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: second-world-war
In this book Taylor argues that Hitler's foreign policy goals were like any other contemporary German statesman's and that World War II was just as much the fault of the allies as the Germans due to their flawed diplomacy. I think Taylor is totally wrong about Hitler, but this is a well written account and the author is on much firmer ground when discussing the general European situation after WWI and the negotiations between the Allies before 1939. Taylor's notion is that Hitler never meant wha ...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
Brian Griffith
Sep 01, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: europe
Well, he plays devil's advocate, but maybe that's a useful device. Maybe for historians, understanding people is more important than deciding who was right. Could be better than assuming the ones we understand best must be the right ones. ...more
Adam Balshan
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars [History]
(W: 3; U: 3; T: 2.25)
Exact rating: 2.75

In this book, Taylor details the lead-up to the Second World War. He claims that he is just doing history and that no one could know how WWII could be avoided. However, he contends that Hitler didn't really want a larger war, and that poor diplomacy led to it. Taylor is, as is now well-known, correct about Hitler's lack of concrete planning, as well as his surprise at getting himself into a war with Britain. But Taylor displays naivete in
Joseph Langham
Sep 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although at times the complex postwar international relations is difficult to keep track of, Taylor's tracking and analysis of events is expertly written. Although published just 22 years after the outbreak of war, it seems incredibly ahead of its time; most of his important observations are not widely recognised or taught today. Most criticism has been directed at Taylor's supposed vindication of Hitler, yet this is unfounded. Taylor's point that Hitler's desire to redraw the borders and regain ...more
Sep 06, 2014 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
Kirti Upreti
Sep 02, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all."
- Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

Be it fiction or real life, witnesses of our past and observers of our present would testify that the allure of mythology has always bordered on being irresistible. That the ruthless sun makes the puny planets dance appeals both to logic and thrill. Mythology simplifies, ascribes, and thus elucidates.

But some of us choose to study the mechanics of the universe and try to understand forces that are the t
Jason Herrington
Nov 27, 2021 rated it liked it
There’s so much related to WWI & WWII that I don’t know. This book helped fill in some of the gap that is the in-between years, specifically what led to WWII. He points out the connection between the 2 wars & seems to argue that, though Hitler was terrible, there were many bad decisions that contributed to WWII, especially those made by Britain & France.
Jack Glynne-Jones
Jun 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'The Origins of the Second World War', written in 1961, opens with a meditation on how it had only just become possible to say that WW2 was something belonging to 'history'. Roosevelt, Chamberlain, Stalin and Mussolini were all dead, and university lecturers were teaching the war to students who were born after it had begun, and who could not remember its end. AJP Taylor extracts from this the opportunity to properly address the causes of the war, without personal investment warping his analysis ...more
Andrew Foote
Jul 03, 2020 rated it liked it
A for the most part pretty engaging and readable account of how the Second World War broke out, although it does get a bit "one damn fact after another" in the later chapters. I don't know how much I should trust it, given that there was so much controversy about it and it was published only 20 years after these events, so I'm just registering it as one particular narrative which could be given.

That said, I didn't find anything in it particulary shocking or revelatory from a modern perspective.
Sep 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
Seems at first like a very interesting book but gradually the tone and preoccupied accusation, spoils the credibility. A book wherein writer knows best, and explains the origins of WWII by arrogantly accusing everyone, the whole European politics, and Britain in particular. A preoccupied, unscientific piece of work.
Jose Fernando Lopez Fernandez
This book could have been titled "The Comedy Central Roast of British Foreign Policy in the Interwar Years." My favorite line is "[he] was as able intellectually as any British foreign secretary of the twentieth century -perhaps not a very high standard." We like to blame Hitler for World War II, but the Allied incompetence played a large part as well. ...more
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Origins of the Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor takes a look at how the cease fire and armistice at the conclusion of World War I set up the conditions that led inevitably to World War II. The victorious allies demands placed on Germany as reparations as well as restrictions on Germany's military size were thought to keep such a war from recurring. Instead it created such poverty and hard times on the general population it left them susceptible to the promises of better times from from a ch ...more
Peter Bartley
Aug 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
AJP Taylor refused to make the origins of World War Two a personality contest with good and evil players. Instead he traces the socio political/economic issues leading to the conflict, including the gradual erosion of the Treaty of Versailles and the ambivalence Britain and France had towards the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. With the benefit of hindsight, it is all to easy to see how the failure of the mainstream political class to address the issues of the day feeds the fascist agenda. AJP Ta ...more
Tim Phillips
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Detailed, if controversial, book about the causes of WWII. Originally published in 1961 (the copy I read is a good old tattered version from 1965 with yellowed pages which I got from a book market for EUR 1) A.J.P. Taylor suggested that Hitler's foreign policy was opportunistic rather than following some sort of preordained master plan. Either way a well written and interesting read. ...more
Aug 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed it. Great insight into the period in the run up to WWII and the mistakes that were made in not addressing the fascist menace when it was on the rise. The fact that it was originally written some sixteen years after the war's end and how comprehensive it is under 300 pages, makes it all the more worth a revisit. I borrowed it from a library but have since bought a copy. ...more
Ceyran Məmmədova
Nov 05, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is for the people who want to be reminded of the peculiarities of military strategies of WW2, mostly from the perspective of Great Britain
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One detailed therefore complicated book covering complicated diplomatic dealings among many countries with changing diplomates, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Leaders, politicall parties etc. Hats off for the late A. J. P. Taylor for writing it.
Jacob Wolinsky
Jun 06, 2015 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
Friedrich Mencken
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.
Thomas Achord
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Refreshingly clear narrative. Similar chain of causation found in Buchanan.
Wesley Fleure
Aug 04, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, the-long-war

The good: very readable, I was hooked from the beginning and it was almost a ‘page turner’ in terms of wanting to know what came next; despite knowing the story

The first couple of chapters. I have read, studied and even taught this period, a lot, but even I found the grasp and explanation of interwar diplomatic relations in Europe to be eye opening and thought provoking. It competently challenges a lot of preconceptions and broad stroke explanations of why each country acted as it did.

I think i
Taylor writes with an unusual sense of humor, but his account of the events that led to the Second World War is extremely flawed. In spite of his lack of resources - especially from the Soviet perspective, he makes too many unreasonable assumptions and explains away too many inconvenient truths with no more than a wave of his hand. Still, altogether a very enjoyable read. I particularly enjoyed Taylor's unabashed disdain for all parties in this conflict, and especially the sarcasm with which he ...more
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A hugely controversial book when first published in 1961, which gets this its fourth star from me, it challenged the way historians assessed the causes of the Second World War. The central narrative is that Hitler did not have a grand plan for war and European domination, which he had signposted in Mein Kampf, rather he operated in the broadly traditional model of foreign affairs and grand politics, securing Central European domination by guile and opportunism. The incompetence, and self-centred ...more
Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, war
One and probably the only remarkable bright spot of this book, was its unconventional analysis of Hitler's militaristic actions and the attribution of causation to the Treaty of Versailles. Taylor argued that, contrary to traditional views which held that Hitler was an intentional warmongering madman, the seed of WWII was planted as early as 1918 and Hitler was nothing more than a catalyst -- a conclusion that I personally didn't find very revolutionary. I feel that anyone with basic understandi ...more
Paul McFadyen
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very dense book, written in a dry style - don't expect lots of modern-style narrative, designed to put you in the room, or much in the way of first-hand accounts/dialogue.

Really thorough, however, in focusing on just the bald facts of period correspondence & records and it delivers what was for the time a very bold set of conclusions about just how warlike Hitler was in the late 30s.

Not having read any more recent books on the same topic, I'm unclear as to what new evidence has since come to l
Well, I can understand why this was controversial when it first came out, a mere 16 years after the end of WWII. With the War in common memory, I can see that some people may have considered Taylor as an apologist for Hitler - even if that isn't obviously the case at much further distance from events. I wonder if his "Second Word", at the beginning, laying his defense against that claim was accepted at the time.

Either way, there's no disputing that this was probably one of the first books which
Tom Schulte
It seems this book is in three acts:

I: Origins of WW II hardly matter really since ultimately all it did was confirm the Treaty of Versailles since little changes to borders and sovereignty actually happened due to WW II

II: Instead of origins, we really are talking about a chronological order of foreign policy preludes in granular detail making up the bulk of the book. (Basically, Hitler was a whining paper tiger unable to back up threats while accepting all offers of conciliation)

III: A rebutt
Chuck  Sheldon
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting take of the origins of the second world war. A.J.P Taylor states that European diplomats made numerous errors when dealing with the threat of Nazi Germany, particularly Chamberlain who attempted to appease Hitler. He also believed that Hitler was no different than other western leaders which I disagree with. Hitler was a big picture type of guy who outlined his racial world view and his plan for German expansion in Mein Kampf. These ideas were well known amongst European leaders, Sta ...more
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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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