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The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  441 ratings  ·  56 reviews
The 1930s were perhaps the seminal decade in twentieth-century history, a dark time of global depression that displaced millions, paralyzed the liberal democracies, gave rise to totalitarian regimes, and, ultimately, led to the Second World War. In this sweeping history, Piers Brendon brings the tragic, dismal days of the 1930s to life.

From Stalinist pogroms to New Deal p
Paperback, 848 pages
Published January 8th 2002 by Vintage (first published April 27th 2000)
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Mar 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Piers Brendon is Britain's keeper of the Churchill Archives. This is hardly his first work. In addition to the expected Churchill biography, he's also written a couple of books on the Windsors, wrote the well-received "Emminent Edwardians" and even a biography on Ike. But for majesterial scope, its hard to imagine any book better than this.

Brendon calls his work a "panorama" of the 1930s and indeed it is. Like most of you who might check out this blog, I know something about the 30s. Munich, th
Justin Evans
Sep 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc
Brendon tried to the impossible with this book- there's just no way anyone can squeeze a decade as crazy as the thirties into one book. Given that though, he did a great job of laying out the facts. But don't come to this book expecting explanation. The vast majority of it reads like the work of an immensely talented autodidact historian who has completely lost his ability to follow a thought through an entire paragraph. This is seemingly by design- "this tome," Brendon says, "is a parcel of epi ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
covers the long fuse of the 20s and 30s which ignited WWII. The thirties a seen by the players of WWII. Soviets, Germans, Americans, British, Italians, Japanese, French, Spaniards. The Great depression as viewed as the prelude to war as seen through the eyes of the great powers of the time. Fairly straightforward tale but comparing the thirties from the vantage of Americans, Germans, Soviets etc.
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very much a prequel to your average one volume history of World War II, explaining how the major powers ended up getting drawn into a destructive war. Brendon's tack is to tackle each country's history individually, giving a chapter on the rise of Hitler after one on the Depression in America and the election of FDR.

This is a fine device so long as most governments were interested in tackling their own internal problems. It provides a nice understated way of showing that liberal politicians all
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Well that was epic! I don't think I've ever consulted a dictionary, Wikipedia and Google Translate as frequently as I did while reading this doorstopper. But Brendon does exactly what he promises: gives a comprehensive overview of the events of the 1930s which led to WWII. If you've ever wondered how Japan even got involved with the Axis powers, or why the Spanish Civil War had so many foreign fighters, this is the book for you.

Brendon focuses each chapter on one of the primary combatants of WW
Tim Martin
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, history
The 1930s was a "dark, dishonest decade," a time when the nations of the earth were "struggling with one crisis and hurtling towards another," one that turned out to be greatest in history. A grim and gloomy time over much of the world, author Peirs Brendon has chronicled in _The Dark Valley_ that decade with amazing detail and an epic sweep. He wrote that the Great Depression - which was worldwide and hardly limited to the United States - was perhaps the greatest peacetime crisis to afflict the ...more
I was of two minds with this book. That is, I thought it possessed one great merit and a plethora of demerits, some big and others small. Its one great merit is as a work of comparative history. In historiography and in the actual practice of history, there is a continuing debate as to what constitutes "good history". Practically speaking, however, the historical academy is currently set up in such a way as to primarily encourage and reward a very tight focus by scholars on their own particular ...more
Claire S
My daughter will be assigned readings from this in her history class this year. Sounds fascinating! Oddly (or not so), the teacher mentioned the kids often don't like it much. Yet they'll know it's there as they get older and wiser, and they can return and appreciate it later (certainly most do). (perhaps).

The especially interesting thing about this is that it approaches these events and this period from an epistemological perspective. That is, it's all about what people thought they knew, why
Simon Wood
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Having found Piers Brendon's "The Decline and Fall of the British Empire" an entertaining and informative read I turned with a sense of expectation to his earlier work: a global history of Auden's low dishonest decade "The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s".

This 600 page tome is a massive montage of anecdotes, events and personalities that in combination with Brendon's well reasoned analysis, readable and sharply witty prose are woven together into a seamless whole that cha
David Bales
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Mostly the worst of times, the decade of 1929 to 1939 was pretty awful, culminating in the worse loss of life on the planet since the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Divided up into different sections, each deeper than the previous one, Brendon chronicles the slow disintegration of peace and stability worldwide as the Great Depression leaks out all over the United States, Europe and Asia. Various storylines cover the conditions in the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Ch ...more
Apr 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I often think of this as the best book I have ever read. It is for sure top two.
This is a very well written history book about the world in the 1930's. The time of depression, growth of fascism, nazism and Japanese fanatsism, that eventually led to World War II.
What makes this different from other history books, is the very personal way the stories are told. Little details such as that Stalin slept on a very hard bed, makes you connect and better understand these people. Imagine what may have dr
Maryann MJS1228
Piers Brendon deserves praise for writing a mostly readable history of the 1930s that covers the major players in World War Two. The focus is decidedly on Europe with Italy, Germany, France and the UK getting detailed coverage, the United States, Japan, the USSR and Spain fill out the rest.

The book is written in an episodic format with each chapter covering a period of time in one country. On occasion this means that one event is covered multiple times in separate chapters - not necessarily a ba
Oct 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A monumental history of the Depression and the march towards war, covering the period from the stock market crash in late 1929 until the German tanks rolled into Poland in September, 1939. It is astoundingly good. Brendon is a masterful storyteller with a gift for both synthesis and exposition. His short, biographical sketches of the major players of the period are themselves worth the price of admission. Indeed, his introduction of Churchill (pages 604-610) should be taught in the universities ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it liked it
To be perfectly honest, I would never have evn touched this book if it was required reading for a class that had few requirements. That siad upon reading it I actually enjoyed it. It was sry and packed full of infromation to the point of being an Atlas with sentences, but it was fun. Tid bits and stories of some of the major characters gave the well needed comic relief. Again to be perfectly honest this book really accomplished its hob well meaning that it made me well ready for the test. My poi ...more
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A rollicking tour through a grim decade that continues
to darken everything in its wake. The writing is fleet
and vibrant but cannot shed a hint of the tabloid in
its persistent allusion to the sexual mores of the
central characters, and in the histrionic descriptions
of those characters' physiognomies. Despite these weird
tics, it's an efficient and absorbing overview from
which to refer to more considered accounts that do
justice to the unprecedented horrors of the times.
Bobby Musker
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Like a lot of the great works in the "epic" narrative history tradition, this book thrives when it properly balances opera-buffa set pieces and zany characters with gravitas and well-reasoned analysis. Brendon has a rare eye for astonishing, often morbidly humorous anecdotal details which enrich his recreations of familiar events. For example, during his account of the formation of the Soviet-Nazi pact, he pauses the action for a hilarious (and true!) aside about the Soviets' faulty camera flash ...more
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This lengthy book about the 30s could easily have been titled A Long Day's Journey into Night. The author's thesis is that the Great Depression spurred the development of totalitarianism. Meanwhile, the democratic states for the same reason lacked the will to control the situation before it broke out into a world war. Each chapter focuses on one of the major warring factions: Japan, USSR, Germany, Italy, France, UK, and US. Obviously it is impossible to include everything from this period, but t ...more
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of modern history
This book came to my attention after reading another great_though decidedly with a different focus_ book about the 1930's, 'The Boys in the Boat', having pored through its extensive bibliography and therefore coming across the intriguingly titled: 'The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930's'.

Overall, this book definitely did not disappoint and I would read it all over again. The narrative of the book caught me a bit off guard at first (this is my first book by Piers Brendon), seeing how descript
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a comprehensive account of the thirties from the perspective of each of the great powers at the time. It was a period of turmoil hatred and atrocity which is captured in the writing style of the author. A must read for anyone interested in how the world is shaped today. It is also uncanny just how similar the world is today when compared to the thirties as we have entered a period of mistrust, disregard for rights, lack of tolerance and the emergence of dictators in many of the current p ...more
David Anthony Sam
Piers Brendon's "panorama" of the years leading up to WWII is intelligent, comprehensive, thoughtful, and frightening. Brendon does not shy from the brutal facts of brutish power, or the newfound abilities of that power to manipulate people through new mass media and technologies. Democracies and dictatorships alike lied with effect, including the most destructive of self-deceits. Well-written snd accessible, The Dark Valley should be in the library of every leader and citizen.
Colleen Fidlin
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
To say that this is an historical epic is an understatement. A long read for those that love history.
Jun 16, 2018 rated it liked it
A long read - lots of detail about how the action/inaction of the west encouraged Germany and Italy into starting WWII
Daniel Fehrenbach
Sep 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting historical overview of the late-interwar / post-great-depression / rise-of-fascism period. Not as interesting as the same author's Rise and Fall of the British Empire, and to me, not as well written, but covers a lot of ground in a pretty brisk fashion. The author has a bit of quirk or crutch where he will take a fair amount of time laying out how a particular figure is particularly awful (or particularly wonderful) and then immediately after those passages write a kind of reversal, ...more
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, politics-history
Richard Moss
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Is the 2010s the new 1930s?

Just like 80 years ago an economic shock, has fed into disillusionment with established politics, seemingly producing a desire for authoritarian leadership and simplistic solutions.

In addition, a minority group (migrants in the 21st Century case) has become blamed for all manner of ills in many communities.

It seemed an apposite time then to retrieve Piers Brendon's The Dark Valley from my to read shelf.

Brendon tracks the '30s through events in the UK, US, Soviet Unio
Robert Morrow
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Where to begin? This is a very comprehensive history of the 1930's focused on the nations that would become the belligerents in World War II: France, Great Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan and the United States. When you have finished the book, you will have a very good understanding of the fear-driven insanity that dominated much of the thinking in the decade of the Great Depression. At times shockingly depressing (the Rape of Nanking, Stalin's continuous murder-fest, the barbar ...more
Matthew Griffiths
An excellent account of the depression era and the inexorable descent into war. The book follows the process by which each of the main states that are focussed on (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, USA, USSR and Japan) came to find themselves in the positions of 1939 before the outbreak of the second world war. The main focus of the book I would argue is the missed opportunities both economically and diplomatically to preserve peace and prevent the destruction of the war. Brendon does an ex ...more
Jul 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book is a careful examination of events and circumstances in six countries during the decade - Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States. I've read more about Germany and the U.S. in that time than I have about the other countries, so this incredibly well-written and thoroughly researched book was chock full of information new to me. It helps to understand actions in the countries I knew more about when I see how the Japanese military slowly took over the decisions of its ...more
Mar 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dense, yet utterly readable account of the inter-war years. Brandon, puts forward a broad interpretation of how events unfolded to cause the world to return to war a generation after the Great War. This interpretation is unsurprisingly rooted in developments within and between nation-states.

Brandon also has a wonderful stock of illustrative anecdotes that keep the pages turning. It is these anecdotes, about leaders and ordinary people that give a personal sense of the mindset and day-to-day o
Timothy Fitzgerald
Mar 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I was looking for a book to continue the timeline from Paris:1919. The Dark Valley really does a great job of bridging the gap between World War 1, Versailles, and World War 2. There is an overwhelming amount of material, but I think Brendon went just deep enough to make this a comprehensive resource on the era without getting bogged down by too much detail. By documenting the circumstances of the depression in Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Russia, and the US, Brendon successfully conveyed the ...more
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Piers Brendon was educated at Shrewsbury School and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read History. From 1965–1978, he was Lecturer in History, then Principal Lecturer and Head of Department, at what is now the Anglia Polytechnic University. From 1979 onwards he has worked as a free-lance writer of books, journalism and for television. From 1995 he has been a Fellow of Churchill College, Camb ...more
“So the Ukraine came to resemble “one vast Belsen.” 93 A population of “walking corpses” struggled to survive on a diet of roots, weeds, grass, bark and furry catkins.94 They devoured dogs, cats, snails, mice, ants, earth-worms. They boiled up old skins and ground down dry bones. They even ate horse-manure for the whole grains of seed it contained. Cannibalism became so commonplace that the OGPU received a special directive on the subject from Moscow and local authorities issued hundreds of posters announcing that “EATING DEAD CHILDREN IS BARBARISM.” 95 Some peasants braved machine-guns in desperate assaults on grain stockpiles. Others robbed graves for gold to sell in Torgsin shops. Parents unable to feed their offspring sent them away from home to beg. Cities such as Kiev, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Poltava, Odessa and Belgorod were overrun by pathetic waifs with huge heads, stunted limbs and swollen bellies. Arthur Koestler said that they “looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles.” 96” 0 likes
“Periodically Willis’s mother would snatch her family’s own food off the table and take it round to neighbours, replying to her son’s protests: “Stop whining! You’re hungry. They’re starving!”84” 0 likes
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