Sunday, October 24, 2021

Review of "From Sarajevo to Potsdam," by A. J. P. Taylor

 Review of

From Sarajevo to Potsdam, by A. J. P. Taylor

Five out of five stars

Brief, tight history of a tumultuous time

British historian A. J. P. Taylor is known for academic rigor as well as at times going against what is the consensus. At 199 pages and covering the four decades from the start of the First World War to the end of the Second World War, this book is naturally shallow. Yet, there is a thoroughness that few can match when writing overviews.

 He sets the stage for his explanations of the First World War by pointing out that shortly before it happened, the consensus was that a general European war was very unlikely. While there would no doubt be fringe wars elsewhere and occasional minor clashes in Europe, there was too much civilization for it to be threatened. Taylor also points out how popular the war was among the masses once it began, a fact that made it very difficult to end.

 In contrast, in the runup to the Second World War, there was no mass support for another war, yet all countries were preparing for it. There was the hope that the development of armaments would deter the other side from starting a conflict.

 Some of Taylor’s comments go against what is commonly held. He states that the man executed for the Reichstag fire, a man named Marinus van der Lubbe likely did in fact do it. Taylor also states that Hitler didn’t really have a master plan for his conquests in Europe, he made it up as the opportunities presented themselves. While Britain and France made a lot of bellicose noise, there was no stomach for a devastating war. It was only when their hand was forced by Polish resistance to German demands that they declared war. Even then, it was very half-hearted.

 This book can be considered as a work of popular history was well as one that can be used in advanced courses of European history. Taylor is one of the best at describing and explaining events that are known, but not understood.

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