Britain, as the most powerful of the European victors of World War One, had a unique responsibility to maintain the peace in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles. The outbreak of a second, even more catastrophic war in 1939 has therefore always raised painful questions about Britain's failure to deal with Nazism. Could some other course of action have destroyed Hitler when he was still weak? In this highly disturbing new book, Ian Kershaw examines this crucial issue. He concentrates on the figure of Lord Londonderry - grandee, patriot, cousin of Churchill and the government minister responsible for the RAF at a crucial point in its existence. Londonderry's reaction to the rise of Hitler-to pursue friendship with the Nazis at all costs-raises fundamental questions about Britain's role in the 1930s and whether in practice there was ever any possibility of preventing Hitler's leading Europe once again into war.
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Author of Making Friends with Hitler, Ian Kershaw’s detailed account of British attitudes towards Nazi Germany and the ultimately futile attempts through appeasement to avoid military confrontation is a thought-provoking analysis of a chapter in history that many would prefer to forget. The central figure in the book, Lord Londonderry, cousin of Winston Churchill, was a member of one of Britain’s grandest and wealthiest aristocratic families, who held high and important office as Secretary of State for Air during the time of Hitler’s rise to power. The man was fabulously well-connected. The King called him ‘Charley’ and members of the Royal family were frequent guests at his London mansion. The political establishment sat regularly at his dinner table and he was on first-name terms with all the major political figures of the day. After being forced out of Government in 1935, Londonderry became a frequent visitor to Germany, met Hitler several times, stayed with Göring at his hunting lodge, and fraternized with Ribbentrop and other prominent Nazis. Instinctively pro-German, Londonderry had unalterable faith, at least until it was far too late, in the idea that war could best be averted by the gaining the friendship of Hitler’s Germany. The Nazi’s for their part conscientiously courted and exploited Londonderry’s good opinion and contacts until it became clear to them that he lacked real influence with policy-makers.
Kershaw’s book is the story of the rise and fall of Londonderry and, more generally, the story of Britain’s road to war. Londonderry was an incurable letter-writer who left a vast correspondence of over 10,000 letters, many of which directly related to Anglo-German relations, and this has enabled Kershaw to write an detailed account of this period in Britain’s history. The first part of the book looks at the range of misconceived and delusional attitudes to be found in Britain regarding Hitler’s intentions and character at the beginning of Nazi rule. We hear of Londonderry’s time as Air Minister in the context of British policies on armament and rearmament in the early 1930’s and his ultimate dismissal from government office in 1935. The heart of the book describes his well-intentioned but naïve career as the gentleman amateur diplomat intent on saving the world from a disastrous European war. Later chapters reveal Londonderry’s ultimate disillusionment with Hitler and the bitterly resentful later years of his life spent campaigning to vindicate his record as Air Minister and fruitlessly trying to shake off his acquired reputation as the most prominent Nazi sympathizer in Britain. In telling the Londonderry story Kershaw answers all the key questions about this period in Britain's history. How and why was it that so many people radically underestimated or misunderstood Hitler’s intentions? Could more have been done to stem the rise of Nazism and destroy Hitler when he was still weak? Was war with Germany avoidable or inevitable under the circumstances? What were the realistic policy options?
The only drawback is not with the book itself but rather with Londonderry the man. In short, it’s difficult to care about him, not because he was a Nazi sympathizer, which he was not, but because he appears as a tedious, rather pathetic figure evoking curiosity rather than admiration, contempt, or pity. In the end this is the story of a man unable to adjust easily to the requirements of democratic politics, duped by power politicians, and ultimately brought down by his own aristocratic values. Kershaw has produced another piece of first-class historical scholarship. Thanks to him, Londonderry may regain his place in history. But just not in the way he would have liked. --Larry Brown,/i>Review:
A marvelous portrait... Absorbing, meticulously researched. ("The Times", London)
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Book Description Penguin, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: Brand New. 512 pages. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk0141014237
Book Description Penguin Books, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0141014237