ON BORROWED TIME: How World War II Began by Leonard Mosley

ON BORROWED TIME: How World War II Began

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A hefty, microscopic reconstruction of the 1939 diplomatic prelude based in London and Berlin. Mosley has written popular studies of Haile Selassie and Hirohito; this is a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. His message is that the Tory appeasers were even worse than we thought. Chamberlain's faction has stage front with only the wispiest backdrop of previous history or basic British interests. Hitler is cast as a cunning maniac tout court. Trade barriers, raw materials, colonies keep screaming from the primary source excerpts, but Mosley prefers to play up gossip, weather, and throat-clearings. Chamberlain comes across as neither the schoolbooks' cowardly fool nor the sensible anti-Nazi of Laurence Thompson's 1968 reappraisal of the Czech crisis, The Greatest Treason. The Prime Minister complains that America and the Jews are forcing Britain into war; never intends to fight for Poland; secretly arranges a gold transfer to Germany after Munich, then tries to make her a big loan while refusing the Poles a small one--in the smug belief that he has personally won Hitler's good faith. Mosley joins no explicit battles with individual historians. Some of his notable emphases: Why Britain and Czechoslovakia forestalled Russian aid to the latter. . . The new fact that Hitler's May plan was for a western front war in '42 or later, not '39. . . . Anglo-French belief that Russia needed them, not vice versa. . . . Hitler's late-August offer to discuss Poland, arguably serious, and the appeasers' refusal, puzzling. The book ends with Churchill's entry from the wings, where Mosley has reverently kept him; the Germans in Poland; and the British Air Minister exclaiming: ""You can't ask me to bomb the Black Forest--that's private property!"" It all reads quickly, though the jaunty tone seems inappropriate; and it is all very informative in its undemanding way. Just don't expect genuinely evocative description or profound interpretation.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1969
Publisher: Random House