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The Munich Conference is well-known, but chiefly in fragments and through simplifying summery accounts. Munich, 1938 carefully sticks to the book’s great strength Faber’s impressively detailed scholarship presenting a model for narrating a book of such profound compositional depth and historical importance. It helps to have a narrator, Arthur Morey, who, besides being an actor, is an author and has ghost written and edited books on politics, medicine, and literary criticism. He has also taught writing on the university level. Morey masters a fine balance of pacing and expression, advancing the narrative with a somewhat dampened voice that keeps each sequence of the continually developing dramatic events narratively in line with the historical drama as a whole. Morey’s modulations of phrasing and description have tempered undertones of the dramatic, while avoiding the expressly, emphatically dramatic. The telling of this detailed, finely researched history is a great authorial and narrative accomplishment. Munich, 1938 is a great audiobook, in the prestigious category of popular historical scholarship.
The Munich Conference marks the start of World War II and raises one of the greatest historical “what if” questions of all time. In Faber’s telling we see Hitler invoking the Wilsonian principle of “self-determination” in his demand for the area of Czechoslovakia that then had a majority German population, the Sudetenland. It so happened that Czechoslovakia had built formidable military defenses at the Sudetenland’s outer borders. Stripped of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia was stripped of its defenses against the Wehrmacht. What if Chamberlain and the British had not surrendered the Sudetenland to Hitler but had rather, with France, moved defensive forces behind these fortifications? It was not to be. Chamberlain, with the incredible stupidity that has so tarred him with infamy, consistently believed Hitler’s claim that he would go no further. Thus it was that, at the cost of tens of millions dead, Neville Chamberlain altered forever the meaning of a word: appeasement. David Chasey
In this important reappraisal of the extraordinary events of 70 years ago, acclaimed historian David Faber traces the key incidents leading up to the meeting at Munich and its immediate aftermath. He describes Lord Halifax's ill-fated visit to Hitler; Chamberlain's secret negotiations with Mussolini, followed by the resignation of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden; and the Berlin scandal that rocked Hitler's regime. Faber takes us to Vienna for the Nazi Anschluss; to the Sudentenland, the mountainous border region of Czechoslovakia, where Hitler's puppets attempted to provide him with a pretext for war by inciting the minority German population to rebellion; and to Prague, where the Czechoslovak government desperately tried to head off the Fuhrer's warlike intentions. In Berlin, we witness Hitler inexorably preparing for war, even in the face of opposition from his own generals; and in London, we watch helplessly as Chamberlain seizes executive control from his own cabinet and makes one supreme effort after another to appease Hitler, culminating in his three remarkable flights to Germany.
Drawing on a wealth of original archival material, including diaries and notes taken by Hitler and Chamberlain's translator, Faber's sweeping reassessment of the events of 1938 resonates with an insider's feel for the political infighting he uncovers.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Carolyn on 05-18-13
Great insight into the events of 1938
This book was fascinating. I went into it thinking I already knew a lot about these events, but once I started listening I realized that I knew very little. The book doesn't just cover the Czechoslovak Crisis of 1938 - it covers the events leading up to it as well, and in great detail, such as the Anschluss (which is treated much more fairly and with much more detail than is often done in history books) and the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair (which I had never heard of but was really interesting). In that sense, the title is a little misleading, but in a good way - by covering all of 1938, the book gives a massive amount of insight into the inner workings of Nazi Germany in this time period. It also covers British events, such as the resignation of Anthony Eden from Chamberlain's Cabinet and the Churchill-led organized opposition to Chamberlain's appeasement policy, as well as giving a great deal of insight into Chamberlain's thought processes during this time.
Although the events covered in the book are really interesting and presented in detail, the real strength of this book is its ability to portray the people involved. You feel like you are there, in the room, with Hitler and his generals or Hitler and Chamberlain. It gave me a much deeper insight into the motives, personalities, and - surprisingly - humanity of the major players. A lot of time is spent on the manoeuvring of Hitler's generals and you really see them for who they are, not as purely evil villains. I was also struck by Chamberlain's stubborn naivete and Hitler's crazy mood swings. It was fascinating and real, giving me a whole new perspective on what happened.
The narration was all right. I don't speak German, so I can't comment very well on the pronunciation of the German names, but it seemed all right to me. I get very frustrated when words are mispronounced, though, and I can remember shouting correct pronunciations at the audiobook multiple times when the narrator mispronounced something. However, the pace was good and it was easy to keep up with dialogue, so i gave it three stars.
Overall, the book is very engaging, detailed, and interesting. I learned a lot about this critical period, and it covered much more than I was expecting about the year 1938 based on the title. The people are real, not caricatures, and the events are described in detail. It does require the reader to keep track of a large number of people, and having some background about the lead-up to 1938 helps. However, even a less knowledgeable reader would enjoy the insight into the human beings whose actions caused the Second World War.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
By Dulce on 01-14-11
Focused account of the diplomatic prelude to WWII
We have many accounts of WWII, some giving an overview and others focusing on different aspects or geographical locations of the conflict. Faber has done something unusual, which is to analyze in detail a series of events before the outbreak of hostilities. These events, mostly attempts at diplomacy initiated by the British in 1938, culminated in Neville Chamberlain's famous assertion that through his face-to-face meetings with Hitler, he had achieved "peace in our time." Of course this was a foolish wish on the part of an idealistic and naive Chamberlain rather than a description of reality.
Faber's book is an account of how England and France came to yield in the face of Hitler's territorial demands, thus sending Czechoslovakia to its doom. Full of rich details gleaned from contemporary documents, the story has a "you are there" feel because Faber doesn't foreshadow what is to come, instead allowing events to unfold gradually in the narrative. His descriptions of the key actors in the drama are so expertly drawn that they come to life. Although the author's prejudices against Chamberlain and for Churchill are clear, the bias is tempered with ample supporting facts and at least to me, didn't feel overdone.
In addition to presenting a marvelous story, the book is expertly narrated. Arthur Morey's calm, measured demeanor is exactly what the material calls for.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful