Book in the news: was Neville Chamberlain right to play for time?

Cover of Appeasing Hitler by Tim BouverieAppeasing Hitler

Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War
Tim Bouverie
Bodley Head, £20
Buy on Amazon

The policy of appeasing Hitler during the 1930s “became so discredited after 1940” that the term appeasement is now never used except as a criticism, says David Aaronovich in The Times. Revisionist historians, however, are now starting to portray Neville Chamberlain as “a maligned super-pragmatist” who used appeasement as a tool to gain time for Britain “to re-arm against the coming storm”.

Appeasing Hitler attempts to return to a more traditional interpretation. It argues that at “almost every point, the policy of appeasement strengthened Nazi Germany and the Axis far more than it helped Britain or its allies”.

The author “rises superbly” to the challenge of telling the complex story of appeasement, says Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer. Bouverie’s narrative is “well constructed and fluently written”, and he “excels at capturing the atmosphere and conveying the debates in the dining clubs, drawing rooms and society playgrounds of inter-war Britain”. There are also “convincing sketches of the principals” along with “a seasoning of entertainment” from a cast of “eccentric and gruesome” secondary characters.

The book “is a good example of political history of a particularly British kind: pacy, personality-driven, self-consciously writerly and ever so slightly moralistic”, says Susan Pedersen in The Guardian. But “there are limits to this sort of history”, which fails to “take into account global conditions and convulsions”. Bouverie neglects the role of the Great Depression and the subsequent trade wars, which undermined liberal German politicians and created an atmosphere in which Hitler could seize control of the German state.