Publication: August 26, 1999, by Routledge
Format: Non-Fiction, History
When A.J.P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War appeared in 1961 it made a profound impact. The book became a classic and a central point of reference in all discussion on the Second World War.
The second edition of this distinguished collection, written by leading experts in the field, is designed to bring the state of the argument up to date.
This second edition will ensure that The Origins of the Second World War will remain a high priority student and scholarly reading lists.
Hey friends, I know you will not read this ('cause it's super long) but I wrote this review for school, so why not put it up here?
What has always puzzled me concerning the Second World War is that everyone seems to have a different perspective or opinion on Hitler’s Third Reich or his progression into a fascist leader. Every teacher I have met, whether they taught me in elementary or high school, shared a different insight concerning this dictator. Occasionally, they were quite similar, though other times, their opinions differed to the point that I began questioning myself and what I really believe. In Gordon Martel’s The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered, Martel, alongside twelve other historians, discusses A.J.P. Taylor’s beliefs and the complexity of his original novel entitled The Origins of the Second World War. Taylor, in his novel, suggests that one of the most famous leaders in history, Adolf Hitler, was a statesman who simply used his nationalistic beliefs to benefit his country, Germany.
Over the duration of two hundred and eighty pages, Gordon Martel joined forces with other renowned historians such as Sally Marks, a policy planner for the United States Department of Defence, and Stephen A. Schuker, a professor at the University of Virginia who was born in 1939, during the initial events of World War Two. These historians create a strong origin for The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered; the fact that this novel contains twelve chapters from the various perspectives of historians, the purpose of the novel is simpler to identify. All of these historians picked and chose different sections of Taylor’s book to comment on, such as fascist Italy’s role as an Axis power or Japan versus the United States. Martel in the first chapter introduces this novel’s purpose as to prove that Taylor was a revisionist who did not oppose the rest of society’s beliefs for any reason; he had evidence and a strong belief that the Second World War was different than what was first predicted. I enjoyed this non-fiction research-based novel for this reason: it is different than any other Second World War history novel I have ever read. In the past, the Holocaust has been a strand of World War Two that I read various novels on, though, seeing that there are people who carry a different perspective than what students are traditionally taught, like, for instance, Hitler’s hunger for power in the continent of Europe, is quite interesting. The only flaw I am able to pinpoint is the way that this novel was written.
For the first few chapters out of the twelve, Martel and the other historians seem to solely focus on A.J.P. Taylor and what he wrote about in The Origins of the Second World War. This provides context to what the remainder of Martel’s novel will focus on: opinions that seem strikingly different compared to what the average person has. It is important to note that this book was published in 1999, about fifty years after the war ended. This seems like the perfect time to release a book like this since evidence has been released and there are survivors who are still alive. This is the value of the novel; A.J.P. Taylor may have made some errors, as one historian highlights concerning Bolsehvik Russia when he says, “The source of this problem—the fundamental error which runs throughout the book—is the author’s failure to take Hitler’s ideas seriously. Taylor cannot believe that anyone would make the insane (and ultimately suicidal) National Socialist racist doctrines the basis for national policy.” At this point, it seems as if the historian, Teddy J. Uldricks, believes that A.J.P. Taylor is providing random facts in order to support Hitler. Learning about the various errors Taylor made in his novel is quite interesting, especially since one would predict that he would have all of the facts correct since he was alive during the war, born in 1906. These historians’ views of Taylor showcase that Taylor’s initial novel is highly controversial, even in modern society.
I found a majority of this book to be dull and dry, if I had to describe it in adjectives. I disliked the majority of the book, especially in the beginning because I felt that it was harsh to examine every single fact that Taylor presented in his original novel. Some of the historians who are commenting were not even alive during the war, and are constantly criticizing Taylor’s words. Some historians do mention that Taylor provided a lack of evidence, and this remains an important limitation of his original novel; he might have not had access to different documents and only was able to state his opinion without proof. Teddy Uldricks in the beginning of his chapter concerning “Debating the role of Russia in the origins of the Second World War,” notes that “Taylor limits himself to an incomplete and interpretively distorted account of Europe's descent into war,” which could exist due to bias. In Taylor’s society, especially in the 1950s when he wrote The Origins of the Second World War, there was a significant focus on the Cold War, Russia and the spies that soon followed the end of World War Two. I am not sticking up for Taylor, as I did not even have the chance to read his novel, though the fact that he was biased could have existed due to the censorship of American and British society.
I found this book to be extremely boring, as mentioned above, though I did want to continue reading it to gain different perspectives on Taylor’s novel. The writing was weak and difficult to read, a true flaw since the writing should be at least simpler in the complexity of historical events, though the facts were well structured. It is important to note that the book itself was intelligently structured into twelve chapters that were all different. This could be because the novel contained the perspectives of twelve different historians, though also because each chapter focused on a different span of events in the war: the postwar era by Sally Marks, the end of Versailles by Stephen Schuker, Mussolini by Alan Cassels, France by Robert J. Young, the misjudgment of Hitler by Richard Overy, appeasement by Paul Kennedy, Russia’s role by Teddy Uldricks, Japan at war by Louise Young, the Ethiopian war by Brian Sullivan, the Spanish Civil War by Mary Habeck and the Phantom Crisis by Sean Greenwood. From all of these chapters, my favourite was Alan Cassels’ which concerned Mussolini’s reign. Cassels strongly identified the purpose of his chapter with the research question, “To what extent did the origins of Nazism lie in German history and culture,” which continued with strong writing, even mentioning ideological states of minds in European society during that time: “Dogmatism, combativeness, intolerance, not to mention the terrible simplifications of social Darwinism.” This sentence caused me to decide that I needed a dictionary by my side in order to dissect this novel to the highest degree.
Some other notable historical facts that the twelve historians presented were, in a summary format, that: Taylor did not view Hitler’s Mein Kampf as a blueprint for the war, according to Taylor, France had an advantage over Germany in terms of security after Versailles, the Spanish Civil War was so significant that Hitler used it to gain power in the Axis and move towards his ultimate goal of dominance and that the Spanish Civil War “showed that Britain, France, and the United States could not risk war in order to deter the dictators.” In the previous citation, the writer of the chapter, Mary Habeck, introduced a subject that North American history rarely ever mentions—the Spanish Civil War and its effect on the Second World War. This was a complete new area of study for me, and it really displayed the censorship of our current history curriculum due to a weakness or limitation that the Allies had in the war.
If I had to challenge Gordon Martel on something, I would ask him to use modern evidence from the decade of 2010 to rewrite this novel, or even to rewrite A.J.P. Taylor’s novel. I would want to see if Taylor’s opinions make sense now due to the abundance of documents and films made on the Second World War. I would also ask him: “Why did you choose to write about A.J.P. Taylor’s controversial novel? Aren’t there many other historical novels that also created controversy?”
In a sentence, Martel’s novel has allowed me to see that A.J.P. Taylor wrote his novel as a form of entertainment; there are many facts that could be counter-argued and proven otherwise. In the end, after reading all of the historians’ views on the origins, the simple origin or cause of the Second World War, from my viewpoint, is utter jealousy and disorganization of the world from the era of the First World War to the 1940s and onward. I am now less curious and intrigued to read Taylor’s original novel only for the reason that everything he wrote was examined by this team of historians. Martel began editing and writing this novel to seek out more explanations from Taylor himself and really understand what this man was thinking, and it shows that he wanted a challenge. He addresses this in his novel when he writes, “There is hardly a page that fails to provoke, that fails to challenge someone’s assumptions about something. The reverberations wrought by Taylor’s shaking can still be felt.” All in all, The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered was a challenge to read, mainly because readers are asked to try to understand two books and twelve opinions at once.