Book Review of Germany and the Origins of the Second World War

Jonathan Wright. Germany and the Origins of the Second World War. The Making of the Twentieth Century series. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 978-0-333-49555. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii+223. $115.00 (hardcover)

Germany and the Origins of the Second World WarJonathan Wright, Emeritus Professor in International Relations at Oxford University and Tutorial Fellow in Politics at Christ Church, addresses Germany and the beginning of World War II in Europe. He focuses on the ideas and role of Adolf Hitler from the 1920s to the outbreak of war in 1939-41. He stresses the ability of Hitler to gain support from the German people for his foreign policy adventures.  Wright is known for his Gustav Stresemann: Weimar’s Greatest Statesman (2002) and as co-editor of Liberalism, Anti-Semitism and Democracy (2001), Britain and Germany in Europe, 1945-1990 (2002), Mental Maps in the Era of Two World Wars (2008), and Mental Maps in the Early Cold War Era, 1945-68 (2011).

Wright states that “an account of Germany and the origins of the Second World War must include not simply Hitler and the Nazis but their ability to carry the German public with them” (p.185). As such, the author strives to show the segments of the German public that supported the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power, and how Hitler managed public opinion once he was in office.  Hitler presented himself as a man of peace while rearming Germany, seeking equal rights for Germany in international affairs.  Wright shows how the German leader used public support of foreign policy to rid Germany of the Versailles restrictions.  However, public opinion began to fear the outbreak of a European war after the remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936. Hitler was willing to take risks for gains. In explaining the annexation of Austria, Sudeten crisis, and subsequent actions, the author writes that Hitler worked to divide, isolate, and pick off enemies until Germany was ready for a European war. But the European war came before the German economy was fully ready.

Germany and the Origins of the Second World War is a brief study of Hitler, Germany, and the road that led to conflict. It is highly recommended for students and scholars interested in Germany and international relations.  It is a fine contribution to recent studies on Hitler’s foreign policy, including Zachary Shore’s What Hitler Knew: The Battle for Information in Nazi Foreign Policy (2003), Christian Leitz’s Nazi Foreign Policy, 1933-1941: The Road to Global War (2004), and William Young’s German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945: The Wilhelmstrasse and the Formulation of Foreign Policy (2006). There are also the classic studies of Klaus Hildebrand, The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich (1984), Norman Rich, Hitler’s War Aims (2 volumes, 1972-73), William Carr, Arms, Autarky and Aggression: A Study in German Foreign Policy (1972), and Gerhard L. Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitler’s Germany (2 volumes, 1970-80).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
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