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In the autumn of 1938, Europe believed in the promise of peace. Still reeling from the ravages of the Great War, its people were desperate to rebuild their lives in a newly safe and stable era. But only a year later, the fateful decisions of just a few men had again led Europe to war, a war that would have a profound and lasting impact on millions of innocent people.

From the bestselling historian Frederick Taylor, 1939: A People's History draws on original British and German sources, including recorded interviews, as well as contemporary diaries, memoirs and newspapers. Its narrative focuses on the day-to-day experiences of the men and women in both countries trapped in this disastrous chain of events and not, as is so often the case, the elite. Their voices, concerns and experiences lend a uniquely intimate flavour to this often surprising account, revealing a marked disconnect between government and people; few ordinary citizens in either Britain or Germany wanted war.

Precisely for that reason, 1939: A People's History is also an interrogation of our capacity to go to war again. In today’s Europe, an onset of uncertainty, a looming fear of radical populism and a revelatory schism are dangerously reminiscent of the perils of the autumn of 1938. It is both a vivid and richly peopled narrative of Europe’s slide into the horrors of war, a war that nobody wanted, and, in many ways, a warning; an opportunity for us to learn from our history and a reminder that we must never take peace for granted.


Reviews for 1939


“A fascinating and well-written book about how two nations embraced the prospect of war … The Germans, despite all their feverish enthusiasm for Hitler’s militaristic ambitions, were spiritually ill-prepared for war. The British, in contrast, had no martial enthusiasm but fatalistically accepted war’s inevitability.”

Gerard de Groot, The Times


“Renowned historian Taylor’s vivid people’s history of the 12 months leading up to the outbreak of war in 1939… draws on original British and German sources, including interviews, diaries, memoirs and newspapers.”

The Bookseller


“What was life like in the last year of peace? How aware were people in Britain and Germany of the gathering war clouds? These are the questions Taylor sets out to answer … Well-researched and intriguing … fascinating.”

Tim Bouverie, The Daily Telegraph

“Frederick Taylor draws a sinister and thrilling picture of how the year 1939 developed into war, focusing on the day-to-day experiences of people in Britain and Germany, trapped in a chain of events that few could do anything to change. He draws on archives in both countries to give a detailed and nuanced impression of what our ancestors were thinking in those momentous times.”

Jad Adams, Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine