This sequel to The Lights That Failed, Steiner’s classic account of Europe in the 1920s, narrates the following decade’s diplomatic history right up to the brink of war. Its subtle, deceptively straightforward conclusions are firmly grounded in judiciously selected facts and a vast secondary literature. The League of Nations was weak, but hardly responsible for war: in the mid-1930s, no international institution could have contained the intense pressures of economic depression and dictatorship. Adolf Hitler was a single-minded gambler who calculated his chances precisely, launching a risky attack in the hope of exploiting a window of opportunity before his more powerful enemies rearmed. Democratic societies were split by deep partisan and social divisions that impeded a more timely response to the threat. Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and the West all opportunistically sought to buy time before the inevitable conflict. (Among those efforts, the Nazi-Soviet pact stands out primarily because it was more successful than others, at least temporarily.) This book is destined to become the standard reference on this period.
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