Britain at Bay: The Epic Story of the Second World War, 1938-1941

Knopf. Nov. 2020. 608p. ISBN 9780451494740. $35. HIST
In the aftermath of World War II, the British imagined themselves as an industrious, peaceful nation that wanted to be free of foreign entanglements, yet, when it mattered, met Adolf Hitler’s challenge all alone. According to Allport (history, Syracuse Univ.; Browned Off and Bloody-Minded), this Tolkienesque “Shire Folk” myth, embraced by both liberals and conservatives, obscured the history of the UK. In this first of a two-volume series, Allport paints a rich and highly readable portrait of Britain in the 1930s; detailing civil unrest at home and abroad, middle-class fears, political disruptions, and foreign relations with European neighbors. Allport’s reevaluation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Britain’s appeasement policy places the abandonment of Poland and Czechoslovakia in a new light. The opening battles of World War II, including the Battle of Britain in 1940 and the Blitz in 1940-41 as well as the earliest battles in North Africa and the beginning of Britain’s bombing campaign are given sharp and concise explorations that highlight the roles of lesser-known but vital figures. Insightful maps are an added bonus.
VERDICT This thoroughly researched work will engage anyone interested in military, social, and political history of Britain during World War II.
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