Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War
(Bodley Head, 512 PP, £20)
Tablet bookshop price £18 • Tel 020 7799 4064
Until Brexiteers bestowed the title on Theresa May, “Neville Chamberlain” used to be the stock answer to: who was our worst Prime Minister? Almost 80 years after his death, he is as reviled as ever, shown in fading newsreels looking comically archaic in his frock coat, descending from a plane from Berlin with a wan, sickly smile and waving that pointless piece of paper that was supposed to guarantee “peace in our time”. His name remains indelibly linked to the word “appeasement”, which has come to imply craven and unnecessary surrender.
Tim Bouverie cuts through this travesty of history in his scrupulously fair, readable account of this much used and abused term. As he explains, Chamberlain did not conjure up appeasement; mollifying Germany had been British policy since Hitler took power in 1933, four years before he became Prime Minister. And appeasement was more than an official policy; it was a national mood. The 1920s saw a seismic reaction to the florid patriotism of the Great War.