I am a big fan of the author Robert Harris, and yet for some reason I had not read this book until I saw it was made into a movie. I also listened to the author on a podcast and that also compelled me to read the book and gave me a bit of background as to what he was trying to do with this book. Now obviously everyone is aware of the Munich Agreement and Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace is at hand” statement. What this book tries to do is give us some perspective on that, and what Chamberlain may have been thinking about during his negotiations with Hitler and attempting to peacefully resolve the Sudetenland crisis in Czechoslovakia.
This is a fast reading and interesting book, and yet it also is troubling to me in that Harris is trying to rewrite history. He stated his purpose was to sort of veer away from the Churchillian view of history, and instead make Chamberlain a much more sympathetic and understandable character, as well as why peace was what he wanted and yet which he could not truly obtain. We also have the story of two former Oxford friends, one who works for the German foreign ministry (Von Hartmann) and the other who is a deputy press secretary for the Prime Minister of England (Legat). These two don’t really meet until 2/3 of the way into the book but we see what they’re trying to do and some of the problems that they are encountering. I found much of this to be contrived and how both of these individuals got to be included in the delegations that came to Munich is rather hokey in my opinion. We also have some rather unnecessary views into Legat’s, marital situation which does absolutely nothing to further the plot. We also see Von Hartman having a dalliance with a secretary which again does not do much to move the plot along.
Basically Von Hartman, is part of the opposition to Hitler, and is trying to do anything possible to keep this peace agreement from being signed because he has seen documented evidence that all Hitler was trying to do was get this foothold into Czechoslovakia and use it as a launching ground into an invasion into Western Europe. Obviously this document never existed and is merely a literary device to move the plot along. It is a fascinating attempt to see what was behind Hitler’s move into Czechoslovakia which was really twofold in nature. The first being Germans being allowed to live in a unified Germany, and the second being how do you feed and sustain these people.
In the long run the Munich agreement is signed, we all know the results which was merely a postponement of the invasion of Czechoslovakia and eventually World War Two. Chamberlain’s place in history, which might very well have been sympathetic, was not practical and did allow Hitler to fortify his military during the intervening period prior to his invasion of Poland.Of all the books that I have read by Harris this has been my least enjoyable, but I wanted to read it before I saw the movie, because I want to see how all of this is treated and how it is differs from the book. I hope it differs substantially, but I doubt that. All in all it is a good effort, but I don’t think it is the quality effort that I’ve come to expect from most of Harris’ work in the