Fateful Choices, Ian Kershaw

Fateful Choices, Ian Kershaw

Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941

The basic premise of this book is that a series of important choices made in 1940 and 1941 that fundamentally decided the course of the Second World War. The first of these was the British decision to fight on after the fall of France, while the last was Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. These are the choices that turned a European war with world wide implications into a truly global war.

The final chapter of the book is rather different in tone and content. Here Kershaw looks at the German decision to kill Europe's Jews, tracing its development from pre-war plans to expel Germany's Jews to the deadly choices made as Russian resistance stiffened.

Inevitably, given the nature of the book, this is sometimes a slightly disjointed read, most noticeably for me in the chapter that deals with Italy and Mussolini's decision to enter the war, which feels like a less important decision than the other nine. One could make a good case for replacing this chapter with one on the British and French decision to declare war in 1939.

Having said that, the changes of scene are also one of the books strengths, allowing us to compare the decision making processes of the democracies, the European dictatorships and the Japanese collective authoritarianism, a theme that Kershaw deliberates brings out as he progresses through the book. The contrast between the considered political debates in Britain and the United States and the personal choices made by Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini is very clear. Roosevelt had to take public opinion into account, Churchill needed to win over his cabinet colleagues and even the Japanese decisions were made by groups of powerful men, but in Berlin, Rome and Moscow only one opinion really counted. What Kershaw demonstrates brilliantly is how that concentration of power in the hands of a single person reduced or entirely eliminated the expression of opinions that did not support their own views.

Kershaw has chosen an interesting approach to the history of the Second World War, and has produced a valuable work that gives an insight into the different ways decisions were made in the main combatant nations involved in the war. A fascinating book that provides a different view on one of the most studies of all wars.

Author: Ian Kershaw
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 656
Publisher: Allen Lane (UK), Penguin (North America)
Year: 2007

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