Munich – Robert Harris


I think I’ve read every book Harris has written except for one, and enjoyed them all.  This is no exception.  The novel is about the Munich Conference in 1938, wherein Great Britain and France completely capitulated to Hitler and gave him the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia with the hope that it would keep him from starting a war (which, of course, he did almost exactly a year later).  Specifically, the story is about two men – one English, the other German – who attended Oxford together and at one time were great friends, but had a falling out years earlier.  They now find themselves on opposing sides of the conference, but with the shared desire to stop Hitler.  They work together to try to convince the allied leadership of what Hitler’s aims really are.

The book was fun to read in that it gives a pretty full picture of Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Britain who’s gone down in history as a naïve pacifist who didn’t see what Hitler really was, and Hitler, the mad man the world didn’t yet know wanted to dominate all of Europe.  The bottom line is that the French and British came to Munich absolutely committed to avoiding another World War because of the horror of what they’d just lived through two decades earlier.  They also were being told by their respective military leaders that they were in no way ready for war.  With that as their goal, just about anything Hitler wanted – short of war – they were willing to concede – and the book does a good job of fleshing that out.

What I didn’t realize until reading the book is how close everyone thought they were to war.  Hitler was threatening to invade Czechoslovakia, and the French were bound to the Czechs by treaty.  If the French got involved, the British had to follow suit because of their agreements with France.  Therefore, everyone in all the countries – France, Germany, England, Czechoslovakia – thought war was imminent.  Since that was the case, most greeted the Munich agreement as a wonderful thing because it avoided war.  We look back on it as an example of capitulation and the enabling of a madman, but at the time most celebrated it.  When Chamberlain flew back to Britain he was mostly greeted as a hero (Wikipedia has a recording of the speech he gave upon landing in London – it’s fascinating to listen to).

I definitely recommend the book if you like historical fiction, and especially if you like WWII history.  The pictures it gives of Chamberlain, Hitler, and the times as a whole (see literal picture of the signatories below) are really informative, and since the author is Harris it’s compelling and well written.


4 thoughts on “Munich – Robert Harris

  1. I recall when I was 5 -6 years old, how on hot summer nights we kids would run around playing “hide and seek” at dusk, as our parents would be getting chairs out onto the front lawn (no domestic air conditioning in 1938 – 39.) with an extension cord and an old Emerson radio to listen to the news. Two of the neighbors, Mr. Skinner and Mr. Garrett, had fought in World War I, so the younger adults were always interested in their comments on what they heard going on in Europe. As it became dark, kids were required to come into the circle of adults, be quiet, and listen to the radio and adult conversation (try that today).

    Much of that conversation was about Hitler going into Austria, then Czechoslovakia. I remember one of the neighbors complementing Neville Chamberlain and remarking that Hitler was just a harmless lunatic. Not knowing what the word meant, I asked Dad, “what’s a lunatic?” And he told me, “a crazy man.”

    Dad was right – crazy, yes; neighbor wrong – harmless, no. A year or so later, we would be listening to Edward R. Murrow’s use program, “London Calling,” and a couple of times could hear the faint muffled sound of the harmless lunatic’s bombs hitting the city.

    I have very serious misgivings about Trump and am concerned about the Neville Chamberlain mentality prevalent in much of Washington.


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