Five Best Books on the British Appeasement of Adolf Hitler

The Neville Chamberlain Diary Letters, Vol. 4: The Downing Street Years, 1934-1940
Edited by Robert Self (2005)

1. The figure of Neville Chamberlain—Britain's prime minister between May 1937 and May 1940—is at the center of the appeasement story. He kept no diary, but the weekly letters he sent his two spinster sisters served this purpose and reveal, contrary to popular belief, a man of extraordinary self-confidence and determination. “As Chancellor of the Exchequer I could hardly move a pebble,” he wrote in August 1937, but “now I have only to raise a finger and the whole face of Europe is changed!” Following the Munich Agreement, he echoed the boast of one of Britain's greatest war leaders, the Earl of Chatham (William Pitt the Elder): “I know that I can save this country and I do not believe that anyone else can.” At times, he had moments of clarity. In 1935 he branded Hitler's Germany “the bully of Europe” and later described the German dictator as a “lunatic.” Remarkably, however, he came to believe that he could trust Hitler. “I had established a certain confidence [over him] which was my aim,” Chamberlain claimed after his first meeting with the Führer, during the Czech crisis. “I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” It was a fatal delusion, but one made comprehensible by these fascinating letters.

Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1930-39
Edited by Nigel Nicolson (1966)

2. In May 1938, two months after the Nazi takeover of Austria, Harold Nicolson visited a gentleman's club on St. James's. There he found three young lords who admitted that “they would prefer to see Hitler in London than a Socialist administration.” Nicolson, a government member of parliament, was thoroughly depressed. “People of the governing classes think of their own fortunes, which means hatred of the Reds. . . . This creates a perfectly artificial but at present most effective secret bond between ourselves and Hitler.” Nicolson's diaries and letters are filled with such anecdotes and insights. Highly literary, his writings provide an extraordinary window onto the appeasement years.

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