[Bouverie's] narrative is well constructed and fluently written. He excels at capturing the atmosphere and conveying the debates in the dining clubs, drawing rooms and society playgrounds of interwar Britain. He addresses the issues with clarity of expression and judgment. There are convincing sketches of the principals along with a seasoning of entertainment from a cast of eccentric and gruesome secondary characters in the plot. The author is unsparing about the guilty parties while always careful to put them in context...This gripping book is additionally valuable because it illuminates some eternal truths. Bad leaders hide behind public opinion; great ones lead it.
Tim Bouverie’s first historical work (he is better known as a TV journalist) has no time for such apologetics. It is a well-argued, lucid case for the prosecution of the appeasers, ranging from Ramsay MacDonald — prime minister when Hitler came to power in 1933 — to the Tories who opposed Winston Churchill becoming prime minister seven years later.
Bouverie has written a searching, wide-ranging, and above all readable chronology of a shameful era of British history, when the elite and the general public were at one in pursuing and supporting a course of inaction that seemed sensible and pragmatic at first, but eventually proved almost fatal to the nation’s survival. It is a very cautionary tale.
In this finely written history, Tim Bouverie covers ground that is largely familiar, but in meticulous detail and with moments of novelty and insight. It should become a standard text on this inglorious episode... The author deploys a little too much hindsight, but he is right to criticise Chamberlain's disastrous conduct of diplomacy, and his narrow-mindedness towards the opinions of others. Even when told, in the summer of 1939, that the one thing that might stay Hitler's hand was Churchill's appointment to the cabinet, he lacked the wit and magnanimity to give him a job. This is Bouverie's first book, and it is an exceptionally promising debut. He has great narrative abilities and his research has been extensive. After this excellent start, he should apply his considerable talents to a path in history that is less well-trodden.
As I made my way through Tim Bouverie’s impressive and very readable account of the war-or-peace debacle between 1933 and 1939, though he never mentions Brexit, I was struck forcibly by the similarities of that episode to the situation we now find ourselves in... In retrospect, it seemed so obvious that appeasement wouldn’t work. How could Chamberlain and his supporters have been so deluded to think it could? But what Bouverie’s excellent and well-researched book shows clearly is that nothing was obvious at the time — though both sides of the argument thought it was.
Only one side could be right, and that was decided not by the passion of the debate but by events, by the future no one could see for sure but only guess at.
Although the story of appeasement is extremely well known, Bouverie, a former producer at Channel 4, retells it with gusto. All the usual cast make their appearance: phlegmatic, sphinx-like Baldwin, coldly self-confident Chamberlain, flakily indecisive Anthony Eden, and, of course, the brooding Churchill, the lion in the wilderness. Despite the extravagant claims of Bouverie’s publicists, nothing here will come as remotely surprising to anybody familiar with the story. But he has done his homework and has a nice eye for revealing anecdotes.
Bouverie skilfully traces each shameful step to war, as appeasement allowed the reoccupation of Rhineland, the Anschluss, the invasion of Sudetenland, and the final betrayal of Czechoslovakia, which he describes in moving and dramatic detail. He is quite forgiving of Chamberlain, arguing that for all his blunders he meant well, and defends him against the snobbish jokes about his municipal background.
Appeasing Hitler comes garlanded with tributes from almost a dozen distinguished historians and writers. It is, the publisher tells us, “the first major narrative account of appeasement”. I spent a pointless quarter of an hour trying to come up with a construction that would render this claim true... The more sensible question is: as this is an anything- but-untold story, does Bouverie retell it in an interesting, readable way? The answer is yes. This is a good example of political history of a particularly British kind: pacy, personality-driven, self-consciously writerly and ever so slightly moralistic. There are limits to this sort of history, about which I’ll say more, but it certainly has its pleasures.