The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919–1933 by Zara Steiner - review by Richard Overy

Richard Overy

They Tried; They Failed

The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919–1933

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In 1940 the journalist and later Labour politician Michael Foot published a book on interwar Europe called Armistice 1918–1939, a title that did not quite do justice to his theme. As well as the slide to a new terrible war, Foot argued in his preface that the years after 1919 had offered ‘great hope besides’. Too much oppressed by the dark years of the 1930s, ‘we forget’, continued Foot, ‘the proud hopes and exertions of the ten which followed 1918’. That is really the theme of Zara Steiner’s magisterial international history of the 1920s. The postwar years were not, she insists, a fractious prelude to the grimmer 1930s but a time of hope, ‘when more doors opened than shut’.

This is the justification for producing two volumes on the interwar years – a second on the period from 1933 to 1939 is in the pipeline. Only after 1933 was it possible to see that the postwar peace settlement and the efforts to recast the international political and economic order

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