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A.J.P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945

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Book CoverAJP Taylor was one of the first ‘telly historians’ and one of the first historians to become a household name even amongpeople who didn’t read his books. He had started out researching modern European history, especially the Habsburg Empire, on which he wrote a book in 1948 which is still widely used. Taylor was a familiar figure in the literary world and he did not confine his writing to academic audiences: he wrote articles in the popular press commenting on current events from a historical perspective and he was the first ‘telly don’, giving talks to camera on major issues in modern European history, explaining without patronising. This annoyed the more snobbish elements in academic circles and Taylor was never able to get the professorial chair at Oxford which might otherwise have been his due. Taylor had a mischievous streak and delighted in shocking orthodox historical opinion: his 1961 study of the Origins of the Second World caused outrage for appearing to take some of the blame off Hitler’s shoulders. A leading supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he admired figures in history who had stirred things up; his favourite among his own works was a study of English radicals called The Troublemakers.

Fresh from the controversy over The Origins of the Second World War Taylor was approached by the Clarendon Press to write a twentieth century volume to bring the venerable Oxford History of England up to date. The series was well established and included some volumes which are still highly regarded today, but its style was traditional and tended to be rather heavy; Taylor said he tried to read the whole series in preparation for his task but had to give up on some of them. His volume, English History 1914-1945, proved a great success. It had plenty of examples of Taylor’s characteristically provocative statements and paradoxes.

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