In 'Munich,' Neville Chamberlain Gets The Best Of Hitler

History hasn't been kind to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who tried to head off war by appeasing Adolf Hitler. But Robert Harris' new novel Munich asks readers to reconsider Chamberlain.

Author Richard Harris' new novel takes us back to 1938, to the days before World War II. Of course, we say now that it was before the war — but back then, people weren't at all sure another war was coming. In September of that year, German leader Adolf Hitler demanded parts of neighboring Czechoslovakia. He threatened to invade, but at a meeting in Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated History was not kind to Chamberlain. He allowed Hitler to dismember Czechoslovakia, and in the end he only delayed the war, since Hitler kept seizing territory. But Harris wants us to rethink those talks between Hitler and Chamberlain. "You couldn't get two figures in history more unalike," he says, "and yet, contrary to popular myth, I think it's Chamberlain that got the better of Hitler at Munich. Hitler did not want to be there. He wanted to be at the head of his army advancing on Prague." Harris is a journalist as well as a novelist, and his historical fiction often seems to comment on current events. This latest book tells the story of September 1938 through two young men at the Munich negotiations. One is a low-level German official; the other is a British aide to Chamberlain. Both are trying to find a way to do right in a time of rising fascism, and we see their leaders through their eyes.

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