Hitler’s Gamble

“1938: Hitler’s Gamble,” Giles MacDonogh, Basic Books.

In “1938,” London-based journalist/historian Giles MacDonogh examines the sequence of events that allowed Adolf Hitler to assume total control of Germany, setting the stage for the Second World War. As MacDonogh notes, “1938 was the crucial year in the history of Nazi Germany before Europe tumbled into war.”

Among the pivotal shocks addressed by the author: The Blomberg-Fritsch crisis (January); the Anschluss (March); Hitler’s trip to Rome (May); the Evian Conference (July); the Kendrick Crisis (August); the Munich Conference (September); the occupation of the Sudetenland (October); and November’s Reichskristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass).

MacDonogh devotes a chapter to each individual month of 1938, excepting April-May-June, which is covered in a single unit. Along the way, he illustrates how events large and small contributed to Hitler’s rise to power, thereby begging the question: How might history have been different if any of these events turned out differently? And “would Hitler have gambled everything,” as the author puts it, if he hadn’t been emboldened by the successes he experienced during that fateful year?

MacDonogh seems to suggest that the answer is no, arguing that “Before the outbreak of war in 1939, no one could have accurately predicted the depths to which Nazi Germany would sink by the end.”