The Diarists of 1940: From Göbbels to Orwell

The historian Revd Dr Andrew Sangster is one of Cambridge Scholars’ most prolific and popular authors. His profound knowledge of the makings of modern Europe has produced such titles as The Agony of France (2016) and The Roots of Nationalism in European History (2019). His expertise as a biographer, on the other hand, has led him to analyses of Francisco Franco, Field-Marshal Kesselring, and Lavrentiy Beria.

His latest study – written in the same accessible manner as his earlier works – is a combination of the historical analysis and biographical exploration for which he’s celebrated. Focusing on the tumultuous events of a single year, The Diarists of 1940: An Annus Mirabilis selects seven major diarists from Germany, Italy and Britain who wrote perceptively on the unfolding events of the era.

“Comfortable armchair judgement from the cosiness of a study is all too easy and often superficial. Reading a diary written at the time can be much more revealing about the true nature of a man or an incident or a major event.”

The seven writers chosen were selected both for their importance and their unique experiences: examined in the book are the words of Ulrich von Hassell, the German diplomat and anti-Nazi; Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister (and Mussolini’s son-in-law); Joseph Göbbels, the Nazi propaganda chief; Alan Brooke, a rising British General of the day responsible for Home Defence; Jock Colville, Secretary to Chamberlain and Churchill (and privy to the inner sanctums); George Orwell, the famous writer; and Victor Klemperer, a German academic Jew barely surviving in Dresden.

Sir Michael Howard wrote of Andrew Sangster’s volume Two and a Half Deserters “I have seldom read anything that deals so well with the ‘underside of war.’” 

The diarists provide significant insights into the contemporary reaction to unfolding events – nothing is assessed retrospectively nor diluted by the benefit of hindsight. Their differences in temperament, experience, and ideology make for revealing individual portraits, but the true strength of the book lies in how their thoughts and feelings  provide a window into the atmosphere of the fascinating period in which they lived.

The study is now available to purchase on our website, where you can also read an extract.

The Revd Dr Andrew Sangster is the author of numerous history books and magazine articles. Although ordained as a priest, he has spent half of his working life in education at secondary and tertiary levels, and he holds a doctorate in Modern European History, as well as degrees in Law, Theology, English and History.

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