The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s

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9780375408816: The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s

A magisterial, unprecedented overview of the clouded and turbulent years before World War II.

It was a decade dominated worldwide by the Great Depression, by unemployment and hardship; a time when human achievement was matched by pervasive fear; when the great neon metaphors of hope that rose up after World War I--Broadway, Piccadilly Circus, the Kurfürstendamm, the Ginza--grew dim both literally and figuratively. It was a decade during which darkness often masqueraded as light--Hitler's abolition of unemployment in Germany; Stalin's plans for progress and social equality in Russia; Mussolini's "revival" of Italy--while governments established and maintained control through brutal physical repression and the more nsidious, lasting repressions of truth: sanctioned deception and relentless propaganda. It was a decade during which a diffuse economic and social crisis condensed into a massive political and military storm.

Focusing individually on each of the primary staging grounds for history during the 1930s--the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Britain, Japan, Russia and Spain--Piers Brendon traces the particular and diverse experiences of the decade. Political and economic circumstances form the framework of this breathtaking work of scholarship, but it is also the story of people: both of crucial figures--Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Roosevelt, Franco, Chiang Kai-Shek and Mussolini, to name a few--and of a secondary, but no less fascinating, cast of characters, including George Orwell, Leni Riefenstahl and Ernest Hemingway. Brendon vividly conjures the texture and tone of life in places as far-flung as Paris and Kyoto, Vienna and Shanghai, Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains and Norris in the Tennessee Valley. He depicts the circumstances of the Ukrainian famine and the American Dust Bowl, the Night of the Long Knives and the conquest of Ethiopia, the bombing of Guernica, the Anschluss and the great Soviet purges. He describes the clothes people wore, the food they ate, the books and newspapers they read, the work they did or lacked, the beliefs they held, the pleasures they enjoyed, the sufferings they endured.

The public sphere and the personal realm, the collective lives of nations and the details of individual lives--each element of the book contributes to its brilliant elucidation of the ways in which, during the 1930s, political power obscured knowledge, economic catastrophe darkened understanding and the foundation was laid for the most profound and far-reaching crisis of modern times.

The Dark Valley is a revelation of the ten years that set the course for the remainder of the twentieth
century.

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Review:

"Dark Valley" as a phrase was coined first by the Japanese to refer to the desperate years of chaotic depression that followed the 1929 slump. But, as Piers Brendon's epic history of the same name vividly demonstrates, it was apt to describe any of the world's leading nations of the time--the crippled, traumatized European powers, a moody, solitary U.S., Stalin's outcast Soviet Union, and volatile, upstart Japan--with varying degrees of severity and fascinatingly contrasting outcomes. With no dishonor to those who endured the unspeakable traumas of the First World War, reading Brendon's scholarly tome leaves little scope to argue with the assertion, made by Leon Blum, among others, that the economic crisis and its effects were as traumatic as the "war to end all wars." Worse was to come, for sure, but the events that led to the "chasm" of the Second World War still boggle the mind--from our safe distance it is difficult to comprehend that this actually came to pass, yet at the same time the whole era seems to be engulfed by a fatalistic air of inevitability. In many ways, the insane dance of rampant ideological forces and economic desperation unleashed across the sphere make for the more gripping history, and in Brendon's hands, the cast of thousands is skillfully evoked, while the facts are judiciously evaluated, in a rolling narrative through the tribulations of the era. This is first-class historical writing, but certainly not for the faint-hearted. --Alisdair Bowles, Amazon.co.uk

From the Publisher:

"The story of the 1930s has been told many times, but Brendon succeeds magnificently in breathing fresh life into the narrative . . . His text is a delight to read, a literary triumph sparkling with moments of real humour and compassion, sombre where it needs to be. Brendon is a master of the swift pen portrait, the telling anecdote, the curious footnotes to history that tell us more than a page of dusty scholarship."
-- The Sunday Telegraph

"Piers Brendon's long book has such brilliance and narrative power, and contains so much fascinating detail that reading it has all the excitement of novelty."
-- Evening Standard

"Historians are seldom thought of as elegant stylists, let alone as comic writers of the first rank. Piers Brendon is both . . . [He has] an eye for the telling detail that puts most novelists to shame."
-- Sunday Express

"Piers Brendon's book, let's say it at once, is a tour de force . . . The book could hardly be better."
-- The Scotsman

"Lively, fascinating . . . In telling his tale of the Thirties, Brendon paints a vivid and vigorous canvas . . . His character sketches of the principal players are sharp, perceptive, and often very funny."
-- The Observer

"Distinctive and enthralling . . . Brendon's sweep and range are breathtakingly global. His story takes in everything and everywhere that matters between the 20th century's two world wars, moving with knowledge, insight, and wit . . . His detail--brilliant, cinematic, utterly illuminating--is arranged with a canny storyteller's knack. No other historical account I know can rival this fluently possessive sequence."
-- Financial Times

"A cleverly sustained, and often moving account . . . familiar in its substance but fresh in its imagery."
-- The Sunday Times [London]

"[An] excellent survey of the Thirties . . . Brendon tells the story of this enormous and weighty subject with great skill and good humour."
-- Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad

"Endlessly fascinating."
-- Literary Review

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