Richard James Overy
23 December 1947
|Alma mater||Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge|
|Known for||Studies on military history, especially the Second World War|
|Notable credit(s)||Why the Allies Won, The Air War: 1939–1945|
Richard James Overy(born 23 December 1947) is a British historian who has published on the history of World War II and Nazi Germany. In 2007, as The Times editor of Complete History of the World, he chose the 50 key dates of world history.
Overy, after being educated at Caius College, Cambridge, and becoming a research fellow at Churchill College, taught history at Cambridge from 1972 to 1979, as a fellow of Queens' College and from 1976 as a university assistant lecturer. He moved to King's College London, where he became professor of modern history in 1994. He was appointed to a professorship at the University of Exeter in 2004.
Overy's work on the Second World War has been praised as "highly effective [in] the ruthless dispelling of myths" (AJP Taylor), "original and important" (New York Review of Books) and "at the cutting edge" (Times Literary Supplement).
In the late 1980s, Overy was involved in a historical dispute with Timothy Mason that mostly played out over the pages of Past & Present over the reasons for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Mason had contended that a "flight into war" had been imposed on Adolf Hitler by a structural economic crisis, which confronted Hitler with the choice of making difficult economic decisions or aggression. Overy argued against Mason's thesis by maintaining that though Germany was faced with economic problems in 1939, their extent cannot explain aggression against Poland and the outbreak of war was caused by the Nazi leadership. For Overy, the problem with Mason's thesis was that it rested on assumptions that were not shown by records, information that was passed on to Hitler about Germany's economic problems.
Overy argued that there was a difference between economic pressures induced by the problems of the Four Year Plan and economic motives to seize raw materials, industry and foreign reserves of neighbouring states as a way of accelerating the Four Year Plan. Overy asserted that the repressive capacity of the German state as a way of dealing with domestic unhappiness was somewhat downplayed by Mason. Finally, Overy argued that there is considerable evidence that Germany felt that it could master the economic problems of rearmament; as one civil servant put it in January 1940, "we have already mastered so many difficulties in the past, that here too, if one or other raw material became extremely scarce, ways and means will always yet be found to get out of a fix".