Edvard Benes was a key figure in the history of Czechoslovakia in the first three decades of her existence. He helped Thomas Masaryk to found the state in World War I; and in the 1920s he worked on foreign policy and was briefly prime minister before being elected president in 1935. His presidency saw the loss of the Sudetenland at Munich in 1938, followed by the German occupation in 1939, which forced Benes to form a London-based government-in-exile for the
duration of the war. He lived to see a brief period of restored independence (1945-48), and died in 1948, in the year when Czechoslovakia became another satellite state in Stalin's Soviet Union. Benes was an awkwardly successful politician, with a controversial reputation at home and
abroad. His loyalty to the first Czech President, Masaryk, was absolute. In return, Masaryk supported Benes' political ambitions, and between them, the two men shaped the domestic and foreign policies of the new state and the ways in which it was run. Benes regarded himself as having been supremely successful in World War I and during the peace conference. After such a surfeit of personal and political success, he never again recovered his composure. He was a fair-weather politician, at his
best when things were going well for him. Munich was a blow which deeply upset him, though he staged a remarkable come-back for himself and Czechoslovakia in World War II. After the conclusion of the treaty with Moscow in 1943, Benes briefly recovered his self-confident optimism, only to lose it
gradually in the subsequent years. President of a country he'd helped to create, Benes was finally broken by the stresses imposed on him by international circumstances in a central Europe dominated first by Hitler and then by Stalin. He died a disappointed, broken man in 1948.
`He has used entirely new or previously little-known documentary sources and let them speak for themselves. When Zeman allows his judgement to intrude it is almost always measured, sound and convincing. this is a readable, intelligent and hugely informative biography of an important if highly unattractive personality.'
Richard Crampton, Central Europe Review 22/11/99