44 Days in Prague

The Runciman Mission and the Race to Save Europe

April 2024 9781911723042 288pp, 17 b&w illus
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After discovering that her grandmother had pro-German sympathies, Ann Shukman resolved to investigate her grandfather Walter Runciman’s 1938 Mission to Prague. This government-sponsored British delegation sought to broker peace between the Czechoslovak republic and its Sudeten German minority—a dispute that Hitler was aggravating with virulent anti-Czech propaganda and threats of invasion. 

Drawing fresh evidence from personal diaries, private papers and Czech publications, 44 Days in Prague exposes the misunderstandings and official ignorance that provoked a calamitous series of betrayals. It reveals that, while Walter Runciman always supported Czechoslovakia’s integrity, his wife Hilda—whose role became crucial—publicly favoured the German cause.

This is a moving portrayal of Walter’s declining influence as tensions mounted, from the couple’s efforts to court a divided old aristocracy at glittering social occasions, to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s fatal undermining of the Mission, in his abrupt decision to negotiate directly with Hitler. Shukman’s vivid narrative combines personal insight with meticulous research to shine new light on this pivotal yet tragic episode of European history.


‘Shukman’s study is… very pacey and engaging, breaking new ground in several ways. It sets out nicely the hybrid nature of the SdP.’ — Literary Review

‘The Runciman Mission has all but disappeared in today’s narrative of the pre-WW2 crisis. Ann Shukman has rescued it from obscurity with her skilfully woven account. No one writing on the Munich Conference can now ignore its prelude or the man at its centre, fated to fail.’ — Richard Overy, author of Blood and Ruins and The Bombing War

‘An engrossing blow-by-blow account of a fateful mission. The author draws brilliantly on family material to bring alive a now-lost inter-war world of high society and high diplomacy.’ — Brendan Simms, author of Hitler: A Global Biography

‘The melancholy Runciman mission, the last attempt to discover some arrangement whereby Germans and Czechs could live more or less contentedly together in Bohemia, receives here a long-overdue appraisal. Ann Shukman combines a keen critical mind with a mastery of the available sources.’ — Richard Bassett, author of Hitler’s Spy Chief and Last Days in Old Europe

‘Based on family papers, new documents from the Czech archives and interviews with descendants of those who met members of the Runciman Mission in Czechoslovakia, Shukman brings this story to life and offers a delightfully vivid personal aspect. A most interesting and enjoyable book.’ — Catherine Andreyev, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford, and author of Russia Abroad: Prague and the Russian Diaspora

44 Days in Prague charts the history, ambitions and ultimate failure of the Runciman Mission to Czechoslovakia in the late summer of 1938, skilfully weaving social and cultural threads into a story of high politics. A remarkable achievement.’ — David Dutton, Ramsay Muir Emeritus Professor of Twentieth Century British Political History, University of Liverpool

‘Shukman’s timely and instructive chronicle of the doomed 44-day Runciman peace mission to Czechoslovakia in August-September 1938 unsparingly exposes the ignorance, prejudices, and gullibility of key British actors, including her own relatives, in their dealings with the Czechoslovak parties. Eye-opening.’ — Ruth Coates, Department of Russian, University of Bristol

‘With exemplary clarity, Ann Shukman, drawing on her own archive, recounts the mission’s progress week by week. It was lavishly entertained, and met everyone—save the real puppet-master, Hitler. Runciman’s final despairing cry was “They lied to me!” A remarkable book.’ — Robin Milner-Gulland, Emeritus Professor of Russian, University of Sussex


Ann Shukman graduated in Modern Languages from the University of Cambridge and gained her doctorate in Russian Literary Theory from the University of Oxford. She has lectured in Russian Language and Literature at the University of Birmingham and Keele University, and tutored at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.

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