Frank McDonough was born in Liverpool, England. He worked as a shipping clerk and an insurance clerk in two of Liverpool's most famous buildings in the 1970s: The Liver Building and the Cunard Building- part of Liverpool's 'Three Graces', on the banks of the River Mersey. He read modern History at Balliol College, Oxford University as a Senior Status Scholar and he later gained a PhD in History from Lancaster University, under the supervision of Baroness Ruth Henig. He joined Liverpool John Moores University in 1989. He is Reader in International History in the History Department, based in the School of Social Science.
In spite of his solid Liverpool roots he told Roger Phillips in a BBC Radio Merseyside profile in March 2009: 'I love Liverpool and its people. I'm proud I come from Liverpool. It's a very creative place and known all around the world. But I like to write about things, not connected to Liverpool, but I greatly respect those who write about Liverpool's history and I am always very keen to promote a positive image of the city and its people.' His major areas of research are: international history, particularly Anglo-German relations in the 20th century, the history of the Third Reich, including the Holocaust and the life of the leading anti-Nazi resistance heroine: Sophie Scholl, who was executed by the Nazi regime on 22 February 1943.
In his study of Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War, published in 1998 McDonough outlined a 'post revisionist' theory, which built on the work of R.A.C Parker's 1994 book Chamberlain and Appeasement by expanding it to include appeasement in society by looking at economic appeasement, the mass media and the opponents of appeasement. McDonough accepted that appeasement was probably the only choice for the British government in the 1930s, but unlike the revisionists he argued that it was poorly implemented, carried out too late and not enforced strongly enough to constrain Hitler. He suggested that appeasement must be analysed as a usable policy at the time it operated and focus on how Neville Chamberlain's personality played a crucial role in the conduct of the policy, in particular, his errors of judgement, his failure to listen to opponents and his unwillingness to try any alternatives. McDonough argues that Chamberlain's version of appeasement, as operated by such an inflexible politician, unwilling to change direction, until events forced him to, actually contributed to Britain and France entering the war in 1939 in a much weaker strategic position and had passed the early advantage in the war to Hitler's regime, which meant that Germany only faced one European front, until June 1944. In a very real sense, Chamberlain's errors of judgement altered the course of the war itself.
The study was widely reviewed in all the leading academic journals. R A C Parker described it 'Very well written, with a lively argument, which explores appeasement in society too'. Andrew Thorpre, a leading authority on foreign affairs, described the book as 'a cogent and stimulating analysis of appeasemenr which will take the debate still deeper'. A leading US historian of foreign affairs, Edward B.Segal, commented: 'The book brings out effectively how the British government mamipulated the mass-media, the press and especially the BBC to exclude public criticism of Chamberlain's policies and convey the impression of overwhelming support'.
McDonough is one of the most prominent 'post-revisionist' experts on Neville Chamberlain and the policy of Appeasement, along with Parker (now deceased), who was, as Sydney Aster points out, his 'academic mentor while he was at Oxford'.
In McDonough's major research monograph, published in 2007, by Palgrave Macimillan, entitled: The Conservative Party and Anglo-German Relations, 1905-1914, he moved the focus of scholarly analysis to the Conservative Party's role in the outbreak of the First World War too. The study was described in a review in the journal: The Bulletin of the German Institute of Historical Research, by a German foreign policy scholar as, 'a thorough and thought provoking analysis, which draws on over thirty archives and provides a powerful and overdue corrective to the traditional depiction of the Edwardian Conservative Party as 'Scaremongers' and the chief promoters of Germanophobic views among British political parties in the years that led to the outbreak of the First World War.
In addition, to his research on Anglo-German relations, McDonough has written a number of publications on the related subject of the history of the Third Reich, most notably, Hitler and Nazi Germany, (1999); Opposition and Resistance in Nazi Germany, (2001), Hitler and the Rise of the Nazi Party, Pearson Longman, 2003, in the popular "Seminar Studies" series.
Among his other books are: The Origins of the First and Second World Wars (1997), The British Empire, 1815-1914 (1994), and Hitler Chamberlain and Appeasement (2002). In 1998, McDonough was commissioned by the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations Board to write a set text entitled: "Fascism, Conflict and Communism: European History: 1890-1945".
In 2008, McDonough published: The Holocaust, with John Cochrane. This book is a new introduction to both the events and the complex international response to the Holocaust and examines the grim reality of life and death in the death camps, the scholaly debates and the impact on on popular culture since 1945 of the most horrific aspect of the history of the 20th. Century
McDonough is also an expert on the most famous female German resistance figure of all: Sophie Scholl: and the author of the most detailed English language biography of her life, to date, entitled: Sophie Scholl: The Woman Who Defied Hitler, published by the History Press in February 2009. Professor Richard Evans, the Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and one of the world's leading experts on the Third Reich described the biography as 'undoubtedly the standard work on its subject', adding 'McDonough has managed to unearth some significant new material by assiduously trawling archives, discovering diaries and letters, Gestapo interrogation files and trial documents. McDonough corrects many errors in the literature laying to rest for example the view that Scholls were tortured or that they yielded no information to their skilled Gestapo interrogators.' The new material unearthed by McDonough proved newsworthy enough to reach the press in the UK and abroad, including, a two page feature in Britain's largest circulation daily newspaper: the Daily Mail on 29 February 2009 entitled 'Braver Than Valkyrie' The biography was listed among the 'Best Books of the Year, 2009' by the London Evening Standard. Scholl was voted 4th in 'Greatest Germans' in a popular German TV programme, ahead of Bach, Einstein and Beethoven and she was the subject of an award winning film called: "Sophie Scholl: The Last Days", in 2005. In March 2009, the Oscar nominated German film of Sophie Scholl's last days was shown for the first time on UK television on Channel 4 after McDonough's biography had sparked new interest in her story in the UK. McDonough had previously been interviewed on 'Film 2005' on BBC 1 [9 November 2005] when the film was released in the UK.
McDonough has appeared many times on TV and radio. There was a 50 minute one to one profile interview with the popular BBC Radio Merseyside presenter: Roger Phillips on 29 March 2009 during which McDonough discussed his early life, his writing and his recent biography of Sophie Scholl. Phillips said at the beginning of the programme: 'If you think all academics are out of touch with the real world, then this certainly does not apply to my guest, the historian: Frank McDonough.'
McDonough has also appeared on TV many times to offer expert commentary, most notably, BBC 1 ['Film 2005'] when he spoke about the German film Sophie Scholl: The Last Days and Channel 5 News [15 July 1998] when he discussed the award of blue plaques by English National Heritage to notable Liverpool figures in history and culture. McDonough has recently appeared on a number of high profile programmes in Russia, the UK and France. The first was 'Crosstalk' on Russia Today on 8 May 2010, debating whether the Second World War could have been prevented. The second was the BBC 1 documentary 'A Tale of Two Rival Cities' which was presented by the popular broadcaster and writer Stuart Maconie, which was part of the BBC's 'History of the World' project and aired on 17 May 2010. The third were programmes on French National Televeision to mark the 70th anniversary of General De-Gaulle's famous 18 June 1940 speech when he said the 'Flame of French Resistance cannot be extinquished' McDonough appeared as an historical commentator on France 2 and a special documentary featuring historians and resistance figures on France 3