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A giant tome of a book written by William L. Shirer, the famed foreign correspondent / historian, who since 1925 had reported on the Nazis in Germany. As a result of the quick defeat of Germany in 1945, they left behind mountains of archives, documents, films and other evidence. After five and a half years, he published the book, titled The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - A History of Nazi Germany.

The book starts with the emergence of the Nazi party and Hitler's rise to power, and ends with the Nuremberg war crimes trials. It is widely acclaimed as the definitive account of one of "the darkest chapters in the history of mankind". It is a great read, because it offers insight into the inner workings of the Nazi Party. It taught me a great deal about the the nature of man, and not to make hasty assumptions. I would recommend this book to anyone, despite the dark nature of it all.

I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in the early 1990s. Even though I'd already read quite a few books on the Second World War, I found this book to be a major contribution to my knowledge and understanding of the Second World War in particular and war in general.

Some of the things that make me recommend this book to anyone interested in the Second World War are:

  • the book shows and tries to explain the war from the German perspective. Although it is true that "history is written by the victors", it is important to also understand events from the perspective of the vanquished if one truly hopes to comprehend any war.
  • The book does an excellent job of explaining why the war happened. For example, the reader sees the effect that the Treaty of Versailles had on Germany's view of the world and will come to understand the process by which Hitler came to power.
  • The book deals with each of the fronts of the European conflict in a reasonably balanced way. There were at least three major victors at the end of the Second World War (the U.S., Britain and the U.S.S.R.) and each of them had a distinctly different perspective which tends to bias books written from their perspective(s). For example, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 tends to be more important to a Soviet author than to an American or British author. In contrast, the Germans were involved in all of the major events of the war so a book from their perspective must deal with them all.
  • It provides coverage of the key human participants including far broader coverage of the German participants than one usually gets in Second World War history.
  • It covers the Nazi party from its founding right through to the end of the war.
  • It deals with the Holocaust (including the causes, the key decisions (e.g. the Wannsee Conference), the evolution and mechanics, and the scale). It makes it clear that the Holocaust was government sanctioned and supported industrial scale murder.
  • The book deals with the interactions between the various themes of the war (e.g. how the Holocaust consumed resources that were needed by the war effort).
  • It provides solid coverage of the Nuremburg war crimes trial (the real "trial of the century"; i.e. not that over-hyped murder trial fiasco in Los Angeles in the early 1990s involving a washed up ex-football star).
  • It provides the viewpoint of someone actually living in Germany and listening to or even attending Hitler's speeches during the 1930s.
  • It is not even remotely sympathetic to the Nazis or their cause.
Probably most important of all, the book always tries to answer the "why" question as it deals with the "who", "what", "when" and "where" questions of the war.

The book is definitely a must read for anyone interested in the Second World War and/or interested in the causes, means and effects of war.

Sadly, once you read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, you'll find it just a little bit easier to understand how events like the slaughters in Rwanda and Yugoslavia happened.

William L Shirer was set against nuclear weaponry, as indicated by the following passage from Rise and Fall:

"Adolf Hitler is probably the last of the great adventurer-conquerors in the tradition of Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon, and the Third Reich the last of the empires which set out on the path taken earlier by France, Rome and Macedonia. The curtain was rung down on that phase of history, at least, by the sudden intervention of the hydrogen bomb, of the ballistic missile, and of rockets that can be aimed to hit the moon.
"In our new age of terrifying, lethal gadgets, which supplanted so swiftly the old one, the first great aggressive war, if it should come, will be launched by suicidal little madmen pressing an electronic button. Such a war will not last long, and none will ever follow it. There will be no conquerors and no conquests, but only the charred bones of the dead on an uninhabited planet."

Rise and Fall spends a lot of space on dealing with the personalities behind the terrible events of that period, in particular Adolf Hitler. Shirer points out at the outset that although the events were almost inevitable following Germany's defeat due to the inherent weaknesses in the Weimar Constitution, none of them would have happened quite the way they did had not Hitler been there to drive them on. His rabid anti-semitism was a common feature in inter-War Germany, yet without his political savvy, leadership, determination and - in no small measure - megalomania and psychosis it is debatable whether the Holocaust would ever have occurred. Shirer considers these points in greater detail in Rise and Fall than I have found in any other comprehensive history of the Third Reich.

Rise and Fall is without doubt the best history of that period I have ever read, and I commend it to anyone interested in finding out how such a repulsive regime came to power, worked, and then collapsed.

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