This is an excellent rendition of one of the most crucial periods of the 20th century written by someone who was in the thick of it for most of the period. It is my third reading and I am still fascinated by the tale.
First published in 1960, Shirer's work was reviewed by historian Hugh Trevor-Roper in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The reviewer lauded the effort of capturing the complexity and breadth of the subject so soon after events, "In ordinary circumstances it would be impossible, only half a generation after its end...to write its history." The fact is Shirer set the narrative and wrote the blueprint for all the histories on Nazi Germany that followed. Those since written are measured against his account.
The book is divided equally between the Nazis rise to power and the war. The twelve years of the promised one thousand year Reich "outdid all the savage oppressions of the previous ages". Shirer sat in an unique seat for a great deal of this being a journalist based in Germany and this serves the first half of the book extremely well. He reminds us that the Nazis persecuted Christian churches and burned the works of Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, and Albert Einstein. And his account of Jewish persecution and The Final Solution are stark and visceral.
This was my second time reading the book and I discovered more for the effort. I was surprised that the government previous to the Nazis was already disobeying the Versailles Treaty by secretly building submarines. Other points of interest include the Danish navy never firing a shot at invading forces suggesting some conspiracy, the courage of the Dutch army, his analysis of Mein Kampf book sales is telling, and how being sidetracked in Yugoslavia and Greece may have doomed the Nazis in Russia. He makes the point that conquering Russia was predicated on internal political upheaval and the hope that Stalin would be disposed in the process.
He misses out on the scale of complicity of the Wehrmacht in war crimes and genocide, the intervening years have yielded more evidence of their involvement. Shirer both shares and encourages a romantic outlook of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel who is consistently referred to as brave, dashing and daring while recent work is more tempered. He spends a great deal of time on the conspirators hoping to assassinate or overthrow Hitler. Indeed, the account of Von Stauffenberg's attempt alone is longer than that of the battles of Stalingrad, Kursk and D-Day combined.
I continue to be amazed by the resources and bureaucracy the Nazi regime poured into plunder, forced reparations, slave labour and genocide. Forced to tie up so much in these activities it is a wonder they could field an army. Increasingly too as I read histories of the Second World War I am struck by what a farce the Italian involvement was throughout and how the rapid fall of France not only impacted immediate events but reverberated for decades following. As always, the scale of the conflict on the Eastern front is mind boggling with hundreds of thousands of casualties in single battles and campaigns.
Once you read or reread Shirer's history it will no doubt prompt a desire to dig deeper. Recent histories that provide more context and detail are numerous. Among those I recommend are Hitler And Stalin by Alan Bullock, Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder, and Richard Evans robust trilogy of the Nazis rise to power, their time as leaders of Germany, and the war.
Interesting helicopter view of the key events & players involved in the Third Reich. Well written and researched. Not overly opinionated. Excellent book considering the breadth & depth of the subject. Highly recommended.