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on March 2, 2010
Excellent, and if you are interested in Nazi Germany, then a must-read. Pretty long, but very readable. (It's quite obvious the author was a journalist and knew something about putting readable prose together.
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on July 10, 2004
On the very eve of the birth of the Third Reich a feverish tension gripped Berlin . . . Wow! what a great first sentence! Having read this book almost thirty years ago, it still remains the best and most complete history of the Third Reich I have read. Shires purpose is not merely to describe the events that led up to the founding of the Reich and its eventual destruction; but to discover and document the intrigues, treachery, motives and aberrations that precipitated its rise and fall.
I will let others review the history and critique Shire on his research, I would like to comment on the beauty of his prose as he describes what must be the most hellish and destructive state that has existed. Historians have the tendency to be dull, they get so caught up in explaining facts and documenting the movement of armies across strange and foreign landscapes, that the reader tends to get lost in a maze of statistics, foreign names, and seemingly insignificant details. Shire avoids this common pitfall. For instance, after quoting from a German generals diary which described Hitlers intentions in occupied Poland, Shire describes the Nazi intentions in vivid prose. . . Nazi terror. . . forerunner to dark and terrible deeds. . . Nazi barbarism reached an incredible depth. Although Shire, in the introduction of this book made the assertion of strict objectivity, he did not let his objectivity hide the awfulness of Nazi atrocities.
Although well written, it is not an easy book to read. Its sheer length of over 1100 pages may be daunting to the faint of heart; yet, if you are not familiar with the Third Reich and want to have an understanding of the people whom were instrumental in its raise and fall, no other book will give you better oversight and understanding of it than The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
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on January 17, 2016
I have very ambiguous feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is diligently researched and full of detail; on the other it is a highly biased book which is a product of its time. I found some of its conclusions especially about Hitler's associations with 'sexual deviants' (homosexuals) as a sign of his poor character laughable. There are several other mentions which makes a modern reader raise an eyebrow for it's shocking (to today's sensibilities) views. I think that that author's foreword - which is essentially a preemptive attempt to defend his work - has proven to be flawed as much of this book shows bias. The author didn't even pretend to be impartial and colored every account with his own perception of events which is tough to read in an what attempts to be a historical record. Sometimes, the narrative is so colored that it starts to feel more like fiction which hurts the book's credibility. That being said, reading the book makes for an interesting sociological review as many of the views provided by the author would be viewed as offensive today. I recommend this book as much for it's historical narrative as much as the study of a point of view of a bygone era. I would love to see a modern historian attempt to re-create this work with the benefits of both hindsight as well as modern viewpoint. While I understand that WWII histories aren't exactly hard to find; I haven't found a book as exhaustive as this one.
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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 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.
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on June 4, 2012
If you want to know the whole story of Nazi Germany from the beginning to its downfall at the en d of WW2, you don't need to search any longer for a good book on the subject. This is the book you need written by someone who has lived in Germany during this era, someone who has been a witness of many of Hitler's speeches as well as being in contact with many party's officials. This book offers you a view from the inside of the Third Reich, its regime of terror and its might, how it comes into life, how France and England could have destroyed it at one point before the start of WW2 but choose to talk instead of to act unaware that they were in presence of a master of deceit and treachery in Hitler. All you want to know about the Third Reich is in this book and everything is backed up by references from first-hand witnesses as well as all the data that has been found by the Allied forces at the end of WW2. A must-read for anyone who wants to know more about this dark period of modern history, the evil genius of Hitler and his closest collaborators, the terror brought by the Nazi party upon German people and all the circumstances that helped to create the Third Reich under the iron fist of Hitler, the Nazi party, the SS and the Gestapo. A fascinating story to read despite all the evil it brought to the world in its destructive path.
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on December 16, 2003
This book was one of the first histories of the Nazi era that I acquired for my library. Shirer had the unique perspective of actually being an American journalist for CBS in Berlin for many of the Hitler years. His journalistic aptitude shows itself greatly in the writing of this most important book. The book reads like a LONG newspaper article. Facts are presented and then there are extensive footnotes and references at the bottom of most of the pages for those who would like to follow up. Also, there is a wonderful index at the end of the book for those (like me!) who just want to read certain passages. Being that the length of the thing is 1500+ pages, sometimes, it is necessary to use the index!
This book is an excellent resource for someone who is just starting to learn about Nazi Germany. Shirer does an excellent job of presenting the history up to point where he did his writing. Unfortunately, his history has become somewhat dated since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (and the Soviet Union in 1991) has allowed the secret KGB archives concerning WWII to be opened. The availablity of this new source of information may make some of Shirer's conclusions about the end of the war invalid. Therefore, I highly recommend that one also read the Ian Kershaw biographies on Hitler which were published in the late 1990's/early 2000's (Hitler: Hubris and Hitler: Nemesis). These new biographies incorporate the newest information which has been released from the KGB within their pages.
Otherwise, Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is an excellent history and an instant classic of this most important era of the 20th Century. This book should be used as a companion to Hitler's Mein Kampf, as it will help the reader of that book to understand some of the things that Hitler talks about. However, one can read this book on its own...but you will find yourself intrigued and wanting to read more! This period of history is most fascinating, and Mr. Shirer's work makes it all the more so!
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on December 12, 2003
William Shirer's book is the definitive text on Nazi Germany, and shall be forever more. Anyone who has read it will be awash in the tyrannical obsessions that made 1933-1945 in Europe a true living nightmare. Although it is obviously long, with more subtitles, annotations, and footnotes than one is generally accustomed to, these are essentially to the very nature of the complex subject material. Without peer, its comprehensive study of the years leading up to WWII are both gripping and frightening. Yes, most aspects of the Holocaust (Shoah) are given short shrift, but Shirer never pretended to be a definitive expert on the subject, and other texts define the atrocities much better. What really seperates this book from all the others of its genre are the use of captured Nazi documents. Recently, I saw a 2002 documentary called "Blind Spot", about Hitler's personal secretary, Traudl Junge, who recounted the last days in the bunker under the Chancellary in Berlin. Most of the commentary she recounted were nearly composed verbatim in this book, written over 40 years ago. If one wants to learn history, and not subjectivism, then this is the account to have in your library.
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on October 22, 2003
This book is the excellent exploration of the development of a global-class terrorist, and should be read by every adult in the Western World. It's a lesson for all of us.
That said, I have to adduce some questions. Why didn't we give Neville Chamberlain's approach more time to work? Chamberlain favored a cooperative strategy, a real appreciation for tolerance and diversity. Why couldn't the allied nations (a fine practical example of a coalition formed by several countries) have sent inspectors to ensure compliance with the Treaty of Versailles? Couldn't we have given him more time to comply?
A major question of history was NEVER contemplated: Why does this terrorist hate us? What did the allies do wrong, to prompt this uprise from a suppressed member of the Eurpean community? Aren't we supposed to be more understanding, when terrorists lash out? Where was the compassion for the plight of the Bund? These allies ended up determining that their only tactic for dealing with this terrorist was to destroy him, and neutralize him as a threat to the world. Is that the sort of inclusive thinking which about half of us today (per a survey conducted in the United States in November 2000) insist is the preferred method for dealing with terrorists?
These allies, led by cowboys Roosevelt and Churchill, simply determined unilaterally that the terrorist had to be wiped out. Can anyone call that sort of mindset "progressive"? The allies merely destroyed an entire nation -- an exemplary socialist nation which had completely banned from its shores the corruption of capitalism. No sort of liberal thinking was employed in the process.
Following victory, the allies generously took on the task of rebuilding the nation they had just finished decimating. It was a long, arduous process completely void of instant gratification, and a lot of small-minded people living among the victors complained and railed and mewed and whined that it was taking too long, that the allies had not planned appropriately for "managing the peace."
Yes, this book indeed is a fine lesson for all of us living in the world today.
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on October 12, 2003
This is a real reading project. My unabridged hard cover volume feels like the Manhattan phone directory, making it unwieldy to sit in bed and read. I had to buy a book stand to hold it on my lap desk!
Once the ergonomic problems were overcome it is, of course, a most worthy read.
Rather than recounting the details of the many battles of WWII (for example, the entire D-Day invasion is dispensed with in just a few pages), Shirer's book is instead focused on the mad genius and sheer will of Adolf Hitler and the fascinating story of his rise from poverty and obscurity to a position of absolute power. The book exhaustively details the political and diplomatic machinations that propelled Hitler and Germany into - and out of - WWII. Many pages are filled with footnotes (at a much smaller font size!) that give further detail about a subject in the main text. This virtually doubles the actual number of pages of reading material - it took me a solid three weeks of reading 1-2 hours a day to get through it.
Coupled with this is a keen insight into the German mindset, both from a mythological and historical standpoint, with a particular emphasis on the sense of injustice and deep anger the German people felt following their defeat in WWI and the Treaty of Versailles. All of this is vital to understanding how Hitler - who by all accounts was a hypnotic orator - was able to manipulate those around him and, ultimately, the German people.
Shirer has a unique perspective on the matter, having been both an eyewitness to many of the key events plus having had access to mountains of captured Nazi documents. He was also able to gain information directly from many of the principal figures involved. This allowed him to demolish the many self-serving recollections by various Nazi figures, and also to ferret out the inconsistencies and bona-fide errors found in many previously published works - even a few by Churchill himself.
The countless numbers of diplomats, generals, world leaders, obscure figures, Nazi thugs and unfortunate victims are woven together to produce an historical reference without parallel.
This is essential reading. It is the cornerstone of knowledge for any serious student of WWII and the horror of Nazi Germany.
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on August 8, 2003
By far the most definitive account of the Nazi era, this book is brilliant from almost all viewpoints. It touches upon the German inter-war government, European politics during that period, the German Wehrmacht and the great battles of the War, the turning points and then the end, all in sufficient depth and detail.
The reader also gets a clear insight into the mind of the adolescent Hitler, his frustration on not being able to study arts at Vienna, his decision to leave home, the years he spent on the streets of Vienna (where his only company were the "rats, and the excruciating hunger") and his years as a Corporal in the Austrian Army, and finally his meteoric rise to become Chancellor of Germany.
In over 1200 pages, Shirer explains how a regime of unimaginable cruelty came into place, and took over Europe, despite the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations, and the utter misery of the German people at the end of 1918.
It seems to me as if the horrors of that age continue to be relived, as the oppression of peoples goes on, around the World. The book makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that besides the tumultuous changes within Germany itself, the single biggest factor that led to the War was the policy of appeasement followed by the western powers of the day. In their burning desire to see the fall of Bolshevik Russia, the West betrayed many lands, before they finally realised the enormity of Hitler's militarism. Today we once again live in an age where neo-colonialism has arisen, and the world is once again bent on appeasement. I am reminded of the words of Hans Frank (Governor General of Poland), at his trial at Nuremberg. He said, "A thousand years shall pass, but the guilt of Germany shall not be erased".
Before buying this book, it might be well worth remember that this is a book on Nazi Germany and the Third Reich, and not on the World War. For example, you wouldn't find too much on Pearl Harbour or the Imperial Japanese Navy. Also, while Mussolini's rise to power is dealt with, this book doesn't deal with the many dubious characters who arose in Italy during that period. And it certainly doesn't speak of the Red Army in detail. While some of these subjects do acquire passing reference, more authoritative books on them have been written and read.
This book comes close to being perfect; even so, it has its vices. Shirer seems to have prejudices against some of the wily characters he writes about, like Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hermann Goering, etc. while some of the other equally scrupulous characters don't seem to invite adjectives as harsh. A more conspicuous drawback is the superficial treatment of the Holocaust. Although scores of pages have been devoted to describe the capture, transport and execution of prisoners, as well as the conditions at the concentration camps, Shirer fails to fully capture the reader's imagination, as he does in other chapters. The author time and again stresses that the topic is vast as well as deep, but in the end fails to narrate as much as was necessary, considering the fact that the Holocaust is the most striking symbol of Nazi flagitism.
In spite of these negatives, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich remains an immortal classic. It shall forever be a reminder of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, and indeed the causes that led to it.
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