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addabook - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
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The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
A History of Nazi Germany
William L. Shirer
read on July 1, 2014

I have no idea why I bought this book. I think I may have seen it on sale over a year ago and picked it up randomly - and then it sat unread for so long that I forgot I even had it. I got into a bit of a book slump a few months ago and started looking through the old purchases to see what was there, found this, and decided to give it a try.

This is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. I really loved it. I thought I knew all the broad strokes of WWII from various history classes in high school and from general pop culture knowledge - but I was way off. Primarily I was way off in that my entire experience with WWII history is colored by the fact that we won the war. It goes without saying that we won the war. In my mind I can't even imagine the outcome of the war being questionable. This book was first published in 1959, less than 15 years after the end of the war, by an American journalist stationed in Berlin who had front row seats for the whole thing. The book is the opposite of my prior pop-culture-informed knowledge - instead it is a super raw, angry, this-just-happened-and-we-were-*this*-close-to-losing account of what must be one of the worst times in our history.

Below are a few things that were either especially surprising to me or in general something that I think will stick with me.

  • The German people's attitude before the war (and across Europe and the US in general) was already very anti-semitic. The book didn't go into a lot of detail on this, but described a general atmosphere where it was commonplace to blame jews for whatever was wrong in society. They weren't being actively persecuted, but in general they were separated and already thought of a substandard class. I don't know why this comes as a surprise, since the US had very similar racial discrimination. I was just surprised by it.
  • Hitler's rise to power was incredible. First of all, he was the 8th member of the National Socialist (Nazi) party. I didn't realize that he was so involved in the conception of the party - it literally was his party, entirely of his making. Second - Hitler's rise to power was, by and large, a constitutionally legal affair. I sort of assumed that a party like the Nazi's pretty much only comes to power through a coup of some kind, but Hitler was legitimately elected, and his transformation of the country from a young democratic/parlimentary system to an outright dictatorship was done entirely through legal, constitutional means. (Plenty of propaganda and coercion as well, but he followed the letter of the law).
  • For the first 5-ish years of his rule, Hitler was globally considered a pacifist. He gave moving speeches to critical global acclaim about how war is never the answer, and that bloodshed is never the best solution. Foreign dignitaries and foreign press loved him, and he seemed like a strong leader that would peacefully stabilize the central European region (which, after WWI was still in pieces). The entire time Hitler was preaching about peace though, he was secretly and illegally building up the German army with the intention of invading Austria and Czechoslovakia. Totally crazy.
  • When he did invade those counties, they fell to him immediately. And, each time, he swore (to foreign dignitaries) that the conflict would be his final territorial claim (see Munich Agreement, "Peace in our time", etc) - even while he continued making plans to invade the rest of Europe. It wasn't until 1939's invasion of Poland that the other powers finally stepped in, and so started WWII.
  • Once WWII had all-out begun, France fell in six weeks. Hitler owned the entire continent west of Russia. Only the UK was left, and they refused to surrender. Everyone assumed that the war would be over in a matter of months - that there was no way that the little British Isle could withstand total war against the entire EU continent, without any help. But Churchill fought for years. Just, wow. What an incredible leader.

This was an incredible book, and very well written. I'd say more, but this is a super famous body of work and anyone curious about either the author, or more details about the war or the book should just google it, as my horrendous writing does it a terrible disservice.

The only bad thing I had to say about the book is it's cover. I'd love to have a physical copy of this book, but just can't abide having a giant swastika on my bookshelf. 

Author Bio:

William Lawrence Shirer (February 23, 1904 \'96 December 28, 1993) was an American journalist, war correspondent, and historian, who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a history of Nazi Germany that has been read by many and cited in scholarly works for more than 50 years. Originally a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and the International News Service, Shirer was the first reporter hired by Edward R. Murrow for what would become a CBS radio team of journalists, and he became known for his broadcasts from Berlin, from the rise of the Nazi dictatorship through the first year of World War II (1940). With Murrow, he organized the first broadcast world news roundup, a format still followed by news broadcasts