The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 23 Jan 2012
I had eyed The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for a long time now, but its sheer size had always scared me off. With my long commutes these days, I had been listening to a lot of audio books to make my lengthy drives productive, and thought there was no better time for me to give it a shot. Even in the audio book format, this book took me something like two months to finish, but I really felt something of an accomplishment when I wrapped it up!
The author William Shirer began the book in the infant days of what would become the Nazi Party. With painstaking attention to detail, he chronicled the Nazi Party's rise to power, the subsequent near-complete Nazification of the German state, the systematic persecution of Jews and other minorities, and the destruction Germany brought upon its neighbors starting in 1939. Much of the book drew observations and conclusions from captured official German documents and diaries of major Axis figures (Alfred Jodl, Franz Halder, Joseph Goebbels, and Galleazo Ciano, to name a few), while the British Blue Book and the French Yellow Book were also quoted often. Perhaps among the most stunning feats with this book was the author's ability to present an overwhelming amount of facts and figures in a readable manner. Without a doubt, this was the most comprehensive book on Nazi Germany that I had ever read; it satisfied not only the side of me that longed for dates and figures, but the other side of me that wondered how various events interweaved with others.
Given that Shirer was a journalist who worked in Germany during the pre-WW2 years, it seemed like he had placed heavy emphasis on the political arena, particularly international diplomacy. The intrigues between Berlin and Moscow, for example, brought personalities such as Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg and Galleazo Ciano, relatively little known even to some historians, to the center stage, thus presenting the history in a fresh angle to many of the readers. On the other side of the token, however, a weakness of this book was its deficiency on the military side of things, whether it was the German invincibility early in the war or the nearly unstoppable Allied airpower near the end.
While Shirer took his liberty in inserting personal opinion into the book, most of it did not bother me at all, but some personalities were simply too one-dimensional due to his bias. For example, Wilhelm Keitel, a yes-man as he was, had his talents and abilities to the degree that he was placed at the top of the German military by Adolf Hitler. Shirer seemed to describe him as a simpleton unjustifiably. The one opinion that actually bothered me was in Shirer's epilogue where he seemed to suggest a possibility in the Germans attempting to start yet another war in Europe; with this epilogue written in May 1990, at a time when West Germany had been staunch ally of the United States in the Cold War for the past few decades, seemed to be odd to say the least; Germanophobia, perhaps?
The audio format of the book was read by Grover Gardner, who did a superb job all around, including pronunciation of foreign words which I could be picky about; the only mis-pronunciation that I could pick out was the Polish city of Lódz.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich had its flaws, but overall I would go as far as stating it as being close to a definitive work on the history of Nazi Germany.
Please also check out WW2DB contributor Bryan Hiatt's review of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944