History Hour: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hullo, friends, frenemies and followers! I’ve been meaning to post a lot more here — obviously without much tangible result, so from this point onward I’ll be going with the wonderful slogan of #EverythingIsContent! Shocker, I know.

Today’s content: the gigantic historical novel that is William L. Shirer’s masterpiece, the best known history of Nazi Germany, originally published in 1960, just fifteen years after the end of World War II.

Shirer is interesting in that he was if not a player in much of what transpired over the Nazification of Germany, then an observer; an American journalist stationed in Berlin for the early years of Hitler’s rule and for much of the war period as well. His own observations make their way into this sprawling, 1600-page epic and they never seem out of place, never irrelevant or historically inaccurate. William L. Shirer does not seek to be objective and judge this period fairly — and where the bloodstained rise of Nazism is concerned, I’m more than happy to say, “Fuck any pretence at objectivity” — but he does look into so many of the aspects that make possible first the rise, and then the fall, of Hitler’s Reich. If ever you’ve needed proof that collision, rather than causation, defines social order (for more on this topic, read my summary of Caroline Levine’s Forms ), the rise of Nazi Germany is a compelling reading in favour of the former argument.

What did I learn from this novel?

Much of the bloodiest period of history came about thanks to in-fighting, backstabbing, supreme egoism and selfishness that often had nothing to do with Nazis other than giving Hitler and his cronies the kind of possibility every would-be authoritarian regime could only wish for.

Hitler’s charisma is no small thing, and has certainly played its role; but a bigger role by far is the sick personal ambition of men without great skill or talent, and not a whit of understanding. Men like Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher, like dozens of military men from captains to generals, all the way to field marshals. Don’t even get me started on the vast majority of degenerate high-ranking Nazi officers, or at the learned men in universities who, rather than objecting to the destruction of basic scientific principles along with basic human decencies, bowed down and allowed the shrine of knowledge to be raped in such a profane way. Did you know Nazis propagated that much of physical science was untrue, that they twisted principles just because they were discovered by Jewish scientists and researchers? Most of the faculty at universities said nothing, even when they could have. Even when they should have.

I could write four thousand words, forty thousand words and I would barely scratch the gist of this book. It’s good, it’s written really well, and a lot of historians hate it: What more do you need?!

As to the why behind certain historians’ dislike for this massive work of history — I don’t quite know why that is. Perhaps it’s Shirer’s decision not to mask in the slightest his hatred for Nazi ideology. Perhaps it’s the fact that his novel sold so well. But he does not lack for first-hand historical sources — the diaries of so many of the Nazi High Command, as well as many others, most notably that of Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister and Mussolini’s son-in-law. I might look into a translation of Ciano’s diary, in fact, since it’s a fascinating read and shows a side to Italian-German relations that is much more multi-faceted than I ever expected.

I listened to this in audiobook form because…history is easier to consume this way, for me. I absolutely recommend this, and I think any politically conscious citizen of the world could use to see the myriad processes that led to the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany.

Thank you, reader, for your time!

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