There are numerous books about the Third Reich in print at the moment, and justifyng a place on ones bookshelf is no easy matter. But this book has a current relevancy even 60 years after the destruction of the sad dreams of those examined by it.
Anthony Read turns the spotlight not on Hitler, but on those who sustained him through 12 years of rule.By doing so he illuminates the central paradox of the Third Reich - a state which was devoted to an all powerful Führer, but which was in practice run in a chaotic manner by men feverishly competing for second place.
His picture of Göring as a vain but sick man, financially corrupt but presciently fearful of the consequences of war,will take some beating.
He also finally debunks any idea that Ribbentrop was a fall-guy, executed after the Nuremberg Trials faut de mieux. Inexorably, as the pages are turned, the case against Ribbentrop as the author of the Second World War grows. This was a man who wanted war to promote his position within the Reich, and who traduced every tradition of diplomacy in order to achieve it. His tactics remain the model of obfuscatory provocation; a model which some might say was followed very recently by President Bush in Iraq.
And therein lies the true value of studying this epoch in our history. If we cannot learn from the past, we are no better than sheep.
Anthony Read is also persuasive in his account of the extreme anti-semitic cadre within Hitler's circle. Goebbels and Himmler are seen as secondary figures to start with; their rantings from time to time rebuffed; but he shows how their originally marginal opinions became mainstream within the Reich heirarchy.
I found this a compulsive read. There are sufficient personal details to interest most readers, whilst the underlying power plays are strung together with great skill.
But when you read it, think about now as well as then. As Brecht said: "The bitch who bore him is on heat again."