Don't be intimidated by the 1100+ pages of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." It reads more like a novel than a dry historical narrative and -- trust me on this -- this book is awesome.
As a reporter for CBS, William Shirer lived and worked in Germany during much of the Nazi movement. Until he left in 1940, he saw firsthand Hitler's rise to power, the consolidation of that power, and the use of that power. As a fallible human being, his prejudices may show through at times, but this is not necessarily a weakness. In today's climate of political correctness, works by historical revisionists -- that purport to show that Hitler and the Nazis weren't so bad -- are not only published, but they're even taken seriously. Perhaps our modern view of Hitler has been distorted by allied propaganda and Hitler and Goerring were fun loving and lovable guys, they say. At the extreme, some revisionists even claim that the Auschwitz death camp didn't even have gas chambers - they were added later as a tourist attraction! Yeah right.
In that sense, Shirer's book, published in 1959 is refreshing. He doesn't hold back one bit with his opinions.
Hence, Quisling is "pig-eyed", Rohm is a "pervert", Goebles is "dwarfish", Goering is "corpulent", Ribbentrop is "vain as a peacock", Brauchitsch is "unintelligent", Eva Braun has the "brain of a bird", and so forth. Such epithets may offend the sensibilities of some modern day readers, but they certainly spice up the telling of what could otherwise be a boring tale. (If you don't know who these people are, buy the book. Believe me, if you read it all the way through, you will become a formidable expert in Nazi trivia).
Because "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" was finished a mere 14 years after the fall of Nazi Germany, some facts that have come to light after its publication are necessarily missing. The premier example of this would be the breaking of the secret Nazi military codes by the British. But writing this book in 1959 also had its advantages. Many of the participants were still alive when William Shirer was doing his research. Hence, when encountering a slight inconsistency in General Franz Halder's war diary [The Chief of Staff of the High Command (the OKH)], William Shirer wrote to the old General and received "a prompt and courteous reply."
Perhaps Shirer's most vivid firsthand account of all is the several page description of the French surrender in the rail car at the forest at Compiegne:
"I look for the expression in Hitler's face. I am but fifty yards from him and see him though my glasses as though he were directly in front of me... He glances slowly around the clearing, and now, as his eyes meet ours, you grasp the depth of his hatred."
But these personal accounts only take up a very small portion of this absolutely fantastic book. Particularly well covered was Hitler's rise to power -- a story that is not often told. The Hitler that Shirer paints during these early years is a very astute political observer who shrewdly plays the German people like a violin. He promises the people what they want, plays on their fears, and is extremely ruthless to anyone who dares to oppose him.
In later years, Shirer's Hitler's political savvy falls apart. At one point Shirer calls his inner circle a "lunatic asylum". Except for very occasional bursts of brilliance, Hitler has no idea what the heck he is doing politically much less militarily and yet his fanatical followers still go along with him. Hitler's megalomania goes on overdrive until, like a Viking in a Wagner opera his body is burned in a last stand against the Russian army just blocks away from his bunker.
While making my way through "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", I can't tell you how many times I would read about a pivotal event and wonder "WHAT THE HECK WAS GOING THROUGH THESE GUYS MINDS?" I always knew the Nazi's were nuts as well as scary. This book provided all of the details I needed.