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on 2 September 2011
There are countless books on the final months of Third Reich, but this isn't quite like any other that I've read on the subject (and I possess upwards of 300...).

The End is not narrative history - if you're after a Beevor or Hastings approach to the final ten months of the Nazi regime, look elsewhere. The End is a serious study of why Germany fought to the end - and the consequences for the nation in doing so, based on a lot of heavy research: there are pages and pages of references and source notes - the author's spent a lot of time in archives scattered around Germany.

The End focuses almost exclusively on what happened within the ever-diminishing domain of the Third Reich, as seen through the eyes of ordinary Germans and high ranking politicians and generals. There's an insightful look at Albert Speer's rather schizophrenic actions in 1944-45 and Sir Ian is critical of the Officer Corps for repeatedly failing to stand up to Hitler to bring the war to an end.

The End closes with Germany's surrender - unlike some recent studies of the country's fall which go on to look at the first few months of Germany under Allied rule. If you read this book alongside Bessel Germany 1945: From War to Peace and Noble Nazi Rule and the Soviet Offensive in Eastern Germany, 1944-1945: The Darkest Hour then you'll have as complete an overview of the demise of the Third Reich and the immediate aftermath as you could ask for.
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on 17 October 2011
Books on Nazi Germany abound, and many cover the same ground. Ian Kershaw has taken a refreshing approach the Germany's last 10 months. I found his examination of why Germany refused to surrender absolutely fascinating. He peppers his analysis with human interest stories, and the result is an uncompromising exposure of the terrible brutality of that regime. He shows what little room the ordinary German had to manoeuvre in this last bitter stage, and the terrible price they paid for it. I got hold of a copy of the great propaganda film Triumph of the Will, which I watched while reading this book, relishing the tragic irony of it all. The book is enriched by Kershaw's strong sense of compassion, which threads through the book as he reminds one that however bad it was for the ordinary German, it was much worse for the prisoners.This is highly readable: I am not an academic, but someone with an interest in this period and I found it unputdownable.Mr Kershaw, I hope you tackle the Nuremburg Trial next.
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on 15 September 2011
I have read much of Ian Kershaw,s previous work- he is always good - but some parts of his earlier books can be ,in my opinion, a little dry.
However, in this book Kershaw hits top form.The book is a page-turner- none of it can be skimmed.
Kershaw covers the last 10 months of the war and tries to answer the question -why did the Germans fight to the very end when the outcome was so obvious?
The answer seems to be the evil, demonic charisma of Adolf Hitler himself ,butressed by Goebbels propaganda(which kept the charismatic image of Hitler alive long after Hitler himself was a broken man -with no charisma left), and a fear of the Russians advancing from the East.
The book does not just cover high strategy but also gives revealing little glimpses of Hitler worrying about calling up postmen as he wants to keep an air of normality by maintaining postal deliveries or refusing to cut production of sweets and beer to keep up morale.We also see Hitler refusing Goebbels permission to shut down magazines ,which the Fuhrer liked.
There is also the chilling tale of the Nazi Mayor of Ansbach , in the very last days of the war having a student summarily executed for trying to persuade the town to surrender.Then ,when American tanks appeat outside the town ,4 hours later- the mayor steals a bicycle and flees.
The narrative of this book is gripping and the analysis is first rate-a masterpiece- highly recommended.!
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This excellent book looks not only at the end of the war, but why the war dragged on so long when it was obvious to everybody but the most deluded that Germany had lost. Why did Germany refuse to contemplate capitulation before May 1945? Ian Kershaw points out that their refusal to do so was self-destructive, as a country defeated in war almost always seeks terms at some point. Yet, Germany fought to the last, ending in almost total devastation and complete enemy occupation.

The book begins with von Stauffenberg's failed attempt on Hitler's life. Hitler's charisma had weakened, but his popularity was revived by the attempt on his life. The failed uprising brought changes which ended up lengthening the war. Hitler's paranoia reached new depths and he explained any military failure on "cowards" trying to find a political way to escape. The uprising led to the power quadrumvirate of Speer, Goebbels, Himmler and Bormann. All those in high positions of power were aware that their fates were linked to that of Hitler. Hitler himself had said long before that the war would end with victory or his suicide, and he felt the German people had failed in some way and were not worth saving. Although Hitler's popularity never entirely died - perhaps the people felt they had invested too much in him - much of the population were war weary and saw defeat as the only outcome.

As the Ardennes - the last great German offensive - failed by Christmas 1944, it was almost all over. Yet, despite teetering, the regime survived. Kershaw looks at the way the leaders allowed the war effort to stagger on and how they strived to ensure there was no slackening of the war effort. The Nazi elite gave no hint that the war was unwinnable, maintaining a complete grip on the population, despite the devastating bombing raids and fear of falling into the hands of the Red Army. Using letters from soldiers and giving a great insight into the bizarre way government kept on issuing directives (ordering replacement fire buckets with the enemy virtually at the door) despite pleas from the struggling postal service for only urgent letters to be sent. Time and again, when everything seemed to be all over, Speer managed to find a way to make more armaments, Goebbels to raise workers to dig fortifications and the war machine found a way to fight on a little longer.

When Hitler committed suicide, many people did not even hear for days. Germany was in chaos, with many having no access to radio or newspapers. There was an epidemic of suicides as the war came, literally, to the civilian populations doorstep. However, the war still carried on, until Keitel finally signed the capitulation. Even after the capitulation, the Donitz administration was allowed to continue for a further fifteen days. It was as though the surreal regime was unable to end. In the ten months between July 1944 and May 1945 more civilians died than in all the previous years of the war. If only the attempt to kill Hitler and end the war had been successful, so many people would have been saved. Yet, to the bitter end, the Nazi war machine ground on - the concentration camps speeded up their killing, civilians suffered and soldiers on all sides died. This book helps explain the how and why those terrible events dragged on and is a riveting and compelling read.
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on 25 May 2012
Before buying The End through Amazon I read carefully the reviews posted by others who have read Kershaw's work before me. Obviously there are informed scholars of this period amongst the reviewers and having now got to the end of The End, I am in agreement with much of what has been said by others. I am not an historian but I feel this book is a major contribution to those who seek an understanding of what took place in Western Europe as a result of National Socialism, and try to put the Europe of today into an historical context.

I can't say that I enjoyed the book (its subject defies enjoyment) but I was engrossed . . . and I was made more aware of the terror of that period. Yes, it is repetitious at times and there is quite a lot of reiteration; it does seem a little overlong in some sections . . . but ultimately I think this is a work that is well worth reading by anyone who wants to know 'what happened next.' It is harrowing without being over sensational; matter of fact, whilst exhibiting an appropriate and academic level of regret for what human beings can do to one another. Be aware that about a quarter of the book is taken up with references and sources.

I would have liked, included in the supportive information, some outline of to what and how the main figures of the Nazi regime 'progressed' after the fall of the Third Reich. It can be found elsewhere of course but it would perhaps help to round off the story and perhaps could have been incorporated with the useful dramitis personae which is at the beginning of the book. More maps too could assist the reader, although the ones already in the book are most useful.
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on 26 February 2012
The End is another fine book from Ian Kershaw. Ever since the author wrote the definitive biography on Adolf Hitler the author has investigated various periods of the Nazi regime. Amongst those Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry and the Roots of Appeasement (Allen Lane History) and Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941 are my favourite ones.

The End covers the 1944-45 period and investigates why the Germans held out to the bitter end. In his preface Kershaw points out that that is rather unusual behaviour. Germany is the only country, apart from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which didn't surrender until she was wholly occupied or in this case until the Soviet army knocked on the door of Hitler's last stand. The normal course of affairs would have been to sue for peace or surrender as soon as it became obvious that the war was lost.

The End looks at why and how Germany held out as long as she did. It looks at the actions taken by ordinary people, the SS chieftains, politicians, the bureaucracy and the Generals. The author also looks at how well Albert Speer continued to run the economy. Even though Nazi Germany began to disintegrate during the final weeks of the war I was amazed that the system managed to function almost normally to the very end.

Ian Kershaw also asks why the Germans didn't rise up against the Government as they did in 1918. I personally think that 1918 was an exception rather than the rule. Besides, I could imagine that the Nazis more thoroughly controlled its population than Imperial Germany ever managed to do so. The book also suggests that the Nazis bought the Germans off. That is entirely possible. Goetz Ali in Hitler's Beneficiaries: How the Nazis Bought the German People shows how well the German people benefitted life-style-wise from WWII. It also says somewhere in the book that Hitler ordered beer rations to be maintained at all costs. Given the peculiarities of Germans, that could well have been another decisive factor in keeping the regime in power. Lastly, there is an element in German society of doing one's duty regardless of how much sense that may make and I guess that is the reason why the actors remained on stage and played their part until the very end.

There are some horrendous stories in this book. One feels sorry for the people who suffered under the occupation of the Soviet army or should one perhaps feel sorrier for the Russians who suffered under the occupation of the German army? What was the point in hanging young Robert Limpert in Ansbach on April 18th, 1945, except to perform one's duty?

The End is at times a chilling read, but a rather fine analysis.
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on 11 November 2011
By the summer of 1944, it was increasingly clear that Nazi Germany was losing the war: it was pushed back on all sides, the Western Allies having landed at Normandy and working their way through France, and the Red Army bulldozing its way from the East. Mussolini had been deposed, and the Allies were making headway in Italy, working north. Yet, Germany kept fighting as if it could win the war. Ian Kershaw wanted to understand why that was--especially as the war became more and more costly for Germany as the 1944 dragged on into 1945, and it became increasingly clear that the country was headed for outright destruction.

The answer, of course, was Hitler, and the homicidal regime he led, but it was more than just that. As Kershaw starts his book, The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945, the Stauffenberg bomb plot in July 1944 has just failed: Hitler escaped with minor injuries and hearing loss--and a further vengeance for his enemies, real and perceived. Popular support for Hitler had been waning for two years, but the attack on him gave him a bounce in the polls; Germans were shocked that their military would try to assassinate their leader. Hitler took the opportunity to purge any in the military who seemed less than full supporters, and the generals raced to prove their own loyalty in the face of Nazi Party doubts.

What Kershaw wonders again and again is this: why did no one in Germany not try to put an end to the war? It was clearly a lost cause; Germany was losing hundreds of thousands of troops monthly, it was being bombed into obliteration, and yet kept fighting. The surface answer is that the regime reigned in Germany with brutal control: toward the end of the war, anyone suspected of "defeatism," let alone dissent, was subject to swift and immediate punishment--often death. The population went along out of fear. But it was more than that: the people had, for the most part, cheered on the Nazis as Germany crushed other countries in Europe, and willfully ignored the homicidal brutality issued against its own citizens who the Nazis proclaimed as enemies--Jews in particular, but not just them. And a certain percentage still supported the regime, atrocities and all.

Kershaw pays the military special scrutiny. He again and again shows that post-war proclamations by generals that they were "just doing their duty" and were apolitical was often a lie; they were ardent followers of Hitler, and knew what they were doing. They knew the war was a lost cause, and kept it going as best they could, leading to millions of deaths in the final throes of regime. Hitler had no future; we wanted to fight to the last man. His generals--and troops--complied.

It is a horrifying tale, of course. As Kershaw points out, the entire conflagration that Germany unleashed on the world cost some 40 million people's lives. What happened in the last 10 months of the war was symptomatic of the entire war: brutal, illogical, and seemingly inevitable. Until Hitler was dead, the war--and the destruction--would continue. It was only with the Red Army encircling Berlin that Hitler killed himself (while the propaganda machine said he died fighting the Soviets, the final in a long line of lies), and only then the madness could be stopped.

Kershaw's tale is shocking and tragic; this is what humans are capable of, in the end. It should serve as a cautionary tale, too. Cries of "never again" ring hallow; Kershaw shows how easy it was for Germany--educated, sophisticated, technologically advanced--to sink to the basest, most brutal, level. This is history as it is meant to be written: clear, cogent, personal, thoughtful, definitive. Highly recommended.
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on 27 February 2013
Adolf Hitler's biographer, the historian Ian Kershaw, has written a gripping account of the final year of the dictator's rule - from the failure to assassinate him in July 1944 to Germany's final capitulation in May 1945. Kershaw asks: How was it possible for Germany to go on fighting against such superior forces for so long when it was obvious for every sensible man that the war was long lost? How was it possible for Hitler and his henchmen to have a firm grip on the mobilization of a Kulturvolk like the Germans for total war and a barbaric behaviour to the bitter end of the struggle? Kershaw finds some of the most obvious answers in the following: Split and rule, propaganda, indoctrination and an increasing use of terror to keep up fighting a total war against an over mighty enemy. In addition he takes into account the loyalty of the leaders of the Wehrmacht who, with their ingrained sense of duty, followed orders even if they disagreed with Hitler or had no sympathy for Nazi-ideas. The ruthless Nazis leaders themselves had no scruples sacrificing their fellow countrymen and German cities in a struggle they were bound to lose. They knew they had no future without Hitler. For them the alternative to winning the war was to throw themselves on the funeral pyre with Hitler - like Goebbels - or being sentences to death for crime against humanity when the war was over.
For those who want to know more about the anatomy of dictatorship and suppression I highly recommend the book. The points mentioned above are just a selected few that come to my mind as I shut the book and contemplate it. Anyway, the book is both readable and balanced and in my opinion absolutely worthy of a historian of Kershaw's standing.
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on 21 September 2011
Superb, a thought provoking read, I have thought (NOT ALL THE TIME I HASTEN TO ADD) whilst reading histories of WWII why did the Germans fight on for so long, if you want to know the authors explanation as to why then read this book. Ian Kershaw's writing is superb and a genuine pleasure to read. I read this book whilst on a weeks leave and came away satisfied and happy with the ideas that the author has put forward.
All in all a super addition to any military buffs library, I highly recommend this book.
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on 30 November 2012
The beginning of this book was a bit of a let-down.

Based on the introduction, I had expected to read how life had been almost normal to the end (eg. last concert of the Berlin Philharmonic on April 24, 1945). Instead there was a lot, and I mean a lot, of emphasis on soldier morale, desertion and punishment. The civilian side of the story gets scant attention at the beginning of the book.

What is, however, incredible, and which I had not known, despite being a fervent reader of WW2 history, is that Admiral Doenitz actually did run an administration of sorts. I had always figured that Doenitz took over from Hitler and immediately surrendered. But this book explains how, on May 3, 1945, Doenitz, retrenched in a sliver of territory around Hamburg, was actually choosing his cabinet, and there is a surreal part which recounts the jockeying of various would-be Ministers to become Minister of Agriculture ... on May 3, 1945 !
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