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3.8 out of 5 stars21
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 24 February 2012
I bought this book because, although it was intended for the general reader, Michael Burgleigh called it 'an extremely important book' and Andrew Roberts called it 'exceptional'. It turned out to be neither. It is a good history of the SS (but Höhne's 'The Order of the Death's Head' is still better), and does contain some interesting 'gems' from the archives, but lacks analysis. In the foreword the author states that it is important to understand why the SS was able to commit the crimes it committed, yet, while they are narrated, they are not explained. But an exposé of the history and activities of the SS is hardly needed - there are enough books on the subject. What is needed is an explanation of how the SS as an organization worked. How it selected and trained its people, how it made sure people were able to commit the horrendous crimes the organization committed, how it dealt with dissent and people who gave up. There is not too much of this in the book. There is a chapter on the training of officers, but very little on the training of men and NCO's, and we do not get much insight into what an ordinary SS-man thought of the jobs he had to do. By not focusing on the men and NCO's, just on the officers, Weale gives the impression that the men simply did what they were told to do by their officers, without any further thought. But we know from Browning's 'Ordinary Men' that not every policeman was a willing executioner, and it is likely that the vast majority of SS-men were not pathological killers from the start, so they had to be forced somehow. How the organization was set up to do exactly this remains unclear. I would say that reading Höhne and Browing gives a fuller picture than this book, although it is a well written introduction.
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on 10 November 2010
A solid effort this. Tells the story competently enough, but it is a bit predictable and doesn't cover the important aspects - like the SS ecomonic empire - that modern scholarship tends to emphasize.
Also, the author's sources are almost all english-language and secondary material - there is alot in german on this which would have made for a much more important and comprehensive book.
So, all in all, a bit of a missed opportunity. If you know nothing about the SS then it is fine. But bear in mind that there is more to the story than this.
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on 28 July 2015
The past is full of mysteries. It could be said that our exploration of the past, to ascertain why things happened, to speculate on the outcome of X occurring instead of Y, is the greatest mystery of all.

To my mind, there is no greater mystery in modern history as to why Germany descended into such barbarity. That the country of Einstein, Bauhaus, Goethe, Kant, Fredrick the Great, et al, should descend into such wanton cultural vandalism, such reckless regard for the sanctity of human life, shall remain a puzzle.

Chief amongst the adherents of the new world order the Nazis created, were the SS. Much mythologised, rightfully maligned, the SS has always had a reputation as an elite vanguard of Nazi doctrine, the ever faithful and loyal Pretorian guard of the Third Reich.

As always, the truth lies somewhere in between. That the SS contained some of the finest fighting troops in the Third Reich is without question. That the SS contained some of the worst fighting troops in the Third Reich, is a subject that has seen much glossing over.

It's to Weale's credit that he highlights this much overlooked fact.

Thoroughly researched, written with a scholar's eye, and at times depressing, Weale's account is an excellent look into arguably, the most repugnant organizations of modern times.
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This is a straightforward, unsensational and fast moving book, perhaps reflecting the journalistic background of the author. Weale relates the history of the SS from its beginnings to the final debacle and death of Himmler. The complicated growth and constant reorganisation of the SS and its deployment into General-SS, Waffen-SS and various other units including the Deaths Head concentration camp sections is dealt with very well. The author punctures a number of modern myths on the way by showing that many of the Waffen-SS units were far from 'elite' and that the recruitment of only those considered to be the best Aryan stock was much compromised as the war progressed. It might also come as a surprise to film buffs that the Waffen-SS did not wear their black uniforms in combat but adopted the regular Wehrmacht uniform when fighting. This is not a military history and Weale correctly avoids detailing the combat record of the Waffen-SS. Of necessity the book deals with the extermination camps in Eastern Poland, the so-called 'Operation Reinhard', and also the construction and operation of Auschwitz, however, much of this will be familiar to readers of the history of the Third Reich or the Holocaust. Perhaps the weakest chapter in the book is that dealing with the recruitment of non-German men into the SS; a chapter entitled 'Making Up The Numbers'. The author indulges himself in relating extensive histories of quite insignificant characters when the whole subject could have been dispensed with in a paragraph or two. The flyleaf indicates that the book contains recently released intelligence material, however, a browse through the notes shows that overwhelmingly the sources of information are secondary and quote books that will be familiar to many readers of Third Reich history. A table of SS equivalent military ranks is useful, however, an organisation diagram of the developed SS would have also been helpful. No key is given to the primary sources in the notes so we are presented with meaningless initials as references. In summary, an accessible and well written comprehensive history of the SS.
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VINE VOICEon 20 March 2012
if you want, or intend to read only one book on the SS then this is for you. If you dont intend to do this then there are better books with more analysis out there.The auther points out this at the begining in say its a book for the layman. This is more narrative history in that it sets things out a chapter at a time and spends its time basically explaining what the SS is about and how it all works, department by department. for a general reader of military history who is new to the subject of teh SS its a great start point, which is what its meant to be. I agree with the other reviewers that the "new " title is a bit misleading as Christopher Hales book Which I recently read on the SS was packed with new info and insight and not refernced in Weales book ( published at the same time so he didnt contact Hale for a look see) was more in line with the NEW title for me. However I did learn a few details I didnt know and found it an interesting read for teh most point, although it got a bit tedious towards teh last chapters and felt a little rushed at the end.

In short a good, solid general book on the SS, But for someone who already has a solid grounding in the history I would recomened anything by Christopher Hale.

4 stars and not 3 as I found it enhanced and shored up my knowledge without being dull and uninteresting
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on 1 January 2011
This is a well-written book, which would be of interest to someone new to the in SS matters. However it purports to be a new history of the SS, but there is little in here that is not to be found on other books on the Third Reich & the atrocities it perpetrated. The author also appears hazy on a number of dates, which differ from those given by experts in the field.

The author has presented his information breaking it into different departments of the SS, which necessitates jumping around chronologically. This can be a mite confusing, especially when it happens within a chapter - one minute we are in 1939 & suddenly we are whisked back to 1936. The mini essays on minor characters are unneccessary. Where Mr Weale does give us items of relevance e.g Felix Steiner's homosexuality, he fails to tie this in to the rabid homophobe ethos of the SS, where being a homosexual meant death.

Buy this book if you have a general interest in the period, but if you want something more than that try some of the books in Mr Weale's bibliography
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on 12 December 2010
I had always thought I had a reasonable understanding of the SS. As Weale's well paced, well-written and very comprehensive look at this extraordinary organisation unfolded, it became increasingly apparent how little I actually knew of the subject matter.

He's struck an excellent balance between thoroughness and readability.

I took on board a previous reviewer's comments about secondary sources
and spent some time looking through the footnotes. It struck me that
far from being a juggled revamping of the work of others he has spent a good deal of time in the archives on both sides of the Atlantic.

Arguably he's done himself a disservice with the more academic reader by understating his primary references. However, for the non-academic, it's a refreshing break from the sentence-by-sentence over-annotation that one would normally expect from so thorough a work.

A couple of Weale's themes that were of particular interest and that I'd certainly not seen previously in other 'standard' works were his questioning whether the Waffen-SS was the military elite it is generally portrayed as having been and also his uncovering the possible existence of an anti-Nazi resistance group within it.

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed 'The SS : a New History' and would highly recommend it.
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on 4 December 2010
In short, a reasonable rehash of existing secondary sources and a familiar history if you recall Reitlinger and Hohne's earlier, more ground breaking efforts at introducing this subject. This new effort is well narrated, but sadly offers no new scholarly insights.

Any new insight would rest more upon a thorough knowledge of, and ability to read and utilise primary sources, and then interpret them in an innovative and cogent way. This book is not supported by such a depth of primary source analysis and interpretation. So, some interpretation, but little, but not enough to make any difference to exising knowledge on this subject. In short this book is good enough for a popular market,eager anew for WWII studies, especially whenever the SS is discussed.Not for the discerning reader however, expecting new insights.

As an addendum I am amazed that Michael Burleigh, a historian who is highy credible, can rate it so highly. Must be some connection there.I await Peter Longerich's book on Himmler, which I supect will offer a far more insightful analysis of not only the man but also a scholarly exposition of the SS.
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on 19 March 2013
This is a subject that stimulates a lot of emotion. The many crimes of the SS were horrific, but they still need a historical explanation - to declare them simply "evil" is not good enough. On the other side, extreme revisionists question the traditional historical narrative and whether the SS really were as bad as is painted - some even question the existence of the Holocaust as an event. Weale weaves his way through the secondary and primary sources to paint a readable history of a difficult subject. It's not so much a 'new' history as suggested in the title, but a thorough supporting of the traditional narrative by dipping into mainly secondary sources. Even so, it's still set to become one of the core texts on the subject.
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on 24 December 2015
A very informative and interesting book which made interesting reading.
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