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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 20 March 2017
This is a fascinating book but I wish the author had held back a little less.

The idea behind the book is superb - a collection of pen-pics of the most intriguing people Rees has met during his long career working as a historian. Most publishers seem to prefer the whole narrative history thing, which is a shame as more books like this would be instructive. They're tied together thematically, with a short intro into each section. The choices are also excellent, and I can imagine that Rees had an almost endless catalogue of interviews to choose from. Some are obvious, but most have an added extra something that makes the choice far more illuminating than much of the material that gets published.

Importantly, the book asks questions of the reader, and brings them into the world and dilemmas and choices of the interviewee.

Why, then, only four stars? Well for some readers - for instance an 18 year old looking for a bit more nuance as they get to grips with some of the larger aspects of the Second World War - this is absolute five star and superb. For me, though, it was a bit over-simplistic. Perhaps because there are not many books like this out there I wanted more out of the interviewees: more detail, more background, more personal interpretation of those big questions about what others would do in the same position. Rees gets in, picks up on crucial details, explains what needs to be explained, then gets out. Those with a more in-depth appreciation of the historical issues and controversies are left wanting more. The four stars is more about my frustration that I wasn't the audience than anything else!

One other thing: I did find that Rees also stopped short of allowing himself full appreciation of the personal dilemmas faced by the Nazis in his story. Yes, we understand the gravity of what happened in the name of National Socialism. But Rees seems to feel it necessary with the Nazi interviewees to include a 'well of course he would say this but he's in denial about his true guilt' type of statement. This jars a little bit, and is maybe another reflection of the most appropriate reader being younger and less surefooted.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 December 2008
This is a simply superb read. Mr Rees really gets into the minds of the people he has interviewed for this book. It does not matter if he is interviewing sadistic Nazi SS guards, American bomb aimers, Japanese prisoner of war survivors or failed Kamikaze pilots - his ability to coax important and revealing information is second to none. Even, though, the author is disturbed by the stories he listens to, he manages to maintain a professional approach throughout - with a consistent degree of empathy and understanding for people truly tested to the extreme.
You do not have to be an ardent WW2 obsessive to like this book. No, it is not full of grand strategy or maps. Just simple, human stories, well told and full of tragedy. It is easy reading but will leave you pondering your own mentality towards life after the final page has been read. This, I suspect, was the reason for the book.
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I first came across Mr Rees work in 'The Nazis, a warning from history' and also 'Auschwitz' both on DVD.
Their Darkest Hour was the first book of his that I have read, and it was compelling.The sections were long enough to provide all the information, but not too long to lose interest.
The piece that grabbed me was when he wrote about the possibility of someone who would go out of their way to assist you,ie street directions, or giving you a lift, and yet was capable of taking part in the Holocaust and have no guilt about their actions.I met someone in Germany last year who fitted this description.
The book was also good as it wrote from a very human perspective,showing how people adapt to circumstances that are thrust upon them, either doing good or evil.
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on 20 September 2014
The final words of this book challenge the reader to consider their own response the extraordinary circumstances of WWII. Prior to that, Rees demonstrates through a wide range of interviews the wide range of responses of participants to the many controversial events of the war, from the Holocaust to rape of civilians by the Red Army and bombing of cities. I particularly like that he does not shy away from shining a light on Allied actions in the war- a careful reminder that violence and heartless actions are rarely exclusive in war time. A dark but thought provoking read.
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on 2 January 2015
I love this author! All his book are factual and written in a really user friendly way. This is almost like the Brest bits of interviews which couldn't fit in his other books. A great compilation of stories - a real must
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on 27 June 2013
So glad that I wasn't around during World War 2 having to make the kind of nightmare choices that the people in this book had to face.
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on 23 March 2015
Hard to put down
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on 2 January 2015
wife loved it
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on 12 July 2014
This should be read by everyone before they leave school
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on 28 February 2013
As expected by such an excellent author, the book came up to expectations & reveals some unknown aspects of war
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