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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 16 May 2001
William Shirer was an American journalist in Germany from 1934 until presumably 1941 (when Germany declared war on the USA after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour). Shirer occasionally mentions his participation in reporting history from Berlin or the front lines and admits to having been influenced by the endless barrage of Nazi propaganda. Occasionally his sharp post-war opinions on the characters of the various leaders depicted breaks through. The book is based on the huge amounts of documentary and verbal evidence that became available after the war and the Nuremberg trials. The book represents a huge work of research - one wonders, however, whether the author's motivation is an atonement to his blindness (along with many millions of others) to the monstrosity of the Third Reich as it actually happened.
On reading the book (a rich 1200 pages!) one wonders whether it should not have been called "The Rise and the Fall of Adolf Hitler" for it centers around Hitler and his generals and seems to almost forget Goering, Goebbels, Himmler and other Nazi leaders after their initial appearances. A central conclusion from the book is, no doubt, that the Third Reich and World War2 would not have come about were it not for this one man - Adolf Hitler. All the other players in Shirer's story pale into insignificance beside the genius, charisma, madness, vision, evil, manipulativeness, leadership and single-mindedness of the one man. The only other "heros" of the book, although not covered in great detail, are Stalin and, rather more so, Churchill whose vision, inspiration and leadership changed the course of history.
[Reviewer's personal note: WW2 and the Holocaust are themes of enormous importance to me personally. Both my parents were born in Germany and, had it not been for Hitler I would have been born a German. Once the Third Reich existed I might not have been born at all were it not for Churchill, and I almost certainly wouldn't have been living in Israel if weren't for WW2 and the Holocaust. The realization (sharpened after reading this book) that my life ,and that of so many millions of others, would have been so different were it not for two men is quite shattering.]
Besides Hitler, Churchill and Stalin most other players in the drama of the Third Reich appear in Shirer's book as sycophants, ditherers, brutes or nonentities. The weakness and blindness of pre-war England and France are difficult to imagine. The blind neutrality and unpreparedness of the governments of Belgium, Holland and Norway is also noted. The world's blindness is all the more noteworthy considering, as Shirer carefully points out, that Hitler laid out his philosophy and intentions very clearly in Mein Kampf which he wrote in the mid 1920's.
In hindsight, one is open-mouthed at the success of Hitler's bullying which allowed him to annex Austria and dismantle Czechoslovakia without firing a shot. Hitler also intimidated his generals who dared not disobey him even if it cost the lives of thousands of their troops and endangered their own. As the war progressed more and more of them either resigned or were fired in Hitler's increasing rage and frustration at ever increasing failures. It is quite amazing to read about the chain of events which led the ex-Austrian corporal to take over direct command of the German armed forces in the first place. There is no doubt that, during the early stages of the war, Hitler's ideas of where and how to attack and invade were smarter than those of his generals, as was his assessment of the procrastination and unpreparedness of the countries to the north and west.
However Hitler had a number of critical blind spots that were to cost him the war. He underestimated the will of the Russians to fight for their homeland as he misjudged the tenacity of the British and readiness to fight of the Americans. Hitler was more paranoid about the dangers close to home to his regime and his person. He made sure to eliminate (literally) any real or supposed opposition including the many members of the July 1944 plot. Shirer documents the various attempts within Germany during the war years to overthrow the Fuehrer which all failed from combinations of bad luck, ambivalence, mutual distrust and lack of resolve of the plotters.
The book's main themes are the rise of the Nazi Party, the build up to and then the conduct of the war until its demolition of the Third Reich. From a history of the Third Reich, I would have expected something more on the instruments of government and power under the Nazi regime. There is also little on the Nazis' innovative, systematic and extremely successful uses of deception and propaganda to further their aims. Shirer, however, chooses the more exciting stories and gives us a tantalizing insider's view of the Reich. The detail furnished by some of Hitler's loyal subordinates of meetings give us the feeling of having been there in the Chancellery or in Berchtesgaden as it happened. For those of us who grew up on the Allied story of the war, this glimpse into the enemy camp is a memorable one. I will not forget this book for a long time.
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on 19 April 1999
This is one of my favourite books. William Shirer presents his material accurately and in a very approachable writing style, which even contains some fine writing. Don't let the vast size of it put you off! It is slightly marred by some references we might now class as homophobic, but we must remember they were quite unexceptionable at the time the book was written. It certainly helped me to understand what was going on, and is a forerunner in style of the BBC series "The Nazis, a warning from history". No one gets off any hooks. Interesting and little discussed elsewhere are Hitler's strange ideas about the nature of British and US society, and what the people of those countries were likely to do.
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on 20 February 2012
This is the definitive history of the Third Reich from an American reporter who lived in Berlin until America entered the war.
It is wonderfully written and well researched. I have read it so often that the original book has disintegrated. This Kindle Edition is well put together.
I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 20 November 1998
William Shirer's book recounting in extremely fine detail one of the most covered subjects in world history has a unique, magical quality. I will not dwell on its accuracy and breadth of documentation, other reviewers have already noted it. The sheer quantity of original and secret material from the Nazi administration archives Shirer was able to use as a background to write this book boggles the mind - and he himself admits it would've taken many men many lifetimes to go through it all; but this is not my point. My point is that in anyone else's hands, this material would probably have resulted in a jaw-droppingly boring listing of names and minutes from cabinet meetings. What truly astonished me about this book were its overpowering demand for attention, its totally consistent clarity, its lightness of style and exposition that never, ever forgot precision and in-depth observation. I read this 1,100+-page book in two weeks, and not once through it I felt I wasn't understanding what it talked about. I'm not a faster or smarter-than-average reader: it was simply impossible to let the volume stand there, so much so that for two weeks I brought it with me everywhere I went, using every minute of free time (and also a few hours of work time) to read a few more lines, a few more paragraphs, please, just two more pages, I promise. For all the countless historical characters and extremely complex situations presented here (how could there not be, given the subject?), Shirer leads the reader through them with such powerful grace and insight that you have to strain to remind yourself this is not a Dashiell Hammett mystery, and that Adolf Hitler wasn't simply any Little Caesar. Though Shirer's judgment on the whole story is fairly explicit - and please let me add that it should simply be any reasonable person's judgment - he never lets it cloud his narration. People here are mostly shown through their actions, not ex-post interpretation or psychobabble. They lunge for your throat. Even the first page starts, so to speak, in mid-action, at the end of January 1933, with Hitler rising to Chancellorship after 14 years of founding the NSDAP. As you turn the pages, as story - and history - unfold, you feel the same uncertainty with which life itself unfolds, as if the Third Reich is growing day by day before your eyes and you actually don't know what tomorrow and the next page will bring, as if you didn't already know how the story ended. Shirer's book is the perfect example of how all history should be written.
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on 22 July 1999
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."
Amazing stuff.
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.
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on 25 May 1998
I probably have read this book a hundred times, and will keep reading it until it falls apart. Shirers writing has a quality about it that makes the complex very clear, and takes dull facts and transforms them into fascinating reading. Shirer provides insights and descriptions that only a man who saw it with his own eyes could, and the result is that the book is not only an excellent coverage of the war, but it also touches on the individuals who played key roles during this time in history. This book is not always perfectly objective, but the historical account is accurate and among the best I've read. It can also be very funny, and with its outstanding collection of photos it is a very educational and entertaining piece of literature. I've been recommending this book to readers for years, and not one person has been disappointed yet.
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on 15 September 1998
This is one of the best books I have ever read on this subject. The minute by minute account of the events and happenings, from the ascendance of Hitler to power, to his defeat, keeps one totally gripped. The part where Mr Shirer deals with events just before the attack on poland and eventually the start of the war is the best. He tells us history in such an interesting way that it is unbelievable. It is a must for every person interested in knowing such an important part of our past.
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on 30 April 2014
Shirer's tome is brilliantly researched and annotated and his journalistic style keeps you with this history as it unwinds across the first half of the 20th century. Even though we all know the ending and many of the big events, it's almost impossible to believe that, at any point, history won't take a different turn at the sheer improbability of Hitler's steps to power and his exercise of it. Shirer rolls forward through it all as only someone can do who has observed near the centre of this appalling period of time. He is not dispassionate and I wouldn't want him to be. Instead his humanity comes through as he takes us through each successive step and event. I listened to it on an audiobook before buying the book itself. If you don't read anything else, read this. You'll neither forget not regret it.
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on 7 November 2008
For people with an interest in 20th century history, this book is a must. I usually associate large hard-bound volumes with reference books - only kept for sporadic reading or for reference purposes; but I found that I could not put this book down.

Of course, it only recounts the entire history of the Nazi party to a certain level of detail. So many years, which included a world conflict, can only be covered in detail by other works that focus purely on a few aspects of the party/war. Nevertheless, I cannot praise this book enough.
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on 25 November 2015
I read this book as a kindle version, the sheer size was initially daunting, the book for me stitched together and placed in the correct order visions and facts accumulated over many years.
From the beer hall Putsch to the Berlin bunker, tantrums and rages the book provides a very readable but factual account of a man and a nation, the delays by the world to act allowing the regime to stride forward, and the failings of hitler himself.
As a kindle version the book is easily transported, I read over the course of a year, the paper back would be the one for my shelf, as it's easier to delve and return to.
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