on 10 March 2004
This is the first installment in a promising new series on the Third Reich by Richard Evans. In this book, Evans examines the Weimar Republic and the many factors that led to the rise of Hitler and his populist National Socialist Party. Far from being a foregone conclusion, Evans shows the many vacillations in German politics during the interwar years and how for a brief while, the Weimar Republic appeared to be on the road to recovery. However, by constantly overriding the parliament by using the Enabling Act, chancellors set the stage for eventual dictatorial rule, as Germany went through violent economic upheavals.
Evans does a great job of outlining the various political parties and the antagonisms that developed after WWI. He notes the ideological origins of the Nazis in the German Nationalist Party, which refused to let go of its venerated image of Bismarck. Evans strips the veneer off this image to show how badly the Nationalists, and later Hiter, interpreted Bismarck. He gives a lot of attention to the Center and Social Democratic Parties which formed the consensus in the Reichstag, and illustrates the rise of the Communist Party, which became the whipping post of Nationalists and Nazis as the threat of Soviet expansion grew.
Evans gives special attention to the plight of the Jews, but notes that Germany would have been the last place one would have expected such a virulent form of anti-Semitism to emerge. Jews were for the most part integrated in German life prior to WWI, and continued to enjoy a relatively unfettered life through most of the Weimar period. But, the rise of the Nazi party in the rural regions would cast the Jew in an increasingly unfavorable light.
One can't but hold out hope throughout Evans' engaging narrative, as he shows how Germany struggled to hold onto representative government during the Weimar Republic, but as Hitler changed his tactics and drew on an increasingly Populist base, he appealed to the German longing for Bismarck, especially in the wake of the Depression of 1929. It was between 1929 and 1933 that the Nazis saw their biggest gains in Parliament. Even still the Nazis failed to gain a majority, but used the Enabling Act to establish dictatorial control.
on 3 March 2004
This is one the best history books I have ever read.
In a very well-written, page-turning, style, it sets out in a very comprehensive and fair way how the Nazis came to power. This is a fascinating era for all but even more so for my generation (like the author, I was born in 1947). How and why did it happen? Standard descriptions of the period are common but I got many extra insights some years ago when reading a History of Germany since 1789 by Olaf Mann. While no history is inevitable there are features from way before (e.g. the fact the Germany was not united till 1871 and that Parliament did not appoint the Government in the pre-1914 era) which help understand what happened later.
This book takes a similar approach and I have never got a better feeling for what life was like for the ordinary citizen in the turbulent era of the Weimar Republic. It is also very difficult to argue with any of the conclusions in the excellent final chapter giving an overall assessment.
While I know from reading much history that it is entirely correct to say that the Versailles Treaty was rejected right across the political spectrum in Germany, I was a little surprised that there was no reference to the Locarno Treaties of the mid-1920s. Maybe this was for space reasons or as not considered particularly relevant to the rise of the Nazis.
I am really looking forward to seeing the second volume of this as the author has set a high standard.
Also, while I am reasonably familiar with the German language, the approach adopted in this book of translating everything back to English, was spot-on, and should be followed by others.
on 6 February 2007
This is an incredible read. This has to be the best book I have read on this period in history. I previously had the impression that Adolf Hitler foisted his views on the German populace in his rise to power. However, this book shows that all the ingredients of Nazism (violence, racism, fascism) were in place long before the Nazis came to power. These ingredients were ruthlessly exploited by the Nazis. However, the book goes on to show how the views of the Nazis were not the views of the general population. Historians have long debated how fascist rule by the Nazis could occur in the 1930s, and this book shows how physical violence played a major part in this.
Your view of this period in German history is unlikely to reamin the same after reading this book. Excellent.
on 6 November 2003
As Richard Evans says in his introduction he is trying to bridge the gap between a book like Rise and Fall of the Third Reich which is readable, and The Nazi Dictatorship by Bracher at the academic end of the spectrum. In this, Evans succeeds admirably. His book is eminently readable whilst at the same time having an academic slant to it.
He examines in depth the background and foundations of Nazism and the Third Reich and explains how one of the most forward looking European states became a racist dictatorship.
This volume is the first of three dealing with the vartious periods of the Third Reich and I would recommend this volume to both the informed and lay reader.
on 30 December 2003
Richard Evans, the Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, has advanced his considerable reputation further with the publication of The Coming of the Third Reich. This is a masterly survey of the Weimar Republic from its unloved conception in 1918 through to its premature but wholly expected death in 1933. Evans has produced an outstanding synthesis of the huge historiography published in English and German over the last 30 years. The narrative is told with flair, the analysis is trenchant and perceptive. The writing is accessible and involved. For Evans, the destruction of the Weimar Republic is a tragedy made all the more unbearable by a sense of its doomed fate. In a very crowded field, this book stands out as a valuable addition for the non-specialist and the undergraduate. With two further volumes to come, it seems that Evans is set fair for promotion to the premier league of British historians writing today, alongside David Cannadine, R.R.Davies, Niall Ferguson, and Ian Kershaw.
Evans does not see the ultimate success of the Nazi Party as inevitable nor unavoidable, but he does see the chances of the Weimar Republic prospering as slim indeed. He stresses that the Republic was born of a shotgun marriage of defeat and democratic ideals that lacked legitimacy with swathes of the disorientated population. It was viewed as foreign, as thoroughly un-German. Assailed from the start by right and left wings, abandoned by an hostile army, civil service and judiciary, the Republic was pulverized by the hyper-inflationary crisis of 1923 and destroyed by the Great Depression of the early 1930s. The long arm of Wall Street delivered a knock out punch to a badly mauled polity.
The central theme of Evans' argument is the fundamental rejection of democracy across the political spectrum. The Social Democrats dedication to parliamentary democracy was a lonely and ultimately hopeless vigil. Evans demonstrates how even the centrist Liberal parties drifted ever rightward. The reality of crisis and violence within Germany, lived under the terrifyingly cold looming shadow of revolutionary Bolshevism, drove German politicians back onto an imagined, idealized Bismarckian past of hierarchical authoritarianism. This was especially true of the Centre Party: the Red menace loomed every bit as large in the Catholic hinterlands of southern Germany as it did in the Vatican. Evans shows how, time and time again, the methods by which the Nazis shut down democracy during 1933 were prefigured, practiced and refined by the governments of the Republic, and especially from 1930, and particularly by Von Papen.
There are stark and obvious messages in this narrative for our contemporary world. Democracy is not a given, universal ideal to be grafted onto every nation, particularly those reformed from military defeat. It is only an option whose acceptance and success cannot be assumed or expected; but instead must be worked for with understanding and investment over the very long term. It is as a study of malfunctioned democracy that Evans's history has most interest. Its value lies in its impassioned analysis of not the coming of the Third Reich but the going of the Weimar Republic.
on 15 December 2014
The Coming of the Third Reich is the first instalment in Pr Evans's trilogy on the subject, the second being on the 1930s Reich and the third on the Reich in WWII. As Evans himself points out at the beginning of this series of three books, published material on the Third Reign runs into the tens of thousands, more than even a professional historian can expect to master in a lifetime. Evans's trilogy, coming from a specialist in the field, is probably the most complete one can expect to find in a single book or set of books. It forms an exhaustive survey, covering social, economic, cultural, and political history, and the student should look no further. All that said, nonetheless, this first volume is less strong than the other two, it overlaps substantially with the second volume, and it can conceivably be skipped over.
The issue with The Coming of the Third Reich, indeed, is that it is neither a history of the Weimar Republic nor a survey of the Reich's origins, but something between the two. As a result, the book has too much of an air of inevitability to it - even if Evans warns against that once in a while. The Weimar regime simply looks doomed from the start: perhaps a fair conclusion, but one that looks too obvious in a book that is explicitly about its Nazi successor. The set of chapters about German history and Nazism at the beginning are likewise awkward. A history of Nazism's ideological antecedents would have worked better, or alternatively a simple, and more neutral, survey of historical works on the question. This volume, finally, overlaps with the next in its account of the Nazi seizure of power from Hitler's appointment as chancellor. The material isn't exactly the same, but the story is, making the whole account repetitive from one book to the next. Overall, finally, I would still recommend the classic account that is Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to the general reader. Yes, it is far less complete than Evans's trilogy and it focuses more narrowly on political history, but for sheer narrative verve, it remains the book to read - or perhaps a combination of Shirer and Evans's second volume, which covers the typically less well known aspects of Nazism.
on 3 March 2011
The author addresses this book "in the first place to people who know nothing about the subject, or who know a little and would like to know more". This objective is only partially achieved.
The author is excellent in covering certain periods and he is particularly good in covering the period just up to and after the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933. Here he is outstanding. Other periods are poorly covered e.g.the period just afte WW1 which is very confusingly told and is full of glaring omissions. What was the course of events in revolutionary Berlin at that time? One is only left with a vague impression. Rosa Luxembourg is mentioned as being murdered but who was this lady and what was her role? For this period one is much better served by William Shirer "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich".
While reading this book I was always searching for what was SPECIAL about Germany pre-WW1 which would help to explain why Nazism could later flourish in Germany but not, say, in England or the Netherlands. The author does not deal with this until the end and personally I found this frustrating.
Evans writes well though is not free from tendentiousness. For example when the Nazis have increased their vote from 0.7m to 6.4m from one election to another, Goebbels writes in his diary "...fantastic...an unbelievable advance...I hadn't expected that". A perfectly natural, fair and balanced reaction to a sensational success. But Evans cannot resist saying that here Goebbels "gloated".
Nor is Evans totally howler-free. He translates the Nazi newspaper "Völkischer Beobachter" as the "Racial Observer". The newspaper name has no racial connotations (perhaps Evans would have liked it to have) but is better rendered by e.g. "The People's Observer". This made me a bit nervous about his other translations, perhaps unfairly so.
Finally, this book is definitely not for someone who knows nothing about the period. Such a reader will not be well served. Better to start by reading the first third of William Shirer's book since this gives a lucid narrative of events during this period.
on 16 November 2003
By going back to 1871, Evans shows us that the extent of anti-Semitism in Germany pre-dates the Third Reich by many years, probably centuries. While it is true that such anti-Semitism existed elsewhere in Europe, it seems that only defeat in World War 1 provided the uniquely fertile ground that allowed many ordinary Germans to become involved in Hitler's extermination policy.
Potential readers may have been put off buying this book following a bizarre review in the BBC's History Magazine.
Unlike their reviewer, I have actually read this book, and would ask readers of that review to treat it with the contempt it deserves.
on 11 July 2014
Richard Evans was the star defence witness during David Irving's disastrous 'Holocaust denial' libel in 2001. The Coming of the Third Reich is the 1st in a trilogy of histories the other titles in the series being ‘The Third Reich in Power’ and ‘The Third Reich at War’. This book starts long before the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and traces the Wilhelmina era rise of Anti-Semitism, Social and National Darwinism and rise of Aryan Master Race myths and Pagan Symbolism (Swastika first appearing as a political symbol in 1902). In the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the book identifies the growth of German Nationalism amongst the German Speaking Austrian elite with even German Speaking Politicians in Austrian Parliament speaking for amalgamation with the Reich of Wilhelm 2nd.
In 1815 whilst Prussia was a growing power, Germany did not exist as a country but German speakers were spread across the continent from the Rhine into the Russian Empire. For Evans the Germany before 1815 has no relevance to the rise of Nazism – it is a different territory and people altogether. From 1815 however the story changes with the rise of first nationalism and then in short order of an industrial working class. Under Bismarck Germany was united in the 1860s though Bismarck deliberately excluded Austria from his 2nd Reich. Bismarck’s victories – over Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870) – led to the growth of German Nationalism that was to last into the 1st World War, by which time Germany had overtaken Britain as an industrial, though not financial, power.
For many Germans the war was seen as just in that it would allow Germany to achieve her ‘rightful’ place amongst the European Nations. And for most Germans defeat was a shock that came as unexpected when the western front collapsed in 1918. At this point the military dictators (Hindenburg and especially Ludendorff) rapidly transferred power and blame for defeat to the extant civilian parliament they had previously circumvented. Thus arose the ‘stab in the back’ myth that was further exacerbated by the so-called harsh terms of the Versailles settlement (though in fact these terms were significantly lighter than the Allies could have expected had Germany won the war and were no worse than those imposed on France by Bismarck in 1870).
The majority of the book deals with events after 1918 beginning with the establishment of the Weimar Republic. Evans charts the attempts of the Weimar republic to hold together the Germany of the 1920s but identifies the weaknesses of the constitution and its key office holders as well as the essentially Nationalist nature of the organs of state terror – the Police and Army as well as the Freikorps - that led eventually and perhaps inevitably to the seizure of power by the Nazis or some other group. The period of hyperinflation of the early ‘20s and the following stabilisation had a disproportionate negative effect on the working and middle classes steadily eroded the legitimacy of the parties that supported democracy and the republic. Political unrest throughout the 1920s and into the ‘30s is told from the viewpoint of contemporary sources, anti-Semitism in Germany seems to have been rife throughout the period and of course the Nazis capitalised on the pre-existing prejudices to define the Jews as an internal enemy along with the ‘November Traitors’ of 1918.
Right from the inception of the Republic the Presidential right to rule by decree, which was meant to be applied only in extremis, was abused by President Ebert. From here on in this precedent legitimised all future applications of Rule by Decree – including by President Hindenburg (successor to Ebert) and Chancellors such as Papen and Schleicher as well as eventually Hitler. In spite of vicious and deadly political unrest between Nazis and Communists and well as other Nationalist and Socialist groupings the Republic never established itself as Leviathan and the parliamentary immunity granted to politicians supporting both sides allowed them collude on several occasions to provide amnesties for ‘political prisoners’ guilty of crimes including murder.
Evans notes that in the 1920 75% of the electorate had voted for parties that supported democracy. After the turmoil of the Weimar years a similar percentage voted for parties, of left and right, opposed to democracy. Evans’ work takes one coolly through all the key events of the Weimar republic and its subjugation by the right wing politicians who negotiated with Hitler to appoint Hitler to the role of Chancellor – in the belief they could control the Nazis. Once Hitler is in power the Reichstag Fire (which Evans does not attribute to the Nazis) provides Hitler’s excuse to outlaw opposing political parties starting with the Communists but eventually subsuming all. Evan’s account of the terror and sadism unleashed by the Nazis almost instantaneously upon Hitler’s accession is all the more appalling because it concentrates on small detail. It is clear that the Nazis under Hitler, Goering, Himmler and Goebbels were well prepared to seize power but were also rapidly adaptive to events to ensure they made best use of other’s vacillation and hubris.
A fascinating book that records events that without making moral judgements – these are left to the reader – clearly highlights the evil of the Nazis; the hubris of the right wing coalition that brought them to power and structural weakness of the Weimar republic as well as the massive levels of political violence in the Germany of the 20’s and 30’s coupled with polarisation of left and right. That Germans of all shades were antipathetic towards ‘Jews and Foreigners’ to such a degree did come as a surprise.
Having read William Shirer’s 1st hand account of the rise of the Nazis (Berlin Diary and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) both of which I highly recommend I was surprised how much more Evan’s volume has added to my knowledge and understanding of these events. 10 out of 10.
on 9 April 2009
I wanted to read this book because when I was at university I studied the Third Reich, it's history and it's historiography but this was nearly 30 years ago and I hadn't studied the subject since. What I was looking for was a good general account that would fill in any gaps in research, debates and analysis over the intervening period and, from reading reviews, thought that Evans' work would fit the bill.
It does so and does it in some style. This is an excellent book that both people who are new to the subject (assuming such people exist!) and more serious readers will find rewarding. It is very well written, reads like a novel and is a pleasure to read.
What surprised me was that, actually, in the past 30 years, not a lot has changed about what we know and understand about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. There have been few new facts and the debates around interpretation are largely the same today as they were in 1980.
What else was good about this book? Well, I liked the way that Evans addresses misconceptions about the Nazis. An example of this would be something like Norman Tebbit's assertions that the Nazis were socialist and you often see this interpretation articulated in popular media. Evans is good at puncturing this myth, showing that, despite the name National Socialist German Workers Party, the Nazis were extremely anti-socialist and struggled to get support from amongst Germany's working class. In fact Evans is very good at highlighting who supported the Nazis - lower middle-classes, peasants, protestants and so forth. Evans thus confirms the lower middle-class social roots of Nazism.
Evans also has little time for the theory of Totalitarianism which hails from the Cold War era, was killed in the 1970's and revived in the 1990's. Evans is rightly dismissive of the notion that such ideas can explain the rise of Nazism and Stalinism or that Bolshevism and fascism both have roots in ideas in revolutionary France.
Evans is also strong when it comes to how the Nazis actually gained power. He is quite clear that the Nazis did not win an election, a commonly held misconception, but, in fact, were levered into power by establishment conservative and liberal forces whose prime concern was to re-establish an authoritarian state and destroy the working class movement as represented by trades unions, communist and social-democratic parties. Traditional parties and political forces of the German ruling class had tried and failed to do this job themselves and they turned to the Nazis to do this job for them.
The notes and bibliography are good. If anyone wants to read further, most of the books and articles they need are referenced.
What didn't I like? Very little. Evans, like most mainstream historians, doesn't tackle the analyses of the rise of fascism associated with Leon Trotsky which are actually pretty close to those that he himself presents, instead preferring clumsier Marxist analyses as being representative of the genre. And he does refer to the October 1917 Revolution in Russia as a `coup' which is irritatingly inaccurate. But these are really very minor quibbles.