A tremendously compelling book - both as a narrative of war story and as an example of political journalism. Orwell showed a clarity of thought and in...moreA tremendously compelling book - both as a narrative of war story and as an example of political journalism. Orwell showed a clarity of thought and insight about the rise of both fascist and Soviet interventionism that more than stands the test of time, and shoes that a set of clear eyes doesn't have to wait for events to have settled down in order to make sense of them.(less)
Brilliantly captures the utter hideousness of a caste-bound society attempting to cope with the mechanized slaughter of World War I. The appalling ima...moreBrilliantly captures the utter hideousness of a caste-bound society attempting to cope with the mechanized slaughter of World War I. The appalling imagery of the events that drove soldiers to madness make concrete the principled objections of Sassoon. This book made me angry, not at the author, but at the appalling hypocrisy and willful ignorance that made the first world war possible and sustainable for those who weren't dying in their thousands.(less)
[I'm going to cheat and just paste in a review I wrote elsewhere...:]
The key to getting the most out of this book is to understand that it further dev...more[I'm going to cheat and just paste in a review I wrote elsewhere...:]
The key to getting the most out of this book is to understand that it further develops the themes identified in the first book. Kershaw is by training an institutionalist, which as an academic approach focuses on the workings of organizations (political parties, government bureaucracies) rather than the great man approach to history. Yet, Kershaw acknowledges, one cannot understand the Third Reich absent Hitler. The point of the book, then, is understanding how the use and abuse of institutions accompanied the rise of the Nazis and the utter defeat of Germany in 1945.
The primary themes developed in the first book were that the rise of the Nazis was based on their growing appeal in the collapse of the Weimar Republic, based within broader Volkische and elite attitudes that were anti-democratic. Once Hitler became Reichs Chancellor, he was able to use the Reichstag and the governments of the Lander to consolidate social control. Kershaw makes a compelling case that consistently in both domestic and diplomatic issues, manufactured crises presented "unavoidable" choices, and that once organizations were under control, they were essentially abandoned to their own devices under the control of party loyalists that wanted to "work towards the Fuhrer."
With that basis, the second book details how ongoing crises and the inability of Hitler and party leadership to set a centrally controlled agenda, but rather depend on ad hoc solutions from multiple actors with overlapping responsibilities and ambitions, meant that all behavior was planned only to the point where it failed. At that point, all reactions became ad hoc. So, this leads Kershaw to identify the existence of genocidal anti-Semitism from the early days in Munich and the institutionalization of anti-Semitism in the first book, and then to demonstrate that the death camps of the Final Solution were an evolution based on the failure of relocation plans to remove Jews from Germany and crises of Jewish deportees arriving in Poland faster than they could be accommodated or conventionally massacred. Similarly, military collapses on the eastern front were attributable by leadership through instinct and reaction to crises -- precisely the wrong way to deal with a defensive war.
In essence, the book is an explanation of the following: how Hitler, having achieved control of the German state, managed to use it to completely destroy itself. Crisis based leadership and limited abilities to plan, combined with ideological filth that had nothing to do with observable conditions, meant that Germany's ascendance and decline were tied together by Hitler and his failings as a leader (rather than as a demagogue).
As a closing thought, I'd propose that reviewers who carp on about detail issues with the conduct of the war, make accusations of editorial bias, or who somehow read this volume as an apologia for Nazi-led genocide, fundamentally miss the point of the book. This book demonstrates that Hitler could achieve his goals when circumstances matched his skills, but that his inability to meaningfully direct organizations and deal with adverse outcomes were the basis of his (and by extension Germany's) downfall. Further, Hitler set in motion forces that translated his atrocious policies into action, in accordance with and inseparable from his conduct of war and repression. There is a normative overlay to the intellectual discussion, and there should be. (Refer to the introduction of "The Black Book of Communism" for an excellent and concise view of the role of normative sentiment in academic analysis.) One may not agree with the institutionalist perspective with which Kershaw tackled his analysis, but it is, within itself, masterful. (less)